Baby heading back to Texas. Photo Credit: Meg Sherman
Baby heading back to Texas. Photo Credit: Meg Sherman

This is a sad story that ended happily for some, but which will leave only bad memories for others. I will try to stick to the basics.

Baby is the name of a four-year-old pit bull mix from Garland, Texas. She is a good-looking, well-muscled black-and-white mottled animal. Nothing is known about her life prior to the day she showed up at the Garland animal shelter as a stray last November. Garland, a city of 238,000 located within the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, has a busy animal shelter. According to city statistics, the Garland shelter took in 385 animals during January of 2019.

Funding 4 Fido is a Dallas-based nonprofit animal rescue group headed by Meg Sherman. The group focuses their outreach and fundraising on rescuing dogs from euthanization, especially pit bulls, because they say pit bulls suffer a higher rate of euthanization than other dogs. A woman named Shannon Clegg, working through Funding 4 Fido, adopted Baby from the Garland shelter. Her intention was to act as a foster owner until she could find another adopter to take Baby.

In December, Baby was staying at the home of Cindy Lopez, a friend of Shannon Clegg’s. Sadly, nobody noticed the next-door neighbor’s small dog digging a hole under Lopez’s fence. When the neighbor’s dog entered Lopez’s yard, Baby killed it.

Meanwhile, Shannon Clegg found a potential adopter for Baby, in Duluth, Minnesota. The adopter was advised that Baby had killed a small dog and should be kept away from small animals. The adopter had a small dog, but that small dog was going to live with the adopter’s friend. Arrangements were made. Baby was transported to Duluth. On the very day of her arrival, a spectacular circus of bad luck and miscommunication resulted in Baby killing the adopter’s small dog. It’s an awful story. Let’s leave it at that. The adopter surrendered Baby to the Duluth animal shelter two days later, on Jan. 30.

On Feb. 8, Duluth Police Lieutenant Mike Ceynowa declared Baby “potentially dangerous” and issued an order for euthanization, which was to be carried out on Feb. 21.

On Feb. 15, Cindy Lopez contacted the Reader to tell me about the case. Before I waded very far into the pile of material Lopez provided, it became clear to me that Baby had been ordered euthanized without much thought or review—a rather callous and dismissive decision, it seemed to me, considering that the dog had people concerned about her case. On that basis, I decided to take on the story. Lopez also expressed concern that the Duluth police had already euthanized Baby and were keeping it hidden. I didn’t think that was likely, but I told her I would get a picture of Baby. 

When I spoke with Lt. Ceynowa on Feb. 22, he told me that the city had received the appeal to Baby’s euthanization, so nothing would happen to her at least until a hearing was held, which would be sometime in late March. I grew irritable when I asked Ceynowa if I could take a picture of Baby and he said no. I knew the shelter was open: It said so on their website. I told him that I was going down there to take a picture. 

Ceynowa sighed. “John, I don’t know why everything always has to be contested with you. I don’t understand that.”

That was easy. “I just like to get to the bottom of things.”

When I went down to the shelter, I was met at the door by a body-camera-wearing officer whom Ceynowa had alerted to my arrival. She refused to let me into the building, but after a bit of discussion she agreed to take my phone inside and snap some pictures of Baby, which accomplished what I needed to accomplish.

With the dog confirmed alive and the appeal filed, I assumed I would have several weeks to work up a full story. Thus, I was quite surprised to receive an excited email from Cindy Lopez four days later, on Feb. 26, saying that the Duluth police had decided to release Baby. 

Whereas before the cops had seemed to be rushing toward a decision to euthanize, now it seemed as if they were rushing the opposite way, into a decision to let Baby go. I thought there was a good chance that their abrupt reversal was due to my involvement. After my conversation with Lt. Ceynowa, they were probably worried about what I might write. Maybe they were even trying to give me what they thought I wanted. Who knows? But if that’s what it was, they missed the mark. All I ever wanted was a proper review of the case—not the lazy, half-hearted review I had seen.

Truthfully, the more I looked into it, the more uncomfortable I became with the idea of putting Baby back out in public. Every picture and video that I saw of Baby showed nothing more than a happy, high-spirited dog who was delighted to be with her humans. According to Cindy Lopez, Baby also got along fine with other big dogs. But the totality of the evidence told a more sobering story. 

It was clear by now that Baby would kill small dogs without hesitation. For safety’s sake, one had to assume that she would do the same thing to any other small animal she encountered. Hopefully she wouldn’t attack children, but even her biggest supporters had only known her for four months, so nobody really knew what she might do. Managing a dog like that would be a matter of constant vigilance. You could probably never take her out in public unless she was muzzled. If you did, her very friendliness might cause people to drop their guard long enough for another killing to occur. It would only take an instant. That’s all it took in Duluth.

Baby has some very determined advocates in Texas who are taking a fierce interest in her welfare. They insist that Baby is worth saving, and they seem to be willing to shoulder the extra responsibility that comes with that. We should all have such strong supporters. Without the continued involvement of Lopez, Sherman, and Clegg, Baby would almost certainly have been euthanized. That kind of faith counts for something. I think their underlying belief—that pit bulls are unfairly stigmatized as a breed—has a lot of merit.

But there is no question that pit bulls, like all dogs, can be dangerous—and if they are dangerous, they’re more dangerous, because of their size and strength. Some people raise pit bulls because they like how badass they are, which I’m sure encourages the dogs’ predatory instincts through no fault of their own. According to the numbers I was able to find on the matter (and statistics that seemed somewhat objective weren’t exactly easy to find), pit bulls are responsible for inflicting a majority of the dog bites in the U.S.—more than half. We can acknowledge that fact without dismissing the entire breed. There are plenty of other dogs who attack people without getting the whole world lined up against them. Most pit bulls, like most dogs, don’t hurt people. But some do.

Shannon Clegg and Meg Sherman picked up Baby at the Duluth animal shelter on March 1. Sherman live-streamed the reunion on Facebook for dozens of enthusiastic supporters (a uniquely Duluth moment occurred when the animal safety officer gave Baby a free-range hickory-smoked bison knuckle for the road—an artisanal treat that sounded like it might pair well with craft beer and a Trampled by Turtles album). The video of Baby’s release may be found by visiting the Meg Shermanator page on Facebook and scrolling down to the post for March 1.

So the Texans got their wish: They got their dog back. And I found out that I can influence the Duluth police department by speaking irritably to a lieutenant. That was a surprise. My grouchy approach to reporting may have sprung Baby from death row. Thus, I now feel partially responsible for any future acts of violence that Baby might commit. Unintended consequences are still consequences.

I have asked Cindy Lopez to keep me notified of events in Baby’s life. Here’s hoping it’s the best life ever.

Will you be financing that dog, sir?

One thing I found out while talking with Meg Sherman is that the dog business in Garland, Texas, is a lot bigger than it is in Duluth, Minnesota. Sherman and a core group of activists have been staging regular protests at a new Pets-R-Us store that recently opened in Garland. When I looked it up online, I saw a shop like any other shop in a suburban commercial building. Yet this shop wasn’t selling phones or ice cream; it was selling custom-bred dogs for up to $15,000 apiece. You can pick the color.

Pets-R-Us offers to finance its dogs, luring buyers into lease contracts with predatory interest rates. A recent Dallas CBS news story told of one person whose $5,500 French bulldog was financed through Pets-R-Us, using a company called EasyPay, at an interest rate of 151 percent. When contacted by a reporter, “a representative with EasyPay said interest rates depend on credit history, with rates ranging between 29 and 200 percent.” The anti-Pets-R-Us social media in Garland is full of scornful comments about Pets-R-Us “repossessing” dogs, but I couldn’t find any verified reports of the practice occurring.

Animal activists like Sherman hate the fact that stores like Pets-R-Us buy dogs from “puppy mills,” which they argue are more concerned with the production of puppies than the welfare of the animals. They also dislike the idea of people spending thousands of dollars on a customized pet when so many needy animals are being euthanized because no one will take them. Their protest signs urge Pets-R-Us customers to consider adopting pets from the Garland shelter instead, for the more reasonable cost of free. 

Garland’s median household income is about $53,000—not the first demographic you’d expect to drop a month of paychecks on a Yorkshire terrier. But you know people: If they ever have a chance to blow ridiculous amounts of cash on ridiculous status symbols, they’ll do it. People just can’t seem to wait to not have money any more.

A very close call

I saw somebody almost get killed the other day. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

It was one of those days of heavy snow mixed with freezing rain. I was stopped at the stop sign at Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue West, waiting to turn down the hill. A woman came down from Mesaba going a little too fast for conditions. She came across Fourth, hit the top of the steep part, and started losing control. She was doing her best to slow down by bouncing off the snowbanks and performing what other maneuvers she could, but it just wasn’t enough. The car continued to slide down the block.

Now, look down at the next intersection. Standing on the corner, waiting to cross Fourth Avenue, is a pedestrian, a woman. She looks up the hill and sees the car sliding down Fourth. She then checks the traffic lights, sees that she has the walk signal, and STARTS TO CROSS.

As the car slides through the red light, across Third Street, and straight at the pedestrian, who is now in the middle of the crosswalk, the driver manages to regain enough control to fishtail around the woman, bouncing onto the sidewalk, and then back onto the road. She misses her by inches. Inches! She must have taken her foot OFF the brake to gain that tiny scrap of control. Maybe she even gave it a little gas. It was an incredible performance!

The pedestrian, alas, did not share my enthusiasm. I couldn’t hear what she was shouting at the departing car that was now continuing its merry slide down the hill, but I don’t think it was anything nice. She just did not seem very happy.

She did seem alive, though. Much more alive than I had expected her to be a few seconds earlier. I thought she should be showing a little more appreciation, actually.