Four legs and a funeral

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.

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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.

All he's gotten from Mesquite so far is a six-line letter stating that the city has "been unable to factually identify any areas of policy or procedure violation by our Animal Control Officer."

Exactly who and what were investigated during the two weeks is unclear, and no one seems willing to light the way. Calls to TU Electric and Lone Star Gas indicate that neither company had a meter reader in the area who might have reported Sammy as dangerous. Michael Crews, superintendent for Mesquite's water department, had no comment, saying that any information on a dog complaint would have to come from the shelter. Back to square one.

When asked to provide copies of the citations imposed on Brown and the waiver she'd signed, Killen said the citations were never actually issued because Brown opted to sign the "release" form instead. Killen did provide the Dallas Observer with a copy of Brown's signed form, which does "authorize the City of Mesquite to either adopt out or euthanize this animal, if deemed appropriate." Brown had signed her name in the two blanks where someone had marked an "X," apparently neglecting to read all of the words in between.

The form also notes that the collarless Sammy was picked up not roaming the streets with fangs bared, but on the "F/P"--as in front porch--of Monika Brown's home. Brown confirms that Sammy would often fall asleep on the front porch and wait for the family to get home.

Killen has offered the family a free dog or cat, but Brown says she doesn't want another dog. She wants to know why Sammy was killed. She and her father also want "to get Mr. Dutton out of public contact," Brown says. "I don't want this man working around people's animals."

So was Sammy the dog a snarling chomper of flesh or a timid and loving pet? "There was nothing vicious about Sammy," says one of Brown's neighbors, who asked not to be identified. "He was loving, very protective with the children. There's dogs, and then there's dogs," she says. "Sammy was just special."

Other neighbors claim to have had their own problems with Mesquite Animal Control. Donna Spain, who lives catty-corner from Smith, recalls a time last winter when her four-month-old Labrador mix accidentally got out of the house. "Lucky" sneaked into the front yard and started playing around, Spain says. She found her son, Chad, chasing Lucky around the yard, trying to coax him back into the house.

Spain claims Mesquite Animal Control circled the block a few times, then stopped to lure Lucky into the paddy wagon. Chad yelled out to the dogcatcher that Lucky was his. The catcher reportedly muttered "tough shit" and took Lucky into custody.

Spain ended up pleading no contest to a couple of citations and paid a fine. But she did get her dog back, whose name just may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Still, some people find it hard to believe that the pound killed Sammy for no good reason. "I can't imagine they would put a dog to sleep without a reason," says Dr. Joseph Quinn, the Mesquite veterinarian who neutered Sammy and once performed a $500 leg surgery on the dog.

As for Brown's claim that Dutton said he'd hold Sammy for three days, "there's no law that says they have to hold it," says Laurie Collins, animal care center director for the SPCA in Dallas. But Collins trusts Mesquite pound officials and deals with them frequently. "I do not feel there's any way that Mesquite would put down an animal that had a loving home to return to," she says.

These days, it doesn't really matter who says what, because nothing can bring the dog back. Sammy no longer lopes up to Garrett after school and licks him lovingly. Recently, the boy wrote his dog a letter: "Sammy I remember when I met you at the dog pound. You were the most beautifullest dog I ever seen. And I really want you back. Love, Garrett."

Occasionally, Brown says, her son will go out in the backyard with Caitlin--their other dog--then come back in the house, looking a little mopey.  

The seven-year-old hasn't given up hope that Sammy will come home some day. "He'll come up to me and say, 'We'll make signs and put them up so the family that adopted him will know he has a loving family, and they'll bring him back,'" she says.

Monika Brown hasn't decided whether to tell her son the truth about what really happened to Sammy. What purpose would it serve? she asks. "We don't want Garrett to hate the city," Smith adds.

Looks like Garrett will have to find a new best friend.

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