“Right to rescue” cases in Michigan, Texas, and Ontario, Canada
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2008:
The nationally publicized prosecution and sentencing of Dogs
Deserve Better founder Tammy Grimes was only the most prominent of
several similar cases attracting significant regional attention at
almost the same time.
“Two dogs chained for five frigid weeks outside an abandoned
home in Eaton County [Michigan] are now in compassionate hands at the
Capital Area Humane Society,” reported John Schneider of the Lansing
State Journal on February 23, 2008. “After arguing with concerned
neighbors for more than a month that he had no legal right to
intervene, Eaton County Animal Control Director Larry Green seized
the dogs Friday morning and delivered them to the humane society.
“Green had been telling residents urging him to act on behalf
of the abandoned animals–and who, out of pity, had been giving
them food and water–that as long as they were being fed and watered,
Animal Control couldn’t use ‘neglect’ as grounds for intervention,”
The situation developed, Schneider explained on page one 24
hours earlier, when an elderly woman was removed from her condemned
and dilapidated home, which had no electricity and no running water.
Alerted to the animals’ plight by neighbor Tamara Curtis,
Schneider wrote that “The dogs remained chained to posts in the
backyard, where they stand in the snow and stare into space, like
starving deer waiting to die. Frequently tangled chains make it
impossible for the dogs to crawl into a makeshift shelter. The cats,
looking more like roadkill than living creatures, roam the rural
neighborhood, foraging in trash bins.”
Summarized Schneider afterward, “Citizens outraged by the
animal neglect launched a firestorm of protest, jamming the phones
and e-mail boxes of the agencies involved, as well as the State
Said Green, “The prosecutor told me to remove them, and
that he’d have the paperwork [for a warrant] done by the time I got
Other Michigan animal control and humane officers disagreed
about the extent of their authority to impound animals in such
situations. The Michigan Humane Society has impounded animals under
similar circumstances for approximately 130 years.
Grace Saenz-Lopez, the ex-mayor of Alice, Texas, by all
accounts did not bother with legalities in a case of alleged rescue
theft for which she now faces felony charges of evidence tampering
and concealing evidence. “I didn’t steal the dog. I did not return
him to save his life,” Saenz-Lopez on Valentine’s Day 2008 told the
audience of NBC’s Today show.
“The dispute began in July,” summarized Associated Press,
“when Rudy Gutierrez and Shelly Cavazos, asked Saenz-Lopez, their
next door neighbor, to take care of their dog Puddles while they
were on vacation. When they called to check on him, Saenz-Lopez told
them Puddles had died and was buried in her yard. Three months
later, a relative of the neighbors saw the pet at a dog groomer.
When Saenz-Lopez refused to return the dog, the family filed a
criminal complaint and a civil lawsuit against her.
“Saenz-Lopez later reported the dog missing, only to have
Puddles turn up at the home of the mayor’s twin sister. Saenz-Lopez
resigned as mayor on February 1, 2008, after a recall petition was
circulated in the South Texas town of fewer than 20,000 residents.”
A pending Ontario case testing the limits of the ability of
animal cruelty investigators’ authority to seize animals appeared to
turn in favor of Toronto Humane Society investigator Tre Smith in
December 2007, after the Ontario SPCA allowed Smith to resume doing
cruelty law enforcement.
Smith, 36, on July 31, 2007 broke the window of an SUV to
rescue a Rottweiler he believed was in imminent danger from
overheating. “As Smith tried to rehydrate the canine,” recounted
Toronto Star staff reporter Michele Henry, he was accosted by car
owner Paul Soderholm. “While each tells a different versions of the
events that ensued,” Henry wrote, “it is indisputable that Smith
handcuffed Soderholm to his vehicle,” and called police to pick
Soderholm up, before rushing the dog to a veterinary hospital.
“When Smith left,” Henry added, “two bystanders beat up Soderholm.”
Soderholm was charged with cruelty, and his assailants were
charged with assault, reported Timothy Appleby of the Toronto Globe
Ontario SPCA chief inspector Hugh Coghill told Theresa Boyle
of the Toronto Star that none of the other 170 humane agencies in the
province allow their inspectors to use handcuffs.