I’m not very good at elephants in a room. I am not OK with lies. I am not OK with abuse of any kind – human or animal (as you know from my Humane Society post). And I believe that we can be the change we want to see in the world.
A dog is NOT a bicycle. Makes sense, right? Wrong. In the US court system, a dog is very much like a bicycle. It is property, nothing more and nothing less. As my friend Hollye has learned in the most nightmarish way.
Hollye’s a blogger, writer and editor. Mother and new grandmother. A talented musician with a fabulous husband and kids. The Dexter family has the sort of talent that just oozes from every pore. It’s inspiring.
Hollye and her husband, Troy, have spent everything they have, financially and emotionally, in court the last TWO AND A HALF YEARS to fight to keep Stitch, the abused French Bulldog they legally adopted, from being returned to people who mistreated him. Because dogs are like bicycles. Or something.
A teenage actress was given Stitch as a puppy, but she would go off partying for days and days, leaving Stitch locked indoors. He’d have to go to the bathroom on the floor because he was alone and had no way to get outside. She once brought him to a party, a wild one, and he ended up breaking through a glass window to try and escape. Stitch needed a better home, and the teenager’s mother stepped in and found him one.
Hollye and Troy legally adopted the year old pup, who their youngest son, then a preschooler, had fallen in love with. They had him microchipped, vaccinated (he’d never had proper shots) and were giving him the home he needed. A safe one. Where he wouldn’t have to worry about where he could go to the bathroom – vaccinations, access to a place to go to the bathroom, proper food – these things shouldn’t be luxuries, should they?
Within weeks, the girl’s adult boyfriend began harassing them and saying Stitch was his dog and they’d stolen him. He filed police reports. Hollye had a nonprofit using music as therapy to help foster children – even a false police record could put that at risk. They brought the dog back to the girl’s mother, asking her to hold onto him while they cleared this up. The boyfriend took the dog from the house and disappeared with him before they could.
TWO YEARS LATER, they got a call. From Nevada City. Ten hours north of Los Angeles. Stitch had been found abandoned on a highway. He had a collar with a disconnected number along with a cigarette burn in his skin.
Animal control scanned the microchip and found them. They drove up and brought him back to LA. They got him vet care, medications and special food (Frenchies are high maintenance, lovable, but high maintenance – I know.). Once again, Stitch and their four-year-old son were connected at the hip.
And then, the guy reappeared. This time the harassment went further.
He sued them for $25,000 and charged them with theft and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They spent a YEAR AND A HALF in court. They played by the rules even when others didn’t:
Under oath, the actress lied and said Stitch wasn’t ever hers. There is video evidence that proves she lied but it they weren’t able to show it in court. (Hollye shared the incident on her blog, here.)
The “owner” told the court he’d lost the dog at least 5 times in Northern CA, and twice more in Los Angeles. As a Frenchie owner, I will tell you they aren’t Darwin’s finest (I love my dog but it’s a fact). They can’t survive in heat and they’re really indoor dogs given their breathing issues and allergies. But this guy said the last time he lost Stitch he didn’t look for days because he “figured he’d turn up.”
What about the boy who bought the puppy and gave it to the girl? Well, he wouldn’t testify as he was out of state in rehab. And the girl’s mother wouldn’t speak because it could damage her relationship with her daughter.
On June 2, 2011, the Dexters lost the trial on a 150 year old Lost Property Statute. “Even if neglected, property must be returned to its original owner – an owner who, as per the Judge’s statement, had no real evidence of ownership.”
(As for the $25,000 for emotional distress, the judge ruled they owed him nothing. But he was to pay them back for all the years of Stitch’s vet bills. He hasn’t paid them a penny.)
They appealed IMMEDIATELY. There was no way they could let him return to a life of neglect. A life that found him abandoned on a highway with cigarette burns.
On June 6th, the appeal was filed, and in what’s sort of like dog bail, they paid the courts so that they could keep Stitch until the hearings.
Almost a year to the date, June 7, 2012, Stitch’s fate will be determined in the Los Angeles Court of Appeals. The Dexters are fighting to change the legal rights of domestic pets in this country.
As Hollye says, “I would never withhold a dog from someone I believed owned and truly loved him, but in this case, I don’t believe either to be true. Even the judge wrote in his final ruling that the plaintiff’s case ‘lacked credibility’ and that there was ‘no physical proof’ of ownership.’” But “as the opposing attorney used in his argument against us, if you leave your bicycle at the beach and three weeks later you see someone else riding your bicycle, they are obligated to give it back to you.”
Property doesn’t feel the pain of a cigarette burned into its skin. Stitch did.
“So I’m fighting. I’m fighting for Stitch because I fear what would happen to him in this guy’s care.”
I believe in the power of the blogosphere, and I ask you to help me share Stitch’s story. (For media inquiries, please feel free to contact me and I can give you more info.)
And please post and share the blog button on the top right side of this page.
A DOG IS NOT A BICYCLE. Help us Save Stitch.
I don’t want to get discouraged. I want to believe that the more we talk about this, the more thigs can change. From the The Humane Society (HSUS) Puppy Mill Action Week to the huge custody suits being waged in New York by Craig Dershowitz, a man trying to keep the dog he loves. Again and again, we see people are ready for changes in the law. A change is going to come. It must.