Anti-chaining activist is busted for saving a dog
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2006:
ALTOONA, Pa.–Tammy Sneath Grimes, founder of the national
anti-chaining organization Dogs Deserve Better, was released from
police custody in East Freedom, Pennsylvania, at 2 a.m. on
September 12, 2006, about 12 hours after she removed a seriously
debilitated chained dog she called Doogie from the yard of East
Freedom residents Steve and Lori Arnold.
“I’m out,” on unsecured $50,000 bail, Grimes e-mailed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE, for whom she is a part-time assistant web site
developer. Charged with theft, receiving stolen property, criminal
mischief, and criminal trespass, Grimes remained convinced she had
done the right thing.
“I will not take this lying down,” Grimes pledged.
The criminal trespass and criminal mischief counts were
dismissed at a September 21 preliminary hearing, as about 75 Grimes
supporters demonstrated outside. Grimes is to stand trial on the
charges of theft and receiving stolen property on November 27.
The Arnolds call the elderly German shepherd/Labrador mix
Jake. They claim he is 19 years old, an extraordinary age for
either breed. The Arnolds told news media that the dog was in the
condition he was in because he is arthritic and they had hesitated to
have him euthanized. They said they had given him aspirin for pain
The first veterinarian to examine the dog after Grimes took
him, Nour Hassane of the Veterinary Hospital of Altoona, “didn’t
hesitate when asked, based on his experience and to a reasonable
degree of veterinary certainty, if Jake was neglected or abused,”
wrote Mark Lebenfinger of the Altoona Mirror.
“Oh, yes. Yes. Definitely yes,” Hussane told Lebenfinger.
“It was like somebody doesn’t care about this dog or was very busy
and didn’t keep up with the dog. You can see the skin, but you
can’t feel the muscles. He couldn’t stand on his four feet. I tried
to help him stand on his back legs, but he would fall back down,”
“It was really bad,” Hassane affirmed to Pete Bosak of the
State College Centre Daily Times. “He was in very bad condition. He
was miserable, likely suffering.”
Kim Eicher of East Freedom, a neighbor of the Arnolds,
called Grimes repeatedly about the dog on the morning of September
11, “crying because Doogie hadn’t gotten up since Saturday,” Grimes
said. “She had been calling the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society
since Saturday to no avail. We told her we aren’t law officers, and
she needed to call the humane officer. Then we got another call
about the same dog, from another person who passes him every day.”
Unknown to Eicher and Grimes, the Central Pennsylvania
Humane Society had assigned an officer to the case, but he had not
yet made contact with either of them. Having no awareness that
anyone else was responding, Grimes drove to the scene and “took
photos and video of Doogie,” she e-mailed to the 150-member Dogs
Deserve Better network.
“We initially thought he was dead, ” Grimes wrote, “as he
was not moving and his back was to us. We found out that the Arnolds
were not home to talk to about him, so I made the decision that he
could not lie there on the cold wet ground for one moment longer,
and I would accept all consequences of my decision.
Hassane “documented his generally neglected condition, low
weight, sores, and missing fur, and took X-rays of his back and
hips,” Grimes said. Hassane “determined that he has very bad back
spurs that are causing him a lot of pain, and are most likely
responsible for his inability to walk. He also saw an undetermined
mass near his hip on the X-ray.” Hassane “gave him a shot for pain
plus some B vitamins for energy, so that perhaps he could have even
one good day or a few good hours,” Grimes continued. “He wrote a
letter stating the dog’s condition in case we needed it.”
“Shortly after we got Doogie to my home, situated, bathed,
and fed and watered,” Grimes added, “an officer called from the
Freedom Township Police Department. He wanted me to return Doogie,
which I refused to do,” leading to Grimes’ subsequent arrest.
The case drew a variety of responses from humane
organizations. In Defense of Animals and grassroots groups as far
away as the Animal Rights Action Network in Limerick, Ireland,
posted web pages and distributed e-mails in Grimes’ support. The
online network Care2 circulated an international petition on her
Organizations with law enforcement powers and courtroom
experience with warrant requirements were markedly more cautious.
The Best Friends Animal Society, of Kanab, Utah, sought to
negotiate a settlement of the case acceptable to both Grimes and the
Arnolds, without success as of September 26.
“If it would help resolve this matter, Best Friends offers
to care for this dog. This includes free veterinary treatment, a
place to live at our sanctuary, and if it is in the best interests
of the dog, a permanent foster that is unrelated to the case,”
Best Friends general counsel Russ Mead wrote to Blair County District
Attorney Richard Consiglio and Magisterial District Judge Craig
Consiglio did not return Lebenfing-er’s call seeking comment,
Lebenfinger wrote, and a member of Ormsby’s office staff said Ormsby
did not read the letter before the September 21 hearing.
Grimes has not disclosed the present whereabouts of the dog.
“In a posting on its Web site, Best Friends said Grimes
plans to file a private criminal complaint against the Arnolds,”
Lebenfinger added. “Grimes referred the question to her Altoona
attorneys, Thomas M. Dickey and Lesley Childers.
“Our position is that Tammy Grimes has standing to file
charges,” Dickey told Lebenfinger. “We think this animal was not
only abandoned, but may have been tortured, which would make any
charges a misdemeanor of the first degree.”
Grimes, according to Dickey, did “nothing wrong at all,”
and was “justified in committing one offense to prevent a greater
As the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure require
district attorney approval for filing private criminal complaints,
Dickey said he would consult Consiglio about whether he would
authorize filing cruelty charges. “My client is not really
interested in filing charges,” Dickey added. “Her main goal is the
protection of the dog.”
“Unfortunately,” commented Erik Hendrick, the
soon-to-retire 27-year executive director of the Pennsylvania SPCA,
“Tammy’s actions tainted the evidence. The dog cannot be held [as
evidence] because he was removed illegally,” Hendrick opined.
“If Tammy had merely videotaped the dog on the property and
turned that tape over to the agent from the Central Pennsylvania
Humane Society, the agent would have been able to use that as a
basis for a search warrant,” which could have been used to make a
legal seizure, Hendrick explained.
“While what she did was the proper thing to do from the dog’s
point of view,” Hendrick told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “we all have to play
by the rules of society. Vigil-antes may be popular heroes, but if
everyone decided what was right and wrong based on their individual
feelings society would be chaotic. So, the police have done what
they must do under the circumstances: file charges.
“My advice to Tammy,” Hendrick added, as a veteran of
fighting cases in which the Pennsylvania SPCA itself has been accused
of improperly seizing animals, “is to give back the dog immediately,
since it is inevitable that she will be ordered to do so by the
presiding judge. Not doing so will only make her look like she is
thumbing her nose, something that infuriates any judge.
Returning the dog, as distasteful as that may be to Tammy,
will probably get her off with a lecture from the judge and a
probationary period of one year, after which the record will be
expunged if she doesn’t violate the probation.”
“I told Tammy that while she is suffering from her personal
legal problems now, this story will bring attention to the issue of
people neglecting to care for their dogs, whether it be withholding
veterinary care, shelter, or food and water,” Hendrick said. “In
the long run, the dog will be better off for Tammy’s involvement,
and Tammy and her organization will be strengthened.”
Grimes’ video of the dog drew 13,000 hits in the first two
days after she posted it to the Dogs Deserve Better web site. The
case was later featured on the TV news program Inside Edition.
The case also appeared to boost Grimes’ support as one of the
10 finalists for the 2006 Animal Planet Hero of the Year Award. The
winner is to be selected by visits to the Animal Planet web site.
Other finalists included Elephant Sanctuary founder Carol Buckley and
Pet-Abuse.com founder Alison Gianotto, who has posted online the
details of several thousand cruelty cases gleaned from more than 20
years’ worth of ANIMAL PEOPLE paper files as well as online sources.
Animal Planet will present $10,000 to the winner.
“Theft” v.s. rescue
Warrantless seizures by humane organizations became a hot
issue in Pennsylvania in 1993, after a joint raid on dairy farmer
John Tabaj, of Dunbar, by six uniformed humane officers, four of
them armed, who represented the Fayette County SPCA and Tri-County
Humane Protection. Allegedly investigating the purported theft of a
dog and cruelty to a heifer reported by Tabaj’s former son-in-law
during a messy divorce case, the humane organizations charged Tabaj
with five counts of cruelty, but the charges were later dropped.
The incident caused the Pennsylvania legislature to mandate
in December 1994 that humane officers must be appointed by a judge.
A Fayette County jury in January 1992 ordered a $96,000 penalty
against the Fayette County SPCA, upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court in November 2003, and ordered Tri-County Humane Protection,
now defunct, to pay Tabaj $105,000.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE log of verified pet theft cases shows that
during the past 10 years thefts by individuals acting in the name of
rescue have ranked a distant third in frequency behind thefts in
connection with dogfighting and thefts for other abusive purposes.
Approximately 225 such cases have come before the courts,
rarely resulting in acquittals but often bringing minimal penalties
if the rescuers showed that the animals urgently needed care.
Many more theft-in-the-name-of-rescue cases are pending,
mostly as result of adoptions after Hurricane Katrinia by people who
refused to return the animals they took in to those whose pets the
animals formerly were.
“At least one other member of Grimes’ group, Dogs Deserve
Better, has been charged criminally for trying to help a chained
dog,” the Best Friends Network web site noted. “Kathleen Slagle, a
Dogs Deserve Better representative who authored the anti-chaining
bill, HB 1911, now pending before the Pennsylvania state assembly
judiciary committee, sent a couple of anti-chaining brochures to
Charles and Dawn Soliday,” of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, who
allegedly keep their beagle chained.
“Slagle has been charged with harassment for these actions,”
the Best Friends Network stated, adding that “the dog warden in
Clearfield County has said she will support the Solidays. The dog
warden encouraged filing the charge.”
Continued the Best Friends Network web site, “In response to
these abuses, Best Friends Animal Society has proposed a citizen’s
good Samaritan law. Under such a law, citizens would be able to
enter the property of another for the limited purpose of taking an
animal to a veterinarian, if needed, or otherwise providing
emergency care for an animal. Of course, efforts must first be
made, as they were in Grimes’ case, to notify the owners and animal