“OK, all right,” I tell her. “But I don’t think we should do this after dark. It’s just too dangerous.” Unfortunately, the call comes through at 7:30 p.m. “He’s ready. His brother will be there in 45 minutes. The minimart at 19th and MLK in Tacoma.”
I kiss my three dogs goodbye as though for the last time and head out following Susan Hartland of Dogs Deserve Better to trade $250 for a pit bull whose ears have been cut off and which has been bred for puppies many times over. A man she had met, who told a rescuer he’d been on the Fox News Q13 program “Washington’s Most Wanted” just days ago, has flip-flopped several times about selling the dog. The only thing he has in the world. “I love her,” he had told animal rescuer Kelly Page, who brokered the deal. But tonight he’s changed his mind. $250. He needs it.
Hartland, an advocate and instrumental force in this area for the banishment of continuous dog chaining, has been trying to get the laws changed in our area for a year. The issue was first brought in October to the King County Council, where it has been lively debated. She has taken it to the city of Tacoma and Snohomish County, and in the next week she will appear before the Pierce County Council. Hartland volunteers on behalf of Dogs Deserve Better, a nonprofit rescue organization working to raise awareness of the plight of chained and tethered dogs that are often neglected and abused.
About a week ago, I rode along with Hartland, Page and Page’s 2-year old daughter, Maggie, on a tour of chained dogs in the Tacoma area. Hartland had been concerned about a pit bull tied up on a 6-foot cord in a yard next to the Indian Smoke Shop on the Puyallup Tribal Reservation along Pacific Highway East. Someone had called Hartland to report he had seen this dog with a litter of puppies and was concerned about her.
At first it was hard to see that there was even a dog there. Hearing us, she peeked out from within her plastic igloo. Her bark was old and tired. Woof. Woof. Scared but lacking energy. She was shaking and holding one paw up as if it were injured. Her ears had been brutally cut off. Her eyes depicted a sadness of untold horrors and loneliness. Her teats hung so low they almost touched the ground. Page went closer, through the feces, crouching down to the dog’s level, offering food and water. The pit moved toward her, and Page’s hand brushed her face. The large golden pit soaked up the touch. She just wanted to be loved. Eyes closed and leaning in toward Page, she seemed desperate.
After inquiring about the dog and receiving vague answers in the smoke shop, we left. The pit watched us walk away, stepping through her litter-strewn yard of old wooden pallets, sleeping bags, trash cans of empty water bottles. A hatchet. What went on here?
Days later, none of us could get the pit out of our minds.
So Page went back.
As an animal rescuer, Kelly Page roams neighborhoods in her car and searches for chained dogs. Not associated with any rescue group, she is a one-woman band. On a grass-roots level, she just wants to make a difference for these dogs. Once she finds one, she talks with the owners and tries to educate them on the problems of continuous dog chaining. Her car is filled with dog treats, water and often a bale of hay. She always takes her 2-year-old daughter, who, like her mom, loves the Bubbas (dogs) and cries when she can’t get near them for a pet.
On this day, about a week ago, a couple of days after the three of us had been there, Page describes it as a stroke of luck. The owner was there. The man, who called himself Theo, lives in a beat-up trailer parked on the property. They made eye contact and started a conversation. He found her and her daughter beautiful. He said they could have the dog for $100. He said he had been featured on the program “Washington’s Most Wanted,” turned himself in and figured he would be going to jail. She promised she would find the dog, Missy, a good home. They exchanged phone numbers, and Page said she would return the next day.
The next morning he called her. Now he wants $250. Sigh. She agreed. But by the time she got there, he had changed his mind. His sister wanted the dog, and Theo said he was getting on a plane. Page cried. No deal.
“It’s always like this” Page says of rescues. They’re never easy.
Concerned about the dog, she called the Puyallup tribal police. She called Milton Animal Services. She called the Milton police, but the bottom line is there was nothing anyone could do.
“You see,” explains Connie Ellis, a Milton animal control officer, “it may not be the way you or I treat our dogs, but that dog is within the law.” Currently, there is no ordinance against leaving your dog outside continually chained up, nor is it illegal to breed your dog multiple times for puppies. Ellis feels strongly about the chaining legislation and would love to see it passed in Tacoma. She believes it creates anxiety in the dogs, “and it will literally drive them insane. Once they go over the edge,” she says “they won’t come back.” Ellis says the city of Milton probably would follow the ordinance if it passes in Tacoma or Pierce County. Currently, the dog has to be in a life-threatening situation for animal services to remove it, but the chaining ordinance would give them the authority to take Missy.
It’s dark, and I’m driving on Interstate 5 into what I perceive is the heart of darkness. This is stupid. What if there are gangsters there? What if we are just being set up? What if they pull out guns? But the man had changed his mind. The dog could be saved.
Nervously, Hartland, Page and I are on the phone the whole way down. It’s almost 9:30 p.m., and both Susan and I lost.
When we got there, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared. There was a guy, alone, standing in the light at the Speedy Mart, with an earless pit bull wagging its tail. A third rescuer, Robin Booth, was in a car nearby, watching, phone to her ear, ready to call the cops if anything bad were to happen.
He said his name was Mr. Right, and he was signing the dog over to Susan.
Every girl dreams of the day she will meet her Mr. Right, but I never imagined it would be at a Speedy Mart parking lot in Tacoma.
He is really nice, friendly, about 30, and signs over the dog. From around the building’s corner emerges a hooded figure. Nervous. Muttering that his brother doesn’t need to sign the papers. “You need to GO!” he says. I see under the black hoodie it is HIM … the guy in the “Most Wanted” mug shot. We linger with questions to the younger guy. “Is the dog spayed? How old is the dog? The younger guy doesn’t know anything. It’s his brother’s dog, he says. Several more people have shown up, curious. “Let’s GO!” the older man says. Afraid the deal will go sour, Susan hands over the money and loads the pit into the back of her car.
Minutes later, we’re in a Jack in the Box parking lot nearby feeding the dog a chicken sandwich. This is the biggest pit bull I have ever seen. The dog with no ears is very sweet. She’s nervous but really pretty, golden and thick.
Now begins the hard part, Hartland says – finding this dog a home. It’s going to be difficult because of her age, breed and the mental scars she has from her former life. In addition to the initial $250 forked over, the dog will be boarded for $25 a day out of Susan and Kelly’s pocket. They can afford only 20 days. After that, they don’t know.
Robin Booth, the rescuer standing by at the scene, said she overhead the older man saying he knew exactly what he was going to do with the money. Buy alcohol.
Note: Dogs Deserve Better does not support paying money for dogs. Because of the situation, Susan and Kelly pooled their money to get the dog out of there.
To make a donation for Missy’s care or for adoption inquiries, please contact: