The Saga of Annie continues on the front page of the Tribune. Proof positive that it’s August, a slow news month when stories about ice cream appear on the cover of Time, and we get heavy news coverage of minor “human interest” news.
Poor Annie, an Aussie who jumped out of her owner’s truck in Nipomo and ran away back in June. Owner Chuck Hogue searched for her for weeks. Apparently she turned up at the Animal Shelter about a week later, unbeknownst to Hogue. It’s not clear from the story how Hogue came to discover Annie had been at the shelter, but she had been at the shelter for some time, and her description had been put on the call-in dog line three times. Still, no Hogue. And by the time he did realize she was there and showed up to get her back, she had been adopted by a family from Arroyo Grande.
The wrinkle in this story is that the adopting family refused to give her back to her original owner, so the “human interest” part of this story kicked into high gear, with daily updates and then outraged letters to the editor. Of which, Jeff Hamm, director of the county Health Agency, which oversees the Department of Animal Services (DAS), likely made worse when he “called the subsequent complaints to the county seeking to have Annie returned to Hogue a ‘feeding frenzy.’”
An unfortunate phrase that likely will cause more dismay and anger from “the public” which has been active and vocal in calling out Hogue (didn’t tether his dog safely in the back of his pickup truck, didn’t microchip Annie, had no i.d. tags on her, no evidence he came to the shelter or files a lost dog report & etc.), DAS (screwed up policies, past problems on similar adoption problems, mixups resulting in dead dogs, etc.) and the new adoptive family (selfish, heartless pond scum who would keep a dog from reuniting with his “real” owner.
And this morning, he saga has now ramped up to include talk-show host, Dave Congalton, Supervisor Adam Hill, who offered to “pay any expenses incurred by the new owners for adopting Annie, including the cost of a microchip and to buy them a new puppy” (buy them a puppy? Not adopt another pup from DAS?). And now there’s a planned meeting “with Jim Grant, county administrative officer, Jeff Hamm, director of the county health agency, and County Counsel Warren Jensen, in case the county decides to explore legal options for returning Annie to Hogue.”
So the big guns are threatening to bring on The Law, and/or offering money and a new puppy to the horrible, terrible, evil pond-scum AG adoptive family, while a group of Annie fans were going to hold a rally at SLO’s Farmer’s Market. And, to date, the horrible, terrible, evil pond-scum AG adoptive family has remained off the radar, likely hiding under the bed and ruing the day they ever went to DAS to get a dog for the kids.
But this story did have some great elements that helped turn it into a sad, cautionary tale. First, there’s no evidence that Hogue was a terrible, abusive, evil, terrible abusive dog owner. If he had been, the new owners would be ethically justified in keeping Annie from such a terrible person. Yes, Annie should have been collared and I.D. tagged and tethered safely, but accidents can happen and dogs can get loose from even the most secure situations, run off and remain lost for weeks from even the most loving and caring of homes. And, unfortunately, too many people who find stray dogs don’t turn them in to DAS, or notify DAS that they have the dog, fearing the dogs will be taken away and killed, and instead, keep them for weeks, often months, while the owners are checking with DAS daily. Then, after futile weeks of checking, the owners give up the search and when the dog finally does turn up at DAS, it’s too late.
And, yes, DAS is too often beset with problems due to understaffing, being underfunded, and overwhelmed at times with too many animals being dumped by too many irresponsible owners. They also have to rely on hard-working volunteers and in the past lack of time and training for the volunteers has resulted in problems. Add in the difficulty of properly describing/identifying dogs for the hot line and the problems are only magnified. As a DAS certified “Basenji Rescue” contact, I’ve gotten several calls or emails over the years claiming that there’s a basenji in the shelter. Only once has that been correct. The other dogs weren’t even close. True, very few people have ever actually seen a basenji, and basenji-mixes can be tricky, at best, so it’s easy to see how any small tan and white dog with a curled tail might be worth calling me about. But that information on the phone call-in line would flummox an owner looking for their tan terrier/retriever mix. Even the photos that were taken and sent me didn’t much match the dog when I came to the shelter for a look. So, proper identification even by photo can be hard.
Add in the fact that, believe it or not, a lot of people have no clue where DAS is or how to access it. In this case, Annie was lost in Nipomo and I’m betting her owner likely never thought to drive daily up to a shelter as far away as San Luis Obispo. And, for all we know, Annie may have been kept in somebody’s home while they tried on their own to post flyers around the neighborhood until finally turning her over, thereby confounding Mr. Hogue’s search. In short, an awful lot of people simply don’t know where to begin to look for a lost dog.
And, finally, in this story, we have to add in the adoptive family, whose story we know nothing about, except they refuse to return Annie to her “real” owner, and so-far have refused to say why they refuse. Which makes them look like evil, horrible, terrible pond-scum. And raises an interesting ethical issue: Who “owns” dogs and when?
Legally, (at this point, unless Warren Jensen can find some new wrinkle) Annie is legally “owned” by the adoptive A.G. family. They filled out the forms, paid the fees, followed the DAS rules.
But who really “owns” Annie? The A.G. family who has had her for a few weeks, or Hogue, who has “owned” Annie for 8 years? One letter-to-the-editor writer suggested we all let Annie decide. Invite Mr. Hogue over to the A.G. family home, open the door and let’s see.
And, ethically, is it right to keep someone’s dog when there’s no evidence that the owner is abusive, indifferent, cruel, etc? When the only problem may have been a lack of knowledge of how to search for and find a lost dog? When the owner has known and loved his dog for 8 years and the adopter has only known the dog for a few weeks?
When does me-first trump doing the right thing? Has Finders keepers, losers weepers become the ethical norm? Well, until we hear from the family in question, we’ll be left with a lot of questions and likely this saga will continue. After all, it’s August – Dog Days – and this is one of those slow-news-day stories. Stay tuned.
Also Stay Tuned
The Republic is safe for another week. Instead of allowing gay marriages to commence, Federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker has allowed the Prop 8 supporters to delay and appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which should rule next week. The question before the 9th Circuit has now turned into an interesting one: In federal court, in order to have standing to sue, a person/group has to show that they have suffered an actual injury, and in the trial over which Judge Walker presided, the Prop 8 folks couldn’t muster any rational, credible, factual evidence that people had been injured by gay people getting married.
And since Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, as the losing parties who do have standing have refused to appeal Walker’s decision, it’ll be up to the Prop 8 folks to find and present all those injured straight people to the 9th Circuit Court. If they can’t, that’ll apparently be the end of it in California, at least, and we’ll see a lot of gay weddings happening all over the state.
Meanwhile, DOMA (federal Defense of Marriage Act) still stands and still discriminates against gay folks who are legally married in states where that’s allowed, so that case has yet to proceed on that issue. And, of course, the military – which has apparently forgotten that it’s fighting two wars – is still kicking out fully trained gay soldiers, including combat veterans. And they’ll apparently continue to do so until either President Obama signs an executive stop-order and/or the year-long “study” is completed and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is rescinded.
Such bigotry and stupidity never ceases to amaze me. But, hey, it’s sooooo American.