The story begins like this … During a blizzard in January, somehow my overgrown, sweetheart of a lab-mix, Harley, got out of the house/yard. We don’t know how. But a neighbor called the dog catcher, who came by, corralled the pup and took him to doggie jail.
Now I consider myself an exceptional pet owner. Here’s why: Several years back, my boyfriend Mark suggested we move my fence up so that we could then access the side of my house and install a doggie door into my garage. This would give my pup easy access to shelter any time he wanted to get inside out of the elements. What an astounding idea! So we dug up the posts, moved them to the front of my house, re-installed the fence and then cut a big hole in the side of my house to allow installation of the doggie door.
Now, Harley had easy access to the garage, where he could come and go as he pleased throughout the day. Weird dog that he is, when it’s gorgeous out, he’ll stay in the garage. When it’s a snowstorm, he’s outside! Go figure!
Fast forward to this past January. Due to the extreme weather, I’d been leaving my basement door open into the garage to allow some heat to warm the area and also give Harley the option of going down to the basement. The morning of this whole debacle, I left Harley in the garage and headed to work. It was a snow day, so my son was home asleep in bed.
Just after lunch (when my offspring FINALLY got up), he called me in a panic: “Harley is gone!” What? Still on the phone with me, he went outside to check for sure that Harley wasn’t there. He walked the perimeter of the yard looking for tracks in the snow to see if he could determine where Harley had gotten out. No luck. The snow was blowing and he finally had to come back inside.
At that point, I realized my cell phone was dead. Knowing my cell was listed on Harley’s tags as a contact, I immediately called to check my messages. Sure enough, earlier that day, I heard the call from the dog catcher that she had incarcerated my canine and taken him to the city lockup. Looking out the window of my office at the swirling storm, I knew I was in a bind. My employer wasn’t going to allow me to leave and break the dog out of puppy prison, but I knew the facility would likely be closing early due to the storm (which they confirmed when I called). Luckily, Mark’s son was home from college for the day, and he volunteered to go fetch the pooch. That night, after the storm died down, we determined that Harley must have taken his break for liberty after discovering that the home inspector, who had been at my house the day before, had not latched the gate properly. Why my crazy canine would decide to escape his confines in the middle of a snowstorm is anyone’s guess!
More than $50 later (for the impound fees), Harley came home and I thought my venture into doggie delirium was over. But a week later, I was astounded to receive a citation in the mail with a fine of $100 for my dog being loose! A handwritten message from the dog catcher noted that it was negligent to leave a dog outside without shelter, food or water in the middle of a storm! Yeah, it WOULD be! If I was a negligent pet owner! I was incensed! I decided I would NOT pay the fine and would go to court to plead my case! Negligent pet owner! Who did that putz of a dog catcher think she was?
The day came to go to court to pay the fine. But it wasn’t as easy as that. Nope, the judge asked if I wanted to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. “Not guilty!” I said with conviction! (Okay, I was admittedly a little freaked out to be in court—my “Not guilty” plea might not have been as wholehearted as I would have liked.) “Trial set for April 1, then,” the judge said.
TRIAL? I was going to have to go to TRIAL because my dog had been loose? This was seriously how the city spends its money? Well, okay then! Trial it would be.
In the days leading up to the trial (seriously? I was really going to TRIAL?), I kept kicking around what that whole concept meant. Did it REALLY mean a TRIAL? With witnesses? Rebuttals? Questioning? I figured I’d watched too many courtroom dramas. It couldn’t possibly be that convoluted for a dog being loose, right?
April 1, appropriately enough, was my doggie date with the law. I showed up and sat down at the back of the court room. The prosecutor called my name. “You want a trial today?” she asked. “Yes.” “For your dog being loose?” “Yes.” The look on her face seemed a mix of pity and incredulity. But I was determined to defend myself. Yes, my dog had been loose. But it was NOT because I was one of those negligent pet owners you see on Animal Planet! I clenched my fist in conviction (or maybe it was to keep it from shaking—after all, this was the first time I’d ever been to trial!).
The judge finally called me up. He had just dismissed the case of a teenybopper who had turned left out of the school parking lot before the designated hours it was allowed. I felt confident that the judge would take pity on me, too.
The dog catcher took her seat next to the judge’s bench, while I furiously took notes on the questions I would ask. After citing her credentials as an officer of the court, it was my turn to act as the defense lawyer. “Had you ever cited me for a previous infraction for my dog being loose or uncared for?” “No, not that I’m aware of.” The dog catcher sat slumped to the side, casually looking at the judge as her curly mullet spilled over the shoulder of her oversized blue uniform. Next question: “Did you see any signs that the dog was neglected?” “I didn’t see any signs of shelter for the dog,” she replied. Aha! Just as I suspected! She was unaware of the doggie door! “Did you walk the entire perimeter of the house?” I asked. She seemed to perk up at this line of questioning, confident that she’d done her due diligence in giving me a citation. “Oh, yeah,” she smirked. “I walked around the whole yard trying to chase him,” she said. I held back a grin. Ha! She thought she had busted me! Calmly, I inquired, “So you didn’t see the doggie door in the side of the garage?” She hesitated. “No, I didn’t see that.” SUCCESS! She had admitted that my dog was NOT neglected! Triumphant, I declared, “The defense rests, your honor.” (Okay, if I hadn’t been so intimidated by the entire process, I might have said that. But you get the drift.)
The judge then asked if I had any statement to make or evidence to submit. He swore me in (hand in the air, “Do you swear …,” etc.) and I made my case. I gave him photos of my doggie door and the locks on my gate, explaining how I take great care of my pooch and how he had escaped only because the evil home inspector had left the gate unlatched. (I didn’t use that adjective, but it was inferred, wasn’t it?) After listening to my case, the judge asked the prosecutor if she had any additional questions. “You do admit you are the owner of the dog?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“And it was your dog that was loose?”
“Yes …” I replied.
“No more questions your honor.”
Admittedly, the judge seemed sympathetic to my plight. He seemed to understand that I hadn’t neglected my dog and that Harley had fled the yard without my knowledge. Nevertheless, he said, “I’m afraid I have to find you guilty.” Argh. Apparently being a defense attorney should not my next career move. BUT, being a kindhearted soul, the judge and prosecutor both agreed to suspend a portion of the fine. Instead of the original $100 fine, it was reduced to $46.
Good thing! The stress of defending myself took a toll on me. I’m undoubtedly going to have to spend the $64 I “saved” at the masseuse. Next case!