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The county that claims humane policies would rather you didn't notice their absence.

Despite its reputation as an “animal friendly” town, Portland, Oregon, has delegated companion animal responsibility to its surrounding county and Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS). The result is an agency that hides government sponsored animal abuses behind closed doors and presents a false front, one built with copious taxpayer- funded propaganda campaigns. The companion animals of the homeless and minorities are especially targeted.  Instead of choosing humane options (prevention and training programs that genuinely reduce recidivism) MCAS elects confiscation and destruction and is never concerned about the damage done to those whose animals are subjected to needless killing.

For the poor or homeless there is no “equality” under the law. The context of poverty and the emotional loneliness often felt by the homeless and their need for companion animals, often all they have, are never considered in decision making. Companion animals and the homeless are viewed only through a totalitarian window as nuisances, pests, and potential liabilities, not worthy of even rudimentary respect.

Mary M is only one of MCAS’s recent victims. Twenty one years old and homeless since she was fourteen, she has no support system. Her one steadfast companion is her pit bull mix dog, for all practical purposes her service companion animal.   She lives under various bridges and gets around by skate board, her long red hair flying behind her in the wind. She is one case among many never publicized because the homeless and their companion animals don’t count; they have become soft prey for Multnomah County Animal Services.   Mary has an appeal hearing on February 12 hoping to get her dog Dewbie back. We donated the money required to have a hearing and paid for her right to have one but her chances of “winning” against a system so deliberately stacked against her remain slim. And the pain of losing a beloved companion when all that is needed is corrective training and help can be lifelong. One mother of a homeless young woman, whose service dog was destroyed by MCAS in 2009 without notice and despite offers of multiple humane options, still corresponds with animal protection organizations across the country trying to learn how any justice for that killing can be found.

Mary’s case, five years later, is no different.  MCAS ordered her dog seized in October and her ownership suspended following minor bite incidents that happened in rapid succession, a month apart: The first tickets were issued on October 15, 2013 and were served on October 24 ; the second on November 21,  when the county went for ownership suspension. The fines for the first tickets totaled $500, far in excess of the damage the alleged “crime” caused. The restrictions imposed with the first ticket required that the dog had to be muzzled at all times unless eating (drinking was not noted) or in extreme heat. No definition of what qualified as extreme heat was noted. There was no concern about the damaging effects caused by constant muzzling.  

The second tickets issued November 21, totaled $1000 (one ticket for the second incident; the other for failure to comply with restrictions imposed with the first ticket) and only sought ownership suspension. Fines totaling $1500 are meaningless when one has no money and needs skills. For those persons punishment “teaches” nothing.  

Along with the tickets, Mary was given a Potentially Dangerous Dog sign showing a picture of a lunging, slathering red eyed dog (pictured). She was told to post the sign on her property even though she had no home. As Mary tried to explain the pointlessness of the sign, MCAS employees became indignant, irritated at what they considered her “resistance” to their rules and authority. Mary finally took the sign and, on the way out, threw it at the agency flag pole and building.  The “dinged” composite board sign upset the employees. Asking a homeless person to post a sign on a home she didn’t have didn’t seem unreasonable at all. They set the sign aside to give it to her again the next time they saw her: “Sign will have to be served again.” On December 06, when Mary came to visit her dog despite the distance from downtown, a special hardship for anyone without transport Mary was told she couldn’t visit, instructed to make an appointment, and handed business cards. Does no one at MCAS realize that it is impossible   to get telephone service when the hours are so restricted and one must borrow a telephone, each time using up another’s limited telephone minutes? Could no one have taken the time needed to supervise a 15 minute visit (the maximum allowed)?  

The excessive fines and conditions are deliberate, and imposed to set up failure. MCAS also knows that punishing fines against the homeless have no corrective value, offer no incentive, and result only in defeat. MCAS also refuses to itself offer or help others provide humane alternatives. We asked if MCAS could inform Mary that our organization would help her appeal with pro bono legal assistance and also provide needed dog training to prevent future incidents. It refused.  

MCAS assiduously rejects education and prevention programs in favor of a punitive system of escalating fines, threats, and extorted surrender. To escape fines, owners often abandon their animals. MCAS’s rejection of humanitarian help offered by others in the community is supported by Multnomah County government.  The refusal to notify homeless people, including Mary, of available pro bono legal help and free training services is part of a calculated plan to extort surrender. In Mary’s case and in many others, MCAS has declined to offer interim help. Instead it aggressively pursues threats, unachievable conditions and unaffordable escalating fines, ignoring the fact the homeless have no money.

Mary and her young dog, Dewbie, who himself was once abused, have a common  fate among Multnomah County’s homeless and poverty stricken companion dog owners. Most of the dogs of the homeless are really service dogs, often all the homeless have. Their loss is keen and significant.  The most common outcome is extorted surrender accomplished by imposing conditions the homeless cannot meet. Refusing to allow information about free legal services is only one deliberate obstacle. Mary and her companion dog have no chance at all for a humane outcome on February 12. The hearings officer is chosen by MCAS. The hearing is pre-determined to be unfair.  Given the odds, Mary and her dog will most likely both become just one more statistic.

MCAS and also Multnomah County  government’s rigid opposition to notifying homeless populations about free legal assistance and accompanying free training effectively denies humane solutions to the most vulnerable populations. The county has consistently refused our request that homeless parties be advised of the availability of legal help and training when they are ticketed.  We found Mary by handing out leaflets on Burnside among the downtown homeless population. It is not a secure way to notify those who are homeless and need help. Because of Multnomah County’s deliberately imposed obstacles, Mary’s chances of recovering her companion dog, Dewbie remain slim.

The fact that Dewbie’s behavior is correctable makes no difference to the county. An agency animal care technician, Stephanie Collingsworth, has already written into the record and advised that Dewbie will be killed if Mary fails on appeal noting that : “ 10.29.13  Field  reports indicate two  different bites in two  different contexts  (both involved strangers getting too close to the dog while he was restrained, once on leash and once tied up).’’    Her recommendations were that Dewbie is “unsuitable” for placement and required euthanasia. But the behaviors are easily correctable. Death is just more punishing and efficient. It drives the lesson home.

In addition to intentionally denying the homeless information about the availability of help, there are other common exploitive tactics and demands used by MCAS:

·       Requiring a home with a fenced yard or enclosed kennel (defying the definition of homelessness:  no fixed address) means that the homeless must be re-homed before they can redeem their animals.

·       Imposing extraordinary excessive fines that no one, not even if employed party with a fixed address, could afford.

·       Effectively blocking and denying homeless and poverty stricken citizens the right to due process by refusing any mitigation or exceptions to hearings fees. The $25 fee to appeal is often accompanied by a required $100 impound charge that is unaffordable to the majority of the homeless population.

·      Providing no humane prevention and education services to address correctable problems.

·       Making it difficult or impossible to visit dogs in lock up. Appointments must be pre-arranged, a maximum of 15 minutes only, and one cannot be late. Incarcerated companion dogs on Intake at MCAS are deprived of exercise and socialization for deliberately exaggerated “public safety” concerns. They see no one and receive no exercise often for months on end. This is institutionalized cruelty.

Multnomah County does not correct; they just kill the subject of their concern, while rejecting all common sense and compassion. MCAS, with full county government approval, violates this community’s progressive humane values and love for animals and hides its real policies and practices behind locked doors.

The many long term documented problems at MCAS have been raised by many citizens over and over again. No one has ever responded from what has become a closed “employees only” club, one supported by tax payer dollars

When humane options exist, it should be unconscionable to kill. We should understand that how we treat others defines us. When we look away from the pain and suffering of others then who are we?

Gail O’Connell-Babcock, PhD
Citizens for Humane Animal Legislation/Watchdog
Sherwood, Oregon

Originally posted to Caripito on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 09:12 PM PST.

Also republished by Koscadia.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I can't offer any legal help, but the hearings (4+ / 0-)

    process in theses cases strikes me as blatantly unconstitutional.  I mean, Dewbie is Mary's property.  Under the 14th Amendment, she has the right to due process before the state deprives her of her property.  I understand that the due process bar in circumstances like this is low, but I have a hard time accepting that having the hearing before an official chosen by Animal Control comports with due process.  If due process means ANYTHING, it means you don't hold a hearing in front of a biased official.  

    •  The bar is very low... (0+ / 0-)

      ...but probably met where, as here, the hearing officer is supposed to be appointed by the County Commission.  Whether those appointments have in fact occurred is a matter of current debate.  The last formal commission order was in 1996 and includes no one currently used in the hearings.

  •  Heartbreaking... (5+ / 0-)

    I organized a Dawgs & Cats Care Fair here in town utilizing the Vet Students. We put on free clinics twice a year which helps them keep their pets healthy.

    What struck me about these people and their animals most was the bond between them. All animals want to be with their human 24/7 and they are.  The understanding between them is beautiful to see.

    Another program we have is a mentoring program where someone partners with the owner to seek advice and, if needed, provide some money for vet care. These things are all doable.

    The single woman's large dog is not only her companion but her protector. When you live outside, you have no security at all.

    Their complete lack of understanding of these people's living situation is horrific. In their minds, these animals would be better off dead than loved.

    I'm going to share this with my Occupy friends in Portland.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 09:53:23 PM PST

    •  The complete lack of understanding... (0+ / 0-)

      ...but most of all indifference and lack of interest in understanding, is horrific. The homeless and their companion animals are "fair game" regarded as nuisances, pests, and liabilities When they somehow find a way to come out to see their animals at animal control they are, if they have not been able to make an appointment, turned away for not "calling ahead."

      One person was told that every minute late was taken off the appointed 15 minute permitted visit. Case after case appears in public records: the homeless African American who loved his two dogs: one a small dog the other a black pit bull named Blackie. Animal control flushed him out of a vacant house he was squatting  in after triumphantly investigating  that he didn't really occupy the house legitimately: he was just trying to stay out of the cold. His dogs were then at large. he tried to recover them: one, the small one was kept by MCAS but Blackie with no incidents in his history was killed. His owner had no money, one of the reasons he was unable to redeem him.

      Instead of referring the homeless  and low income persons to resources, they hunt them down for their poverty. If you should ever want to have copies of the records I can send them to you. I order them weekly and try to help as many as I can but one person isn't enough to reach every one. That is the one of the worst things about this.

  •  It won't solve all of Mary's problems (6+ / 0-)

    but she needs to get a free cell phone with 250 free minutes per month. See rebel ga's current diary on this program.

    I don't know about Portland necessarily, but SafeLink is an excellent provider for this program here in Tucson. You can help Mary apply here.

    At this stage it may be too late for Dewbie, but do this for Mary.

    War beats down, and sows with salt, the hearts and minds of soldiers." Brecht

    by DaNang65 on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 10:22:21 PM PST

  •  if this is for real, (3+ / 0-)

    I will hobble my ass down to the hearing. How do you know of this, it isn't in the article you cite. I am interested, I have a sibling who could identify people interested in doing something, probably long term, because they are a vet tech.

    This space for lease

    by Drewid on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 10:24:16 PM PST

  •  We are, as GWB said, "an ownership society" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blue91, Caripito

    because, from the start, property rights have trumped human rights and the ownership of property (including other humans) has served as a sop to compensate for the fact that human rights are disrespected.

    There's a reason the animal rights community is the occasion of much distress to the ruling elites. If animals have rights, can humans be far behind?

    by hannah on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 01:11:19 AM PST

  •  Does Mary have (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    •  Mary does have a pro bono lawyer... (0+ / 0-)

      ...but in an administrative hearings that is stacked against her. Animal Control  elects the judges (who are lawyers aspiring to be judges). When a hearings officer is asked  to recuse herself as in this instance for past evidence of bias, it is an election and she need not do so. She has not.

  •  assault is not a human right (5+ / 0-)

    This young woman has a breed of dog that is known for being aggressive.

    It bit someone.


    In many states the first instance would be a death sentence for the dog, if it were my kids the dog would no longer be here I guarantee you.

    Having a pet is a responsibility, a responsibility to make sure the pet doesn't endanger anyone else or even cause others to be uncomfortable. Barking, growling, showing of teeth, are all not ok. Owners need to pick up the feces when the animal shits. One bite, just one, is enough to have the animal put down. Out here we just shoot it, no trip to the vet.

    Homelessness is a terrible thing, and I hope this young woman gets any and whatever help she needs, no one should be homeless or without healthcare in the USA. But that doesn't excuse having a pit bull that bites people.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 05:45:03 AM PST

    •  As a pitbull owner I agree and what about the dog? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, MGross
      MCAS ordered her dog seized in October and her ownership suspended following minor bite incidents that happened in rapid succession, a month apart:
      So a pitbull that was living on the streets bit multiple people. I EXPECT the proper agency to do something about it.
      I think the real issue is that Mary is unable to take care of a pet. This whole diary is about poor MAry but nobody is thinking about the poor dog. This all about Mary's desire to keep an aggressive  dog that has bitten other people and to keep that dog out living in the streets with obviously not enough supervision..
      I own 3 dogs, one a pitbull. I like having these dogs around but it is a real stretch to think they're service dogs and I should be allowed to have one with me all the time by right. I think the same for MAry and her dog.

      You don't have a right to keep a dog if that dog is being mistreated and its fairly evident that just by keeping it out on the street, Mary is mistreating it, AND jeaporadizing the community.
      And the government agency tasked with the job should do something about it

      Happy just to be alive

      by exlrrp on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 06:19:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You do realize that you're calling a dog (0+ / 0-)

        being homeless "mistreatment," and yet what do you call what is happening to Mary? She has been homeless herself since she was 14.

        You suggest it is appropriate to take away her best friend, companion and protection. A young woman sleeping on the streets with a dog next to her at least has some protection. Take that away, and what do you imagine will happen to her?

      •  That's a stickier issue (0+ / 0-)

        People should be able to have pets, they provide comfort and protection etc.

        A basic competency test would be great but I don't think it would fly, it's like a license to have kids.

        The dog itself is a pretty sad story, animals don't get much choice in this world and we should be obligated to do right by them.

        “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

        by ban nock on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 09:53:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I expect the agency to engage in behavior that... (0+ / 0-)

        ...reduces recidivism by educating owners not "teaching a lesson by killing their dogs." Dogs don't learn from the fates of others who have been killed. Neither do people. MCAS has steadfastly refused to introduce owner education diversion programs or mediation despite the known cost and community effectiveness of these programs. Safety nets are better than dragnets...

    •  What if the people the dog bit (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue91, quill

      were threatening Mary or the box she calls home, or the few pitiful possessions she has managed to collect?

      I think we would all do well to consider the context here. We certainly don't want to behave like the animal welfare authorities in this case, insisting that Mary post a sign when she has no place of her own to post it.

      •  that's the problem here: no context (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MGross, Chas 981, ban nock, Drewid

        The diarist posted two diaries recently that similarly attacked MCAS, but provided no context about the bite incident. In that case they seemed to be avoiding and minimizing the serious nature of the injuries to gain sympathy for the cause. In this case, we only know the dog attacked and bit someone twice, the second time after Mary was ticketed and given instructions to muzzle the animal, apparently sound advice that was ignored.

        Homeless women particularly often have dogs as a form of protection against assault, which is extremely common. These are more like guard dogs than "service animals". In that context, we can understand why Mary didn't muzzle the dog, and also why it may be so aggressive: she may have trained it to repel intruders. We know that homeless are harrassed unfairly by authorities but while it may be sensible for Mary, the dog has become a public nuisance and the county officials had good justification for taking the animal.

        Portland is a very dog friendly place. Many people have dogs and pitbulls are very popular here. There are leash laws, but the city doesn't enforce them. My impression is that there has to be a serious problem before a dog gets to MCAS. So again, it's not enough that a homeless person was harassed - we need to know the context.

        "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

        by quill on Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 07:54:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  What about the demand for the posting of the sign? (0+ / 0-)

          Doesn't that strike you as a genuine "Catch 22" requirement for a homeless person?

        •  "Attacks" are generally unsupported by facts. (0+ / 0-)

          I have the facts from public records and citizens' reports. You are welcome to go over the same materials any time, just let me know, I'll give you the data I have, and then we can debate them. But first view the facts, before coming to a  conjecture or  conclusion.

          The injuries were not serious. The stressors are known; correctable and suggest a fearful dog.   I have the reports. It is not sound to ask that a dog be muzzled 24 hours a day except for eating and in extreme  heat. Any animal behaviorist would tell you that.

          Mary's dog was not her "guard dog" for protection. That is your generalized bias about homeless women. Mary was protecting him. She rescued him from abuse. He is scared and uncertain at times and it is wholly possible to teach scared dogs confidence. I have met him. Pit bulls ironically also head the list of the most persecuted breed.

          I have a friend who jogs with her Rottweiler now after she was assaulted and raped when running trails on her own.  Does that mean she doesn't love her dog and that her dog isn't also her protection dog too?

          Friendship, all friendship, is about both love and protection.

    •  seconded! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock

      every word of your comment, couldn't have said it better myself.

    •  Having a pet is a responsibility. (0+ / 0-)

      The major responsibility is understanding what causes bites and taking responsibility  for and correcting the problem; It could be you.

      Pit bulls are not known for being aggressive, quite the opposite, more than any other breed they are known to be people friendly.  That is simply false. All dogs including Mary's who was abused and hence fearful of persons coming too close and then not being able to escape  bite as a last resort.  Dachshunds bite with greater frequency.

      It is not about breed. It sin't even about biting. Biting is related to stressors and people actually cause the most stressors.  We like to pat dogs on the head but most dogs hate that and  only tolerate our ignorance of their culture.

      Few dogs  in fact are dangerous but many situations are potentially dangerous. We can fix that: identify the stressors and the problem can be corrected or managed.
      Why wouldn't you teach the homeless who face more challenges: "Street smarts for the street dog" instead of killing their dogs?

      The overwhelming numbers of bites cause little permanent damage.Often they result from humans choosing to ignore valid wholly appropriate warning signals of animal stress: growling, snapping, yawning, and barking.

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