Four legs and a funeral

This tale of a boy, his dog, and Mesquite Animal Control doesn't have a happy ending

When seven-year old Garrett Brown thinks of his dog Sammy, he gets sad. Sammy was Garrett's first dog, plucked from the pound, and the two were best friends for nearly three years.

A dusky tan-and-cream mixed breed with floppy ears and a black snout, Sammy would bound after Garrett whenever he got too far away. And although Garrett misses his dog a lot, he's glad Sammy has found a new family.

Unfortunately, Garrett doesn't know the whole truth. Sammy isn't with another family. He's dead. And he's been that way since July 2, when the Mesquite Animal Shelter euthanized him. But the boy's family hasn't told him yet; they're afraid it will hurt too much.

Now, five weeks later, the dog's owner is still angry about the incident, claiming that animal control officials misled her and lied to her. An official investigation by Mesquite's food inspection/animal control administrator into Sammy's death supposedly yielded no evidence of violations. But attempts by the boy's family to get further information on the dog's final hours haven't worked, and they're considering filing suit against the city of Mesquite.

Sammy's sad tale began five weeks ago when he got out of his owner's backyard, perhaps by jumping the fence. That afternoon, the Mesquite Animal Shelter received a complaint that two dogs were chasing a meter reader, and responded by dispatching a dogcatcher to the neighborhood. There, the complainant--whose name the city won't reveal--identified Sammy as one of the culprits. The dogcatcher left a note on the door of Monika Brown, Garrett's mother, and then hauled in Sammy.

That evening, Monika Brown went to the shelter--ironically, the same pound from which she'd adopted Sammy--to retrieve the dog. When she got there, she was told she'd be responsible for fines totaling "at least $300." Unable to pay, Brown instead signed a form titled "Animal Control Division/Individual Animal Record." She apparently didn't read all the fine print; she'd effectively signed Sammy's death warrant. The next morning before noon, Sammy the dog was dead, euthanized by injection at the city animal shelter.

Up to this point in the story, all sides more or less agree. The rest is a "he said-she said" potboiler. Sammy's family claims the dog's death wasn't justified; city officials say they were simply following procedures.

The city's version of events goes like this:
Sometime on July 1, "someone made a complaint" about an attempted dog bite, says Stephen Killen, animal control administrator for Mesquite. Killen wouldn't say who made the complaint, although records from the shelter indicate a "meter reader" filed it.

"We picked up the dog and impounded him," Killen says. The dog didn't have a collar or appropriate registration or vaccination tags, he adds.

Arnold Dutton, the animal control officer who spoke with Monika Brown that night at the shelter, vaguely remembers the incident, but said, "Any comments or anything like that needs to go through [Killen]." Dutton refused further comment.

Why the dog was euthanized so quickly--within 18 hours--is unclear, because Killen won't release any more details. What Killen will say, though, having conducted a two-week investigation of the matter, is that Monika Brown signed a waiver releasing ownership of Sammy and authorizing euthanasia. Killen says that if Brown had read the form, she would have realized she was signing away the dog's life.

Brown doesn't deny signing the form and admits she should have read it closely. Even so, her version of events is significantly different.

Brown says she arrived home July 1 and found a note saying that her dog was at the pound. She went to the shelter shortly before closing time at 6 p.m. and spoke with Dutton, who told her it would cost $25 to get Sammy out. While she was getting ready to pay, Brown says Dutton also told her the shelter would soon be issuing three citations totaling at least $300.

Brown told Dutton she wouldn't be able to come up with that kind of money anytime soon. So Dutton presented her with an alternative: sign away ownership of Sammy, then have someone else come in and "re-adopt" the dog for $50. This sounded reasonable to Brown, so she signed the form.

She then told Dutton that her ex-husband would be in to adopt the dog the next day, and asked if the shelter would hold Sammy until then. "He told me, 'We'll keep him here for at least three days,'" Brown says. She never dreamed they'd kill Sammy within a day. Brown also remembers seeing "at least four empty cages" that evening at the shelter, indicating there was sufficient space to hold Sammy.

"[Dutton] acted like he cared and said, 'We're not cruel, you know,'" she says. "Why would he lie?"

Today, Monika Brown's father, Tom Smith, is livid. He's mostly concerned for his grandson Garrett and "just boils" when he thinks about Sammy's death. He quivers as he talks and keeps excusing himself for it. In the corner, "Magnum"--Smith's 87-pound Doberman--lies quietly on the cool tile, occasionally trotting over to the couch and sniffing the air.

"If you knew Sammy, you'd understand," Smith says. Someone would have to be "naive, a moron" to see Sammy as a threat, he continues. Smith has pursued the case since day one in search of a reasonable explanation for Sammy's death. So far, he's not satisfied.

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