Monday, January 12, 2009

Post-court, but not post-haste

NOTE: I realize some visitors are seeking a quick scan of info about the case. If you've already seen the newspaper reports, like the Metronews, please refer to the summaries in the texts of the petitions and the Facebook group Save Brindi. And in the left-hand column here, there are links to the By-Law, videos, and other key info. The first blog posts here tell the story in greater detail.

Blogging gets tougher and tougher, yet, I suspect, more necessary as time goes on. In my mind, I store up things to say, and the post gets long, but it's got to be that way for me.

It's been a weird week after dozens of weird weeks, each one uniquely terrible. The past week was less horrific and somewhat more satisfying than others, since I finally had the chance to go to court on Monday, January 5. THANKFULLY, I was not alone on the bench: a solid bunch of Brindi was there all day, and though some are too shy to go public, I'll give first names: Linda, Richard, Maxine, Phil, Kelly, and Michelle, and I hope I didn't forget anybody. Being the first working day since Christmas, it was tough to be there. Several others tried, but couldn't find the right courthouse. I attribute this to the architecture of the Supreme Court building, a prime example of anonymous 70s brutalism, is anything but prominent, despite its waterfront location.

As I think about it, the stress just keeps mounting, and writing isn't easy. I'm grinding my teeth again, a lot, while asleep and awake; haven't done that in years. I have the shakes a lot, for no apparent reason, and I'm still not sleeping much. My chest hurts, sharp pains, even as I write; I'm sure it's anxiety, not a heart problem. Crying and sobbing? A daily activity. My cats, my only breathing companions, sense the stress; they have taken to planting themselves right and left of me as I write in bed, which I have to do to avoid more painful tension in my neck and back.

Of course, when the day in court began, I was exhausted, having had another computer crash at 1 am the night before, which meant not even a minute of sleep. Praying as I sped down the highway, I managed to get there on time despite nearly skidding into a snow-filled ditch, twice.

Yay, I thought as I drove, no more delays! Little did I know my limbo would take on a whole new dimension of anxiety. Ever since the case was scheduled, I tried to keep my mind off the outcome, and it worked mostly. But it was a very intense day, and my heart was pounding and tears were already on board when it was time for the judge to speak. By then it was around 3 pm, and the lack of sleep had started hitting home; I was coming apart at the seams under the strain. Listening to the proceedings, especially the remarks of the city's young legal counsel, Mr. Persaud, made me re-live the pain and horror I experienced since July, when the two animal control officers showed up without warning and took Brindi away. I wasn't prepared for that impact (how could I be?). I lost track of how many Hail Mary's I said to myself; St. Francis and St. Jude were also big addressees.
So in many ways, I didn't want to know the results, but then again, it was a disappointment not to get any, and confusing that no indication was given of when a ruling will be made known..

It was not a closed session, and reporters were allowed in the courtroom, but I am told I should not discuss too many details. A few basic facts will be of interest to readers, however. For instance, right off, the city got the judge to throw out the assessment of Brindi by Silvia Jay we submitted. It cost a lot of money and time to get that court order. But I imagine the Mr. Persaud did not want it presented, since it speaks favor of sparing Brindi's life and returning her to me.

Fortunately, the judge denied his further request to reject a transcript of an online interview of the HRM Animal Services manager Andrea Macdonald. Only one sentence in it is important to the case, namely, when she says seizures of dogs are always followed by a thorough investigation before a euthanization order is decided on. This was clearly not the case with Brindi, and nobody ever explained why.

The judge also refused to reject a chart of by-law prosecution cases related to dogs between 2007 and 2008 that we submitted, using publicly accessible information. I had painstakingly updated and completed that chart over the weekend, but the new version was not submitted. You can see a version of it here that I painstakingly updated and completed in time for court; there was no opportunity to submit it, sadly. Ditto for the petitions. By then the number of signatures was nearly 4,000, with some strongly worded comments from around the world.

As the day went on, however, things seemed to take on a good momentum. My lawyer, Blair Mitchell, really did his homework, and then some; he worked all through the holidays to prepare a 23-page brief. I felt so lucky and grateful to have him on my side. SO MUCH WORK went into it, so many months. We had help from so many people, too, including my sister Nancy, Joan Sinden, and an animal rights group from Dalhousie. It was not easy to follow all the legalese; Blair kept warning me it would be boring. Nothing about it is boring to me, it's about my dog after all. In fact I think I understood most of it, though I could never repeat the words. I knew he must have been doing well, when halfway through, people sitting with me who didn't expect to be able to understand a word suddenly began sitting up and taking notes.

I guess it makes sense that the judge said he was going to delay his ruling, given that it might set a precedent. But it was disappointing all the same - not to have a date - and that made it so hard to get up and leave the room, let alone speak to the reporters waiting outside. I just wanted to sit down and bawl. It's a good thing there were people there to help me through it. I bawled a little later, of course, on the seventh floor, and they patiently waited for me to get it together and help me leave the building. On the drive home, bumper to bumper all the way in a sludgy mist, I really thought we'd get the decision in a few days. But now I hesitate to make any plans each day, with it hanging over my head.

Before leaving the building, we asked the city's counsel once again if I could be allowed to visit Brindi. Answer: a flat no. And something about being determined to fight to the end. They should realize by now that I'm matching their determination all the way. I don't have a $2.4 million budget like they do, but I have some pretty strong weapons, thanks to Brindi's Angels - persistent campaigners located from here to Lister, BC - and the entire Brindi Nation, which keeps growing. It seems that long before Monday, the city of Halifax's call center (902 490 4000) stopped counting the calls about Brindi. I also understand that the mayor's staff was specially briefed on how to handle the calls that get through. (Heather Anderson of DAISY in Calgary has yet to get the mayor on the phone, even after two dozen calls.)

That's how many people care enough to make phone calls, even long distance. It's amazing! People from here are Paypal donations coming in from Australia and Bulgaria. Brindi supporters live in several countries on every single continent on the earth, except perhaps Antarctica, and that's only because penguins can't use keyboards with their flippers. But we're working on that.

I have complained a long time about the Nova Scotia SPCA, who are keeping Brindi in the pound they run in their Metro Shelter - apparently in decent health, according to Silvia Jay's impression. (Brindi is overdue for a check-up, however). I suppose this makes some loyal SPCA members, many of whom also support Brindi, feel uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable too, especially since I was once a volunteer for similar organizations. And so, after months of pleading, being diplomatic, I thought it was a disgrace to discover lies and more lies. For a charity, honesty ought to be paramount.

But I know the SPCA is feeling the pinch as well because the lengthy disclaimer about Brindi posted on its website since August now says that a clause in its HRM contract requires it to keep all cases like hers confidential. Poppykosh. I have a full copy of that contract and it contains no such clause. If it did, why would somebody from the SPCA be telling people that Brindi is a big favorite at the shelter? I've heard it from several sources, who found this an important step, and perhaps it is. But at this late date, my only thought is: "Of course she is a favorite! She's a great dog, that's the whole point!!!"

It must be true that many, if not most, of the shelter staff who work there day in and day out are there because they care about dogs. So why do they not fight for her life along with me, instead of banning me? Have they never seen the contract? After they turn a deaf ear to my pleas for help, won't allow visits, and call the cops on me, then say such things to others, how do they think I feel? It's as if they are holding Brindi hostage, and having fun with her at my expense. Hello, she's MY FAVORITE! I am her rightful owner, and I'd really like to be able to enjoy her myself. GIVE HER BACK, and please stop lying to everybody. It's not doing any good.

On Wednesday, Tom Young, on News 95.7 based in New Brunswick, interviewed me. Counting the months, he asked how many times I've seen Brindi since July 24. He was dumbfounded when I said "none". When I explained the ban, he couldn't believe it. "Why did they send three cops to remove you from the building? D-do you threaten them? Are you a threat?" I have no idea. If anybody there feels threatened, they should think how the dogs feel, how Brindi feels, how I feel!! And if they do feel threatened, it's because of their own decisions, not mine.

I am only doing what anybody who loves their dog would do. I'm not doing it because I can afford to; I certainly can't! I'm doing it because I know she'd do the same for me. Dogs don't abandon their people. Recently, a fisherman in New Brunswick got caught in a storm, and his dog swam frantically behind his boat for three hours, instead of going back to shore to save itself. By the time help finally came, the dog was near death from exhaustion. Its owner was more relieved for its sake than for his own.

This is why I am asking people to write to the SPCA now, to ask for two things: let me have visits to Brindi, and finally, do something to help me get her back home!

I am weary of this fight, heaven knows, but I am not going to give up. It needs to be fought, for Brindi's sake, for my sake, and for the sake of all the dogs in this city, whose owners should not have to be faced with the decision of whether to fight, and all the horror I'm going through. It's for that reason alone that it was so important the media turned up at court. Some got there early and stayed all day - like Jackie Foster at CTV, who wanted to interview me weeks ago, but didn't get permission. I managed to see her excellent report that night, and Global TV, but missed the CBC, which I heard was also very good. I know of three newspaper articles as well, and suddenly a few new blogs turned up as well.

I have to confess however, a few glaring absences struck me a few days later. I never thought of it before, but it would have been good if somebody asked the city a few key questions, starting with:
  • Where are the photos of all the terrible bloody injuries Brindi supposedly viciously inflicted on other dogs?
This really interests me, that nobody noticed the lack of visual evidence. Grisly images are hot - so where are they? Where is the actual proof that Brindi caused a serious injury?

Similarly, few have bothered to ask, especially compared to the plentitude of other dogs that bit dogs AND people, without incurring either euthanization or a muzzle,
  • Exactly why did they issue Brind a muzzle order?
  • Why was there no investigation after seizure, before the euthanization order was issued?
These are just a few key questions. The last is worth a Pulitzer prize; I for one would give anything to know the answer.

As for the muzzle, it seems to have been an arbitrary choice, the result of coincidence, if not an opportunistic hoax. I'm serious. The record shows that the order came about as a concession to another dog owner who wanted to make sure I would pay her inflated vet bill (which included a $70 general exam of her dog, because it was a new patient, according to her. In retrospect, I should have not paid that part of the bill). I faced a $222 fine. Without telling me, she begged the AC officer not to issue me a fine so I could afford to pay her bill. Presumably to accommodate her wishes, he upped the ante to a muzzle. I was stunned, since he had already told me on his first visit that at worst, he might come back with a fine. If he hadn't said so, she would never have asked him not to. Mind you: this was the second report. He never intended to issue a muzzle. He'd have to muzzle dozens of dogs in HRM just to be a bit consistent, and that would cause a huge furor. At the same time - he knew that I was planning to challenge the muzzle order the first chance I got, once I had worked to get Brindi's recall as perfect as possible, and had a fence in place. 

So never mind that a muzzled dog makes people afraid, and their fear thus makes the dog afraid too - great choice, for a rescue dog. Never mind that my dog was never a problem during 8 weeks of obedience classes with dozens of dogs around. Never mind that I offered to build a fence - it was part of my plans already.

The question is, why would he do it? Maybe because in Halifax, under A-300, a muzzle order is all it takes to declare a dog "dangerous"? In the absence of any criteria for muzzles, what a great way to eliminate as many dogs as possible (and as an HRM lawyer once said, "Euthanization is the goal."). Just pick a dog, any dog; slap a muzzle on it for any reason - and presto, it's dangerous! If you're an ex-cop, say, ex-military police, what a dream job - you get to give the orders, and nobody can stop you. As an added bonus, after that, you can use the slightest incident as grounds to have it kiilled. No worries that you'll be stopped by the SPCA, an authority higher than the city obligated to protect dogs from cruelty; heck, they're on the same payroll as you are. What a temptation that is, in a job where you have more power than your bosses. Must be a thrill for somebody who used to take orders all the time.

Under the law, the muzzle order is permanent, unless the owner pays to go to court and dispute it, and who would do that? Me, actually!!

From my horrified reaction, and the questions I asked him, he may have guessed I intended to challenge the order. And I certainly did, once my house was finished and I improved Brindi's recall responses. No wonder he claimed it wasn't his decision, and kept telling me not to bother calling his boss, the one he said was behind the order. It's interesting that she, not he, signed the euthanization order later - contrary to law. And she's never laid eyes on Brind, as far as I know.

Certainly, neither he nor any other animal control officer ever witnessed Brindi being aggressive to other dogs, or anybody else. Everything hinges on unconfirmed statements, which were revised more than once by the owners and the officer involved before the case went to court. Do I sound defensive? Well, I've never disputed the facts, even many that were never actually proven. What I want is to be treated fairly and my dog to be treated fairly as well. I've done all I can to show that I am responsible and concerned.

Another question came to mind as well.

Why has no one quoted the many letters I posted five months ago - from the mail carrier, the vet, the groomer, the kennel owner, etc. Without them (and a few other facts), it's very tempting to sensationalize the story. Mind you, I'm not complaining - I'm grateful for all the coverage! But with dogs, sensationalism ought to be avoided as much as possible; it only incites fear. As much as they make great headlines, the words "aggressive dog" and "attack" instantly polarize readers. So they demand further explanation: what kind of "attack"?"Aggressive" according to whom?

It seems to me we all deserve a break from fear, and among public health threats, dogs barely make the stats. As I've said before, in 2007, only 2 Canadians died from dog-related injuries, versus 36 who died from lighting strikes. Joan Sinden noted recently that Sports Illustrated is doing its part to dispel the fear-nurturing myths about dogs, especially so-called pit bulls, a non-existent breed subjected to laws that cost millions to pass, yet do little to increase public safety and cause needless slaughter.

I thought about posting a list of about 17 persistent myths about Brindi, to debunk them, as they are rampant. I'm still debating that. I'd like to focus instead on the positive things happening, like all the people out there working so hard to save her. And how fantastic it was to hear from so many people that night, like my local city councilor, David Hendsbee, now the deputy mayor, who emailed me to say he hopes I win. He copied it to Andrea Macdonald, and if I recall correctly, Persaud, so I don't believe I'm violating privacy to mention it here.

Even more fantastic, a few very kind people have turned up to help me fix the plumbing, even in this bitter cold. How cool is that? I can't wait to take a shower in my own house again.