BOOKS: Stealing Love: Confessions of a Dognapper

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2006:

Stealing Love: Confessions of a Dognapper by Mary A. Fischer
Harmony Books (231 Broad St., Nevada City, CA 95959), 2006. 288
pages, hardcover. $23.00.

Stealing Love: Confessions of a Dognapper is the
autobiography of investigative reporter Mary A. Fischer, a poignant
story of a sad and lonely life. Rescuing abused dogs is both
incidental to, and symbolic of, her own family history.
Fischer was the second daughter of a dysfunctional family.
When she was four years old, her mother had a breakdown following
the death of her own mother, and was committed to a mental
institution by her father, a selfish, inconsiderate rake.
Fischer paints a harrowing picture of life in an American
asylum when psychiatry was still relatively new: “No experimental
therapy was seen as too bizarre.” Shock therapy was the norm,
“with electrode pads in a metal headband on her temples, a nurse
flips a switch and 140 volts of electricity crackle through her
temporal lobes like a thunderbolt of lightning.”

Because her father could not handle the care of his two young
daughters, he sent them to a Catholic convent boarding school.
Fischer spent seven miserable years of alienated existence at this
austere, loveless institution. Fischer emerged from this tragic
background with a fiercely independent spirit, contempt for
authority, and deep compassion for underdogs, evident in both her
reporting career and in dognapping to rescue dogs from abusive homes.
Her rescues/thefts have not been random. “I and many of the
other rescuers I’ve met are not, well, rabid in how we fulfil our
mission,” Fischer contends, describing them as “solid people, a
vet who will go un-named, a marketing and branding executive,
an NBC publicist, and a former lawyer.”
Vigilante dog rescuers are not welcomed by much of the animal
welfare community. As ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton explains,
“I began logging pet theft cases circa 1980. Theft for laboratory
use was then the most common motive. Since the federal Pet Theft Act
took effect in 1993, however, pet thefts in the name of rescue far
outnumber pet thefts for lab use, and indeed all other categories of
pet theft except thefts in connection with dogfighting. Many
‘rescue’ thefts are undertaken with little or no effort to pursue
legal remedies, and are based on gross misunderstanding, as comes
out in court cases, e.g. old dogs who are in late stages of cancer,
but are enjoying their last days in the sunshine, who are snatched
away by people who believe they are being starved.
“Hundreds of animals were stolen after Hurricane Katrina in
the name of rescue, some of whom had just been taken back to New
Orleans by people returning to the city to try to rebuild their
lives. Courts all over the U.S. are now handling cases of New
Orleans refugees trying to reclaim pets who were taken by ‘rescuers’
who now refuse to return them.
“For more than 50 years animal advocates moved mountains to
get strong federal penalties and supporting state laws in place to
crack down on pet theft. Now the animal advocacy community is
suddenly being asked to defend ‘rescuers’ who violate the anti-theft
laws. If animal advocates get suckered into weakening the laws
with–for example–provisions exempting interstate pet thieves who
have non-profit status, thieves with motives other than rescue will
be quick to exploit the loopholes. Quite a few dogfighters already
pose as rescuers, and some lab suppliers have operated as medical
Yet reading the individual accounts of why Fischer has
rescued neglected dogs, we the reviewers can say that we quite agree
with her actions and have, operating our own wildlife rehabilitation
center, done similar. Authorities are not always keen to intervene,
and making a report would often provoke personal retaliation from the
animal abuser.
Fischer saw animals suffering in dire situations where she
could not practicably invoke authorities: “Dogs tethered to six-foot
ropes and chains, their necks permanently scarred,” and
“malnourished dogs with exposed rib bones, others with cigarette
burns, beer bottles broken over their heads, or their ears chewed
away by mites or other insects.”
Fischer did not simply assume starvation, which can be
difficult to distinguish from other conditions in single-dog cases;
she had this verified by a veterinarian, and only acted after months
of observation
–Chris Mercer & Beverley Pervan
<>, SouthAfrica

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