Friday, August 13, 2010

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?

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.


Anne R. Allen said...

I think the Annie story is also one of the digital age. Old Mr. Hogue lives an old-fashioned country life and doesn't have a computer. If he'd checked online, they tell us, he could have found Annie in the DAS listings of found dogs. If he'd had a microchip implanted he'd be a "good" owner. Do we penalize people simply for being low-tech?

It's pretty much a 21st-century vs. 20th century battle. Should the digitally savvy get all the marbles? Only time will tell. But then, Mr. Hogue has Mr. Congalton. Maybe radio will trump the Internet in the Annie story. But it may be for the last time.

Alon Perlman said...

Ah, the doggone dog days of summer.
DOGGATE in high gear, and this is only day 20 of the doggerel. Wait till it hits the nationals.

I harken back to the days of yore, When, in this season, the reports of mailmen biting dogs, replaced the stories of our brave boys fighting in exotic places.

Translation; (Poastal delivery persons…Soldiers)

Wonder how the state budget would fare if not for this prop 8 silliness.
And as for the Military; It is now a mixed-sex forces, and fraternization is still more than frowned upon. You can’t expect young people entering the military to remain chaste, since many lost “Chaste” starting at fifteen. So you have temporary but legal “Marriages of convenience”, instead of dating (and a small few will end up lifetime commitments). How is that helping the “Institution” of Marriage?

Churadogs said...

Anne: Too true. It's amazing how many people either don't know anything about DAS or how to access it, or automatically believe that they just kill dogs there (not try desperately to reunite them with their owners) so people hold the dogs back while owners may be desperately looking. Dogs can stay out in the bush for weeks, often until the owner stops looking. It's a tangle. And since dogs are legally considered property, and laws concerning disposition of property differ, so that's another tangle. I think, in renter/landlord disputes, you have to keep somebody's property 90 days before disposing of it. It would be cruel to keep a dog 90 days in the pound before disposing of it. So, there we are. The clock starts running out on a dog the minute he's logged into DAS and if it's not microchipped or tatooed there's no way of contacting the owner, no mater how desperately he's looking. It's really sad.

The wierdness in this story is in the oddness of the new owners not only NOT giving the dog back, but they offer no explanation why not (at not least anything that showed up in the paper.)Are they clueless? Moral monsters? If their kids have "fallen in love with Annie," does a kid's month-long affection for a dog trump doing The Right Thing? Would a better moral lesson for the kids be, Sometimes doing the right thing hurts, but it's still the right thing?

On the other hand, there is always the lesson of Karma, and the adoptive family may well learn that lesson at some time and it's likely to be a very hard one for them.

M said...

Back in the day when you could let your dog run loose down in Baywood when population in Los Osos/Baywood Park was about 5000-6000 somebody garnered my Black Lab. About a week later my friend saw my dog in a pickup truck at the Merrimakers. He followed the truck to their home up on Highland and then gave me their address. I still had the remainder of my belt that I had made my dogs collar out of which was sort of conclusive evidence that the dog was indeed mine. When they let me in their house to discuss it, there was my dog laying on the couch eating a plate of raw hamburger. Obviously he was a little reluctant to get off the couch. The lady howled incessantly No! you can't take him from us! This after a week. I left with my dog and we very quickly became best friends again without the raw hamburger. People can become very attached in a short time.
Sincerely, M

FOGSWAMP said...

M ..... That was an iInteresting story and a nice outcome.

I think they should let the dog decide who she wants to be with. Just get the two parties together (bar any raw hamburger) and let the dog go. Dogs are generally pretty faithful.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read, Groucho Marks.

Churadogs said...

Now, mind you I'm not suggesting this, but if the "real" owner finds out where the "new" owners live, he could always lurk around nearby and if the dog's ever off leash or outside the gate, give a whistle. If the dog runs off and hops into his truch, oh, well . . But Fogswamp, you're right. Should get the folks together and see how the dog reacts.

On the other hand, dogs are the perfect example of that song, "If I can't be with the one I love, I'll love the one I'm with." They adapt to changed/present circumstances pretty quickly and providing "Annie" has a good new home, she'll be a happy dog. Her (old) owner will suffer more than she has/will, so that's the only good thing about this whole mess.

My concern, oddly, is with the new owners. They have to know what they're doing is wrong on some level, which means they'll have to lie to themselves about it, and lie to their children about all of this to somehow justify what they're doing, and at some point their kids will find out about that lie and feel betrayed and think less of their parents, and because the parents know they're lying, that's gonna be a worm in their soul forever. Not good.

FOGSWAMP said...

I like the lurking around idea.

Yes, them folk seem to have a bit of mean-streak and the dog, having no moral restraints, will love the meanest of us.

When the dog meets her former master again she will express herself in seconds with her tail wagging because they wag their tails instead of their tongues.

Alon Perlman said...

Right as you all are, Dogs have good loyal memories, and can develop a sense of "Owner loss", but like Children are emotionally resilient and unless old, handle change in "Ownership" well.

The significance of a Solomonic test is, as usual, OUR anthropomorphic overlay over what the dog really thinks.

Like Children there is a balance between the threat and attractiveness of "newness".

"M"'s Dog may not had been separated long enough! Like M's example -I think that test would be most valid if the dog would be kenneled for about a week and only then allowed to choose between Old and New sets of owners. Dogs "remember" humans good treats, good rubs, and more so if they have been Alpha'd. I've spent some time as a guest with other people's dogs and usually after a very long separation, the dog goes nuts when he sees me. Not as much with short absences. That bond of friendship does not indicate an emotional ownership or choice.
Given that we really don't know what is in those peoples' (Annies Adoptees) heads that much more than inside a dog's head, we shouldn't judge them, though the only right thing is a return to original owner.
Now, Back to the Important question of the day;
How do you wrap fish in yesterday's Electronic newspaper.

P.S. To dogleg back to an earlier post by the writer A. R.
--Mr. Congleton has used access to Cal Coast electronic newspaper, His own radio Blog and a 'Give Annie back' Facebook page, so it may be too late to isolate this as a "Last Radio Show".

Watershed Mark said...

Chip your beloved pets sp when they get lost you can actually prove they are yours.
Technology solves problems.

That Pesky Nineth Circus...