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The Dogs of War

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By July, Merlo also started keeping Lana, whose registered name was Oriana Atlantis. Milner said his landlord had been giving him a hard time about the dogs, so he'd begun looking around for a new place to live.

"It was clear to everyone that Sandra was just helping Chuck out until he moved," Greenberg says. "In fact, when she came into the salon, all they talked about was Breezy and Lana."

Merlo kept Milner apprised of the dogs' activities. She and her husband took the dogs regularly to their country home near Athens, in East Texas. They even walked them in the Black Eyed Pea parade, where the exotic canines proved a big hit.

Milner eventually found a new place to live, and planned to move in during Labor Day Weekend. He says he told Merlo he'd be collecting Breezy and Lana soon.

Two days before the holiday weekend in 1992, Sandra Merlo showed up for a regular appointment with Milner. She told him she was going to Vail for the weekend and had boarded the dogs.

"I told her I would keep them, but she said she had already taken them in," Milner recalls. "I warned her to make sure the vet didn't do anything surgical to them. I had heard horror stories on the dog show circuit of dogs and cats going in for boarding and getting spayed or neutered by mistake."

On Saturday, Merlo called Milner from Vail. "I have some bad news. We've lost the girls," Milner recalls her telling him. "They're dead."

Milner was floored.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted--I screamed so loud. I don't know how I made it through work. I was in such a state of shock, I cried for a week," he says.

Veterinarian William L. Anderson called Milner later in the day from his mobile phone to explain that the dogs had bled to death. The vet said the dogs made it through surgery and appeared to be doing well when he and his daughter left for the night, Milner recalls. But the next morning, the vets arrived to find one of the dogs dead, and the other dying.

"To add insult to injury," Milner says, "he wouldn't release their bodies to me because he said they weren't mine. Then why was he calling me? He also refused to give me a copy of the autopsy."

Milner's vet convinced the Andersons to send the dogs to a crematorium in DeSoto, which delivered the ashes to Milner.

To this day, Milner can't explain how the tragedy could have happened. He believes Merlo fell in love with his dogs and couldn't bring herself to return them.

Merlo, for her part, says she's "devastated" by the lawsuit. She claims her former hairdresser had given her the dogs for keeps. "I would never have taken on such an expense if I thought it was only temporary," Merlo insists. "Not just the food, but I had them groomed every week at $90 apiece at the Perky Poodle salon. I had them dipped for fleas and had their teeth scaled."

Merlo has since acquired two new Afghan hounds through the Dallas Afghan Hound rescue project. "They're elegant, elegant animals," Merlo says. "You just walk them down the street and the cars stop."

In an odd twist to the tale, Merlo evidently tried to convince a process server that the dogs weren't dead--and pointed, as proof, to her new pair of hounds.

"She said, 'I don't know why he's doing this--the dogs are right here,'" says Michael Dupree, who served her with Milner's lawsuit.

Today, both Merlo and Milner are trying to figure out exactly why the dogs died--and if it could have been prevented. Merlo says the vet wouldn't tell her anything; Milner says Anderson would not release the autopsy results to him.

Local animal experts say that spaying is a simple, straightforward procedure with few risks and a very small mortality rate--"Less than .05 percent," according to Mary Stewart, director of operations at the Dallas SPCA.

The biggest threat to Afghan hounds during surgery is anesthesia--because Afghans possess little body fat, which is needed to metabolize the anesthetic.

Breezy and Lana, however, bled to death--a fate that has many possible causes. The hounds, for example, might have had a genetic blood-clotting disease. This could have been detected with a test before surgery.

Other theories exist. Thelbert Childers, a veterinarian at the Lovers Lane Animal Hospital, says one of the causes of uncontrollable bleeding in dogs is ehrlichia, a blood parasite that "takes up platelets." The parasite--similar to the one that causes Lyme disease--is carried by ticks. Childers says he's detected the parasite in many dogs that spend time in rural places such as East Texas.

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Ann Zimmerman

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