Seized dog died; owner suing SPCA
February 22, 2009
EAST PRICE HILL - After Paulette Evans' husband died, her son didn't want her to be alone, so he bought her a puppy named Rock. The brindle - a brown color - American Bulldog was precocious and friendly, filling the hole Evans had in her heart. "I just treated him like he was my baby," Evans, 54, said from her East Price Hill home. "Rock and I went everywhere. I slept with him."
Cincinnati officials, though, seized the dog last summer, insisting it was a pit bull terrier, a breed banned in the city. They took it to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Cincinnati. Police charged Evans with three crimes involving the banned breed. While there, officials refused to let Evans visit the dog and didn't tell her the pet had died until weeks later, when she showed up in court to defend herself against the criminal charges.
Now, she's suing the SPCA.
"That was not just a dog. That was my companion," Evans said. She took the dog for rides in her car. He occupied the front seat. Neighborhood children would knock on her door asking to play with Rock. He was learning to play Frisbee and ball with them. "He'd tear their balls up but they had fun," Evans said.
Evans admitted she made a mistake leaving her house door open June 26 while trying to dry her just-cleaned carpets. That's when Rock, who she thought was sleeping, got outside. Evans, believing the dog still was sleeping inside, went to work. Later, she received a call from a neighbor alerting her that Rock was outside. She went home and saw Rock tied to a neighbor's fence. While untying the dog, the neighbor told her he was calling the SPCA about her pit bull. Police also were called.
Since 2003, Cincinnati laws ban pit bull terriers, viewing them as vicious and dangerous, unless they are registered with the city and have appropriate insurance. The city defines pit bulls as American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers or any dog that is a mixture of the breeds.
Evans objected, saying her dog was not a pit bull. The SPCA worker, unsure of the dog's breed, used his cell phone to take a picture of Rock and send it to his boss. When the boss ruled Rock was a pit bull, the SPCA seized him. "To him, it looked like a pit bull. It's the kind of thing where you know one when you see one," said Andy Mahlman, the SPCA's operations manager.
Police charged Evans with harboring a vicious dog, failure to obtain insurance on a vicious dog and failure to register a vicious dog. But Evans has a veterinarian's certificate listing Rock as a breed not banned by the city. The Colerain Animal Clinic lists Evans' dog as an American Bulldog on a 2008 document but later notes "Rocky is a mixed breed, primary breed American Bulldog."
"I was devastated. I'm screaming and crying," Evans said.
"In any way shape or form, we didn't think this was an (American) Bulldog," Mahlman said. The city created a task force that is studying the pit bull ban because of difficulty in properly and quickly identifying the breed.
For weeks, Evans said, she went to the SPCA's Northside facility to try to see Rock. She never was allowed. She went to court to fight the criminal charges against her. That's when she found out her 13-month-old dog had been dead a week. "I died right there. My heart broke," she said. Because of Rock's death, prosecutors dropped the criminal charges.
She hired attorney Elliott Stapleton, who took the case after seeing that the city "failed to produce any reason with substantiation" that her dog was a banned breed.
Mahlman insisted Rock died from canine parvovirus, a contagious viral infection that attacks a dog's digestive system lining and causes diarrhea - often bloody - and vomiting. "That's what we found in (Rock's) cage," Mahlman said of bloody diarrhea. Evans insists that can't be true because Rock was vaccinated against parvovirus by her vet - and by the SPCA when it seized him. Mahlman said the SPCA does vaccinate against parvovirus but it takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect. Tests on Rock after his death were positive for parvovirus, Mahlman said. "I will be the first to say (parvovirus) does happen here occasionally," Mahlman said. "They can catch it here. There's no doubt about it." Parvovirus can kill a dog in as little as two days.
In the lawsuit, the SPCA denies any wrongdoing in Rock's death. Mahlman said the SPCA's kennel supervisor should have contacted him when Rock died so he could have told Evans. "I'm very sorry. I'm sorry it happened," Mahlman said of Rock's death.
Evans wanted to get Rock's remains to place them next to her husband's grave so she could be next to Rock when she dies. That won't happen. The SPCA contracts with an animal removal service that buried Rock in a mass grave.
|ProvidedThe SPCA said that Rock was a pit bull and took him into custody after he was found outside last summer.|
"I still had a right to find a home for Rock," Evans said through tears.
Her suit seeks monetary damages in excess of $25,000. It is next in court before Common Pleas Judge Steve Martin on March 17.https://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090222/NEWS0107/902220334