Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas from the SPCA: banned for six months

I can tell you that in our system here in Calgary I do have the authority to seize a dog involved in a serious aggressive incident for 30 days pending a dangerous dog hearing before the court. After the court rules and if they direct that the dog be destroyed, there is an additional 30 day period for the dog owner to file an appeal. We do not grant ourselves the authority to destroy an owned animal as we believe that that decision must be made by a court after full review of all of the facts. Even though an animal has been involved in a serious incident we allow the owner supervised visitation rights to the dog during the process.
It would seem that there should be many simple solutions to this dilemma, none of which seem to be under consideration. A simple fencing of the yard would seem to provide all of the necessary safeguards while Brindi continues with her training and socialization. Good luck.
- from an email in reply to my questions about Calgary procedures, from Bill Bruce, Animal Control Officer, Calgary, Alberta, posted with his permission

I never saw Brindi. They tell me she's alive, and that I am supposed to believe. 

Wednesday afternoon, it was a slow drive to the shelter in the snowstorm. So it was about 4 pm, and the shelter was just closing, when I arrived. I brought along a bag with two packages of soup bones with nice meat on them and a Brindi T-shirt.

A strong sickening whiff of ammonia hit me as I entered the little vestibule. Beyond that the small lobby was more cramped than usual. A fake Xmas tree stood in the far corner; cards taped tonthe walls flopped open. Almost as soon as I said I would like to see my dog, Cathy, a supervisor, said no and asked me to leave because they were closing. I sat down. I said I wasn't leaving until I saw Brindi: the newspaper had told me she was put down the day before. She´replied that she was following her boss's instructions and soon ducked out. I gave the bones and the t-shirt to a few young volunteers. Diana, the manager, came out, and I asked her to see my dog. She said no, and then in passing, that I had to call animal services. I asked her if she would call them. She ignored the question and all others. I never had a chance to call anybody: she said I had a choice: either leave or she would hit the panic button.  

Panic button?! Sure enough, there it was, on a steel switch plate right there on the wall opposite the chair I sat down in. I told her about the Herald. She repeated again, leave or I hit the button. "Am I attacking you?" I asked. Then she just hit the button. Less than sixty seconds had passed since I had walked into the building. 

The button triggered some sort of alarm that went "Woo-woo-woo-woo." Then she walked over to the entry, with her back toward me. I don't know how long it took, but it wasn't right away. She had to stand in front of the window for some time. Then in walked two patrol officers - a short dark-haired woman and a talk, slender man. I can't recall the conversation exactly; I told them I was there to see my dog, how long she was there, and what the Herald had told me. They ignored this and just kept telling me I had to leave. 

A minute later a third officer came in, saying something about having been "briefed". Then he basically repeated what they said. I told him, look, I've spent $15,000, these people expect me to pay $25 a day, and they won't even let me see my dog. I'll leave, no problem, but couldn't one of you first go and make sure my dog is still alive? He said I would have to leave first and then they would "see" about that. I said, it's been nearly five months, and they have no reason not to let me see my dog. Why can't he promise me he will go back and check on her now, and then I will leave? Again, no. I had to leave, I have to get off private property. They have my private property here, I said, and I want to see it. Finally, having made my point, I figured, I began to stand up - slowly. The woman pushed my arm, just as I was standing up. 

Outside, the first male cop asked me questions; I started dialing my lawyer's number, just in case. The woman asked if I had a lawyer. I asked if they were arresting me. No answer. I stood near my car, both of us clearly over the SPCA property line. They took my info, my birthday, the works. One stayed behind while the other went back into the building. Eventually the older taller one stepped over and told me, "I saw your dog." Great, I said, what does she look like? "Her name is right on the cage," he said. "She jumped up and sniffed my hand and she looked healthy and well-fed and fine."

Well then, that meant Brindi was alive after all. A huge relief and it isn't even possible to say how huge. The two men stood across the property line. They believed the police department could override an AC officer's decision. I used to believe somebody higher up in the force could override them; so did my HRM councilor. We were both wrong. One individual gets to decide it all. Telling them about Brindi, I started choking up. The woman came back, holding a clipboard stuffed with papers; the top one said I was officially banned from the SPCA property for six months, or I would be fined $250.

But you are not arresting me? No. But if you come back, then, etc. etc. Sure, fine. I signed it. She disappeared. The other officer asked if I had ever tried to see my dog before. I said no. Actually, at the very start, I did ask to see her, but that was two days after they took her, and my lawyer at the time had told me it was possible. The SPCA people told me to come back on a weekday. Which I did. I waited 40 minutes, only to be told that Lori Scolero said my lawyer would have to call her first. Which he would not do; he could only talk to a lawyer. About a week after that, David Hendsbee, my councilor, insisted we make sure Brindi was still alive. It hadn't even occurred to me she wasn't. But then they would not comply with his request. 

I only asked now because of the scare from the Herald. Otherwise I was not planning to ever do it. Oddly enough, just last week Heather Anderson of DAISY had passed on a suggestion from Steve Carroll, the president of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS), that I go to the shelter and demand to see Brindi. I said then that they would probably call the police. But at the same time, began to wonder if I was trying hard enough.

Last week, I sent yet another request to Animal Services. No answer. In the fall, I sent an email every day for about ten days. After about eight, they flatly turned me down with no explanation. I could get a court order to see Brindi, but since there is no rule prohibiting it - what would the judge be ruling on?