I could write a quick little news story about this situation, but I’m going to pull a little Rashomon here, Dogsters, and ask you to bear with me while you explore a sad situation from two perspectives. We’ll talk about where your sentiments lie afterward.
Perspective 1. You are a family that has experienced loss of some very near and dear people and pets recently. You finally decide to get another dog to fill a hole in your hearts. You go to a shelter, find the perfect dog — an older Australian shepherd — bond with her immediately, and for a week, she brings great love and joy to your family. Your family is whole again.
Then you get a phone call telling you that the dog actually has another home, that the dog has an owner who wants her back. You wonder where this owner was while she spent a week in the shelter. What kind of a person could this be? You decide to keep her. To do otherwise would break your hearts, and perhaps, you fear, hers. The law is on your side. The county says you don’t have to give her back. You just know she is better off in your loving family. Case closed.
Perspective 2. You are a widower, living alone, with no children, just the beloved dog you have cherished for eight years since she was a puppy. One day she bolts from the back of your pickup truck on a ranch when she hears a gunshot. You search for her for weeks, calling the lost and found number at local shelters, sending word among friends. You don’t have a computer, so can’t check that way, but you do everything you can.
One day you hear your dog, Annie, is at a shelter. You joyously race to the shelter, but when you get there, it turns out she was adopted out to another family several days earlier. And they refused to relinquish her. The empty, lost feeling you have had for weeks is now deepened. You recently lost your wife. And now it looks like the dog is gone for good, thanks to what would turn out to be a major county shelter snafu. The county won’t step in to help. “I just want my dog back, you tell a newspaper, choking back tears. You say she is your “whole life.”
Let’s talk. This situation reminds me so much of the devastating separations many pet owners experienced after Hurricane Katrina. They could not get to their pets in time, and their dogs and cats were adopted to others — many of whom refused to give the pets back because they had bonded (and clearly because of socioeconomic concerns as well). The situation is documented with great artistry and heart in the film, MINE, which I reviewed here earlier this year.
There’s been huge public outcry in the Central California community where Annie’s original owner, Chuck Hoage, lives. By all accounts, he is a deeply good, caring man. A co-worker in a Facebook comment today wrote that Hoage is “the most hard working gentle soul I know.” The community has rallied around him, and word of his situation has spread to dog lovers everywhere. Someone donated a wonderful website — Return Annie to Chuck Hoage to help reunite the two. Check it out for the latest updates, for ways you can try to help influence the outcome, and for an audio interview with Hoage. You can find a good primer on the situation in this article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
There’s also a Facebook Group, Give Chuck Hoage His Dog Back, with more than 3,000 members from all over the world.
The adoptive family has had Annie for more than a month now, so the bond grows stronger. I can understand their heartache at having to give her up. That’s why I started this post from their perspective. It’s too easy to discount their feelings, but maybe if they get a little understanding, they’ll be more understanding themselves. These were clearly kind people to begin with, since they went the adoption route, and took home an older dog. It’s unfathomable to me that they won’t give Hoage his dog. There are so many other dogs looking for love.
Enticements abound for the family to relinquish Annie. Recently, Cloud Star, a small holistic dog-treat/food company, offered the family $1,000 toward adopting and training a new dog. If the family adopts from a shelter, Cloud Star would donate another $1,000 to that shelter. The company would also pay for proper identification for Annie as well as a safety harness for Annie when riding in the cab of Chuck’s truck. So far, they’ve shown no interest.
The name of the family has been protected, but about two hours ago it was accidentally released. Police have stepped up security near the family’s house for fear of retaliation once word gets out. (It is still under wraps with the few people who know their identity, but it’s just a matter of time, most likely, until their cloak of anonymity is ripped away.)
Dogsters, now it’s your turn. The Comments area is open and awaits your thoughts and barks. Let us know if you plan to take any action, per the suggestions on the Return Annie website, to try to help a reunion. I personally would like the family to watch the film, MINE, so they can get an inside look at the torment a separation like this causes to the original owner — and likely, the dog.
It won’t happen in real life, but I’d love to see a Court of Annie formed. The family and Hoage are brought into a room, and Annie gets to pick whom she stays with.
I’ll try to keep you posted on the outcome, Dogsters.*
(A big thank-you to Dogster reader Natalie Fixler for pointing me toward this story.)
Update, 10:40 pm Aug. 27: Less than an hour ago, a letter from a woman claiming to be the adoptive owner of Annie posted a letter on the Give Chuck Hoage His Dog Back Facebook group. She is angry about many things, and scared because of the outpouring of outrage, but a few commenters on the page seem to think that toward the end of her letter it sounds like she might consider giving Annie back. I guess if you read it a certain way it could sound like that. More updates to come.