Monthly archive

June 2005 - page 3

Sidebar #2

in Uncategorized

Since my next post focusing on the 20/20 shellacking of the Texas SPCA is already obscenely long, I’m going to tackle the current state of the law, which is the one part of this that still disturbs me as an animal owner in Texas.

To review, the law regarding animal seizures and appeals is as follows (emphasis mine):

§ 821.025.  APPEAL.  (a)  An owner of an animal ordered sold at public
auction as provided in this subchapter may appeal the
order to a county
court or county court at law in the county in which
the justice or municipal
court is located.  As a condition of

perfecting an appeal, the owner must
file an appeal bond in an
amount determined by the justice or municipal
court to be adequate
to cover the estimated expenses incurred in housing and
caring for
the impounded animal during the appeal process.  The decision of
the
county court or county court at law may not be further appealed. 
An

owner may not appeal an
order:

(1)  to give the animal to a nonprofit animal
shelter,
pound, or society for the protection of animals; 
or

(2)  to humanely destroy the
animal.                                          

(b)  While
an appeal under this section is pending, the
animal may not
be:   

(1)  sold or given away as provided by Sections 821.023
and 821.024;  or   
(2)  destroyed, except under circumstances which
would
require the humane destruction of the animal to prevent undue pain
to or suffering of the animal.

My wife, April, a licensed attorney, explained to me how such a dichotomy based on mode of disposition may have come into the law. My non-lawyer interpretation follows:

An appeal has traditionally been allowed in cases where the state is taking and auctioning livestock, because we as a people have always looked upon livestock as property. And property rights have always been staunchly defended in our country.

Traditionally, companion animals have not been looked upon as "valuable property." You’re not earning income on them. Your income doesn’t directly decline because someone takes your pet. So, one’s rights are not traditionally as protected in this area.

Ironically, the reason that Moore and Chennault did not (in a larger legal sense) get an appeal is that we are treating them as pet owners and not owners of livestock. This comes down to one’s definition, but I stand by my earlier assertion that no one has seventy "pets."

Although Texas law in this area doesn’t explicitly differentiate between livestock and pets:

§ 821.001.  DEFINITION.  In this subchapter, "animal" 
includes every living dumb creature.

historically, livestock seized by the State would have been auctioned as property.

Interestingly, there has been a movement to assign a value to the emotional attachment to one’s pet, similar to mental anguish caused by taking or hurting, say one’s child. If you really want to go deep on that, here’s a lengthy paper on the topic.

That movement is tangentially related to a push to redesignate animal owners as "guardians" of animals, essentially taking away property rights. In that case, the animal really is like your child rather than your property. Many fear that this would lead to unreasonable seizure of livestock.

For a good overview of varying points of view on animal law, there is a transcript from a roundtable at Lewis and Clark Law School.

And a proposal submitted to the Animal Law Section of the Texas Bar.

Sidebar #1

in Uncategorized

I have a massive SPCA-20/20 post brewing, but it’s waiting for some final answers from the SPCA (who are being quite responsive) and ABC (who are not). I’ll post it later this weekend, but there are a couple other things I’d like to touch on in the meantime.

First, a note for the many folks hitting this blog for the first time because of the SPCA coverage — this is not an animal issues blog. If you check the right rail on the main page, you’ll see what we’re about. We’re one of several companies starting up (or getting noticed) around the country right now that are trying to blend the conversation and user participation of blogging with the full-time attention of traditional journalism to create a new kind of local news hub that is both deeper and more highly targeted than what you’re used to. Some examples are The Northwest Voice, Bayosphere, Backfence, GetLocal News and New West. In our area, there’s also LocalNewsOnly, which focuses on NW NE Tarrant County.

Of course, we think we have a better mousetrap (as I’m sure all the others do), and we hope to spring it later this year. But, if you take the best aspects of all these sites, and sites-to-be, you’ll get a peek at the future of local news.


UPDATE: As anyone who has ever tried to have a cross-timezone phone conversation with me knows, I have absolute directional dyslexia. As a commenter points out, Local News Only is in NE Tarrant.

SPCA responds

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As promised, here’s SPCA of Texas attorney Claire Schwarz responding to Dr. Gaylon TeSlaa’s remarks. Letter is unedited and all links are hers:

Re: Gaylon TeSlaa’s letter of June 5, 2005 

To whom it may concern: 

We were
made aware of Gaylon TeSlaa’s (“TeSlaa”) letter posted on your website on June
6, 2005. As I will explain, TeSlaa’s
letter contains numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods. 

I will first address TeSlaa’s defamatory statement that the
“SPCA is actually having technicians or unlicensed veterinarians performing
spays and neuters”, TeSlaa, a California veterinarian, plainly is ignorant of Texas
law. Rule §573.35 of the Rules of
Professional Conduct, Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, provides
that “[e]ach veterinarian, including a relief veterinarian, shall post or
display at the veterinarian’s practice location, whether mobile or fixed, his
or her license to practice veterinary medicine and the most recent license
renewal certificate.” The SPCA only
employs licensed veterinarians to perform spay and neuter surgeries. TeSlaa’s false declaration is extremely
harmful to the reputation and integrity of the SPCA of Texas. TeSlaa fails to provide any evidence
supporting his defamatory remark, even though he said that he “asked an awful
lot of questions.” The SPCA of Texas
takes such allegations very seriously and will be carefully examining its
possible remedies against TeSlaa. 

TeSlaa’s
statements about the case of
State of Texas v. Pamela Chennault, Case No. 04-D-0034, are demonstrably false. Deputy Sheriff Brandon Anderson of the
Hopkins County, Texas Sheriff’s Department was the law enforcement officer in
charge of the seizure conducted on September 11, 2004 of the animals located on
the premises of Pamela Chennault (“Chennault”) , Route 2, Box 307, Sulphur
Springs, Texas 75482 (FM 2560). Dave
Garcia, the SPCA of Texas Vice President of Operations, accompanied Deputy
Anderson on the September 7, 2004 (or thereabouts) investigation of Chennault’s
premises. While present on the premises,
Mr. Garcia photographed the then-current conditions of Chennault’s home and
yard, showing the living quarters of Chennault’s dogs. The photographs may be viewed at
www.spca.org. During this investigation,
some 70 dogs were kept at Chennault’s residence. Chennault was aware that this investigation
had taken place. 

On
September 11, 2004, 4 days following the investigation, Deputy Anderson
obtained a warrant from Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Yvonne King,
authorizing the seizure of the animals located at Chennault’s residence. Mr. Garcia was present when Deputy Anderson
submitted the investigative evidence in support of the warrant to Judge King. Mr. Garcia discussed with Judge King the
evidence demonstrated by the photographs. Contrary to TeSlaa’s contention that “Mr. Garcia was getting the judge’s
signature for the raid,” it was Deputy Anderson who obtained the warrant for
seizure as he was the law enforcement officer in charge of this case. In his sworn Application for Warrant to Seize
Cruelly-Treated Animal, Deputy Anderson testified that he had reason to believe
and did believe that approximately 70 dogs were being cruelly treated. The Application sets forth the facts showing
the probable cause in support of the warrant. Those facts were “upon observation of animals by myself and SPCA the
animals are living in their own feces, inappropriate shelter, water, and
food.Also numerous dogs in each pen.” The State of Texas defines “cruelly treated” to include “tortured,
seriously overworked, unreasonably abandoned, unreasonably deprived of
necessary food, care, or shelter, cruelly confined, or caused to fight with
another animal.” (Tex. Health & Safety Code, §821.021) 

TeSlaa argues that “the general strategy is to depict
everything in the worst possible light. Get a picture of an animal behind a chain link fence with a pathetic
expression and a few close-ups on some unscooped poop (which I got plenty of AT
the SPCA as well), and you can pull at anyone’s heart strings!” (emphasis in
original). Contrary to TeSlaa’s contention, a review of the photographs
displayed on the SPCA of Texas website belies his argument. His contention certainly denigrates the
integrity of Deputy Anderson, Hopkins County Attorney Dustanna Rabe, and Judge
King each of whom reviewed the investigative evidence and decided that the
evidence supported the issuance of a warrant for seizure and prosecution of the
case. A review of the inventory prepared
by the SPCA of Texas at the time of the seizure of the 24 dogs removed from
Chennault’s residence shows the physical condition of the animals. The vast majority of the dogs suffered from
matted coat, were covered with feces and urine, were urine saturated, suffered
from hairloss, and had overgrown nails. (Exhibit “A” to the Officer’s Return). 

It is important to note that at the time of the
investigation, some 70 dogs were present at the Chennault residence while at
the time of the seizure approximately four days later, only 24 dogs were
present. It can be reasonably inferred
that Chennault removed some 46 dogs to some other location during this time
period. TeSlaa suggests this by his
reference to his visit to Chenault’s mother’s house where presumably Chennault
housed the other 46 dogs. 

TeSlaa goes on to assert that in the Chennault seizure he
was shocked and appalled at “their [sic] not being a veterinarian involved at
any point in the process.” Although he
fails to define what the “process” was, apparently he is referring to the process
of removing the animals from the Chennault residence and transferring them to
the Perry Campus of the SPCA of Texas located in McKinney, Texas. During those activities, Mr. Garcia was
present to supervise the care of the animals and trained veterinary technicians
performed the triage when the animals arrived at the Perry Campus. Mr. Garcia has more than 20 years’ experience
in investigative work. He has also been
an instructor with national institutions and law enforcement on a national
basis. The SPCA of Texas maintains a
medical clinic at the Perry Campus which is staffed by a licensed veterinarian,
so the animals had access to a veterinarian. All of the animals cared for by the SPCA of Texas are inspected by a
veterinarian while they are housed at the SPCA of Texas. Although TeSlaa implies that the care
provided by the trained veterinarian technicians was deficient, he neglects to
provide any evidence thereof. 

TeSlaa also contends that there was a lack of due process,
asserting that there were “minimal to no warnings, pre-emptive inspections, no
coaching or advice on how to meet standards.” The Chennault case was a civil case not a criminal one so the due
process requirements are different. Further, Deputy Anderson reports that he made a visit to the Chennault
residence some time prior to the September 7, 2004 investigation and he
counseled Chennault on the poor condition of her animals. Even though Chennault participated in the
2004 case, she is still the subject of complaints. The Hopkins County Sheriff’s office reports
that it investigated Chennault on May 31, 2005 and reported that she has
approximately 75 to 100 dogs on the property and that they are in poor
condition. The Hopkins County Attorney reports
she has recently received numerous complaints regarding Chennault. 

The statute controlling the disposition of cruelly treated
animals, §821.021 et seq. of the Texas Health and Safety Code, does not require
any warnings, pre-emptive inspections, etc. to be given to an owner prior to a
warrant being issued for seizure of the animals. §821.022 states: 

(a) If a peace
officer or an officer who has responsibility for animal control in a county or
municipality has reason to believe that an animal has been or is being cruelly
treated, the officer may apply to a justice court or magistrate in the county
or to a municipal court in the municipality in which the animal is located for
a warrant to seize the animal. 

(b) On a showing of
probable cause to believe that the animal has been or is being cruelly treated,
the court or magistrate shall issue the warrant and set a time within 10
calendar days of the date of issuance for a nearing in the appropriate justice
court or municipal court to determine whether the animal has been cruelly
treated. 

(c) The officer
executing the warrant shall cause the animal to be impounded and shall give
written notice to the owner of the animal of the time and place of the hearing.

 Thus, the SPCA of Texas, or any other humane organization in
the State of Texas,
does not have any police power regarding seizures of animals. In the State of Texas, only law enforcement officials
possess the authority to obtain and serve warrants. The SPCA of Texas supports law enforcement
through conducting investigations, testifying as fact and expert witnesses,
assisting during the seizure operation, housing animals during the impoundment,
and should the court direct, take title to the animals once the court has
terminated the ownership interest of the previous owner. 

A review of the court’s file of the Chennault case proves
that these requirements were satisfied. The Warrant for Animal Seizure clearly sets out the date of the hearing
on September 16, 2004, 5 days after the warrant was served. Chennault, represented by her counsel, J.
Douglas Froneberger and Ruth Lewman, appeared at the hearing.  After reviewing the investigative evidence,
including a videotape, Chennault and her attorneys agreed to enter into an
order whereby Chennault surrendered her dogs. No criminal charges were filed against Chennault, no monetary damages
were assessed, and no findings or admission of liability or wrongdoing were
adjudicated or found. At no time has the
SPCA of Texas been aware of any formal charges or claims by Chennault that her
rights to due process were violated.

If the hearing had proceeded and if the court had found that
Chennault cruelly treated her animals, then the court would have been required
to divest Chennault of ownership and either (1) order a public sale of the
animals by auction; (2) order the animals to be given to a nonprofit humane society;
or (3) order the animals to be humanely destroyed if the court decided that the
best interests of the animals or that the public health and safety would be
served by doing so. (Tex. Health & Safety Code, §821.023(d)). If the court ordered that a public
auction be held, then Chennault had the right to appeal the order so long as
she filed an appeal bond sufficient for the cost of housing and caring for the
impounded animals during the appeal process. (Tex. Health & Safety Code,
§821.025). If TeSlaa disagrees with the
statute’s provisions, the SPCA of Texas suggests that he propose revisions to
the Texas
legislature. 

I trust that this information provides the necessary
background to dispel the falsehoods set forth in TeSlaa’s letter. Lastly, I hope that TeSlaa will refrain from
making such inflammatory fabrications about an organization dedicated to the
health and safety of animals without at least having the professional courtesy
to make a diligent and thorough inquiry into the actual facts of the case. 

Very
truly yours, 

Claire
Collins Schwarz
Attorney
for the SPCA of Texas 

cc: James Bias,
President, SPCA of Texas

20/20 v. SPCA of Texas — Thursday update

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The Dallas Morning News finally has a report on animal seizures. (They say "pet seizures" in their hedline, but no one has 70 "pets." It’s certainly within your rights to have 70 well-cared for animals, but any farmer will tell you that they aren’t "pets.")

One particularly interesting statistic:


      Of 2,308 animal-cruelty investigations last year by the SPCA of Texas…only 13 led to seizures, officials said.

Strangely, the article makes only a vague reference to what I think is the most important issue for animal owners: the lack of appeal rights after a justice orders surrender to a rescue group.

I emailed  the producer of the 20/20 piece, on Tuesday evening, seeking answers to some of my questions on the story and responses to the SPCA’s rebuttals. I have not gotten a response.

Today I spoke with Claire Schwarz, a local attorney who represents the SPCA of Texas. She has written a letter of response to Dr. Gaylon TeSlaa’s letter posted on this blog. I’ve got it in a fax, and will post it in its entirety once I have a soft copy.

In my last communication with Dr. TeSlaa, on Sunday, he indicated that he had more to say on this matter and would get back to me when his schedule allowed. He has not communicated with me since.


UPDATE 8:00 PM: The producer replies that she is out of the office until Tuesday and refers me to an ABC press person. I’ll ring him tomorrow.

Somebody in Houston gets it

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Occasionally, a reader comment deserves elevation to a main post. Especially when that comment says nice things about us.

Sayeth Kevin Whited:

"But it’s ridiculous that Our Little Blog is the #2 result in a Google search on this topic."

Ridiculous, or a sign of things to come?

I don’t think any news outlet is going to sort out the ONE PERSPECTIVE that is true on this one.

And why would one need to?

In the coming online news age, I just want the facts to get out
there, whether it’s via message boards or newspapers (conspicuously
absent, as you’ve noted) or blogs with a perspective! Let people read
and discuss.

Right now, you’re discovering that this very blog is sort of the
glue holding together various takes on the story. You’re also (I hope!)
pushing news organizations in town to cover certain things (I know
that’s been the case with our blogHOUSTON experience, because we have
feedback from reporters saying so).

And when your product launches, you’re going to start showing some of the folks in town how YOU would go about it all.

That’s a long ramble just to say — I don’t think it’s all that
ridiculous for you to be #2 in google on this story. I think you’re
being good editors in gathering up the current news AND trying to push
coverage. That ought to rank highly, shouldn’t it? 🙂

Aw, shucks. Makes you kinda’ sorry that Houston is going the way of Atlantis — not that the DMN editorial board will miss it.

More SPCA TK

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In my few spare moments, I’ve been trying to dig into the SPCA controversy. I’ve got some feelers out to the various players involved; have been reading up on the issue; and have been getting lots o’ interesting email on both all sides.

There’s only one fact I’m thoroughly convinced of right now and that’s that there is a huge due process problem with the current Texas law regarding seizure of allegedly neglected animals once they are turned over to a rescue organization or slated to be killed.

Beyond that, I’ve found that:

  • The Texas SPCA is a wonderful volunteer-driven nonprofit that saves thousands of neglected, abandoned and abused animals, or alternatively a group with an agenda to bring an end to all professional breeders and perhaps even human ownership of animals.
       
  • Dave Garcia is either the most accomplished animal rescuer in the country, and a patron saint second only to Francis of Assisi, or alternatively a power-mad thief who is probably sitting in my hedges right now waiting for my dogs to poop so that he can take a picture and use it as evidence to seize them and then sell them for beer money.
       
  • There’s nothing wrong with breeding dogs for sale, or owning large numbers of animals. Unless you’re a puppy mill. What makes you a puppy mill? Someone says you are. If you’re not a puppy mill, you’re a responsible breeder. The dogs apparently don’t get a vote on this distinction.
       
  • You are either an Animal Rights (AR) nut who wants to turn over my house to the bears and raccoons, or a cold heartless Lassie-killer.
       
  • The 20/20 piece was either the greatest piece of journalism since Mark Felt said "My friends call me Deep Throat," or the worst since Dan Rather said "That memo looks good."

The wild swings of sarcasm are intentional. There’s a lot of rhetoric on this matter. There are a lot of "facts" being thrown around with little backup.

Somewhere, deep between all of those flamboyantly diametrically opposed statements is the truth. Or at least something closer to it. And no matter how you shake it, it’s the animals who are getting screwed.

Would love to see a full-time reporter on this, but so far all I’ve seen is a letter to the editor in the DMN.

C’mon folks — Either a great charity that prevents our streets from teeming with stray animals has been maligned and damaged, or we’ve got a charity run amok that needs to be rehabilitated or replaced.

Or something in between, not nearly as clear or as fun for people who like to shout on internet message boards.

But it’s ridiculous that Our Little Blog is the #2 result in a Google search on this topic.

I’ll keep looking for answers, as I can (mostly out of non-activist animal-loving guilt). But this is a complex story that begs for a full-time local reporter to investigate it. Even if it’s half-baked.

As a side note, I’m sure a lot of people in the media business have said a lot of things about me over the years, some of which I’m sure I wouldn’t want to hear. But I’ll know I’ve really made it (or stepped in it) when there’s a Yahoo!Group dedicated to my activities.
 

Doughcal

in Uncategorized

One thing I’ve said since the beginning of this little adventure is that we’ll be exclusively, aggressively local-only. If it’s not clearly local, it ain’t our beat.

This morning, as I was flipping radio stations (my Ipod car adapter is broken and the new one is still on back order), I heard a bit on KDGE that gave me pause.

A Highland Park lass had heard the DJ’s talking about an amazing recipe that they’d seen on Food Network — for Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and made them some and brought it into the studio.

Under my original rigid rubrics, we wouldn’t have covered Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding in our shop. And if someone local hadn’t talked or written about it, I wouldn’t know that there was a recipe involving 2 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts; sweetened condensed milk, eggs. cinnammon and butter rum sauce. (And some other useless vitamin-providing ingredients.)

And that, friends, would be tragic.

Now, excuse me. I have to go take some more hoodia.

Several must-reads

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Not just the usual bullets– These are all worthy of the PNMROTW* honors.

  • Jeff Jarvis riffing on Seth Godin: Small is the new big. (Follow every link)
       
  • Ari Soglin: Checkbook Citizen Journalism
       
  • Newspapers and newspapermen key Evelyn Rodriguez on saving ourselves from freezing: The Sun‘s first issue sold out immediately, and contained numerous "human interest" stories (a form practically invented by the Penny Press) that drew an audience of readers "starved for information about other people like themselves,
    distressed souls from other lands or from upstate farms – people
    marooned in a rapidly growing city that was often inscrutable,
    uncaring, or unintelligible

       
  • Vin Crosbie: Endgame for newspapersThe business model of newspapers — aggregating revenues from
    newsprint edition purchases and from classified advertising and display
    advertising — is obsolete and awry. Its classified advertising sector
    is certainly obsolete. There is much discussion within the newspaper
    industry about how to compete against sites such as Craig’s List, but most of that talk is about preserving
    the newspaper industry’s traditional business model of paid classified
    ads against the free classifieds advertising of Craig’s and other
    sites. The newspaper industry need to open its eyes to the fact that its traditional business model of paid classified advertising is dead. It is a Nineteenth Century business model that’s no longer relevant.

    Likewise, the newspaper industry’s display advertising business
    model is starting to crumble. Google and Yahoo! last year had combined
    advertising earnings of $4 billion in display advertising revenue —
    more than most U.S. media companies. Now that broadband permits
    targetted delivery of video and once sites like Google, Yahoo!, and
    Craig’s List begin local targeting of display advertising, this pilar
    of newspaper industry revenue will start to collapse. Give it five more
    years.   

  • Chris Anderson: Why I prefer blogs to traditional journalism
       
  • John Robinson on transparency
       
  • Kurt Andersen says
    All newspapers are kind of f***ed.": He envisions a hybrid blog, whereby a journalist is paid to search out
    stories and blog about them, incorporating both traditional reporting
    and opinion. “So then it’s not just all like ‘Look at what this blogger
    said about this other blogger.’ It all becomes a bit of an echo
    chamber. The coffee gets pretty thin if you pour it through the grounds
    10 times.”

*Pegasus News Must Read of the Week

Contextual advertising gone wrong

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One of the reasons we think that the "Australia" strategy works is this: although scalable systems cut costs and add efficiency, unless you have someone who can look at things on the micro level occasionally, you’ll almost always get some regrettable results.

Here’s a Google ad pulled up by the recent SPCA discussions:

Ebay_ad

The ad actually links to bowls, toys, and other items sold by rescue organizations as fundraisers.

And the Austin American Statesman has a truly regrettable contextual ad on a story about a child who died in a lawnmower accident. It’s tasteless enough that I’ll put the screenshot in the continuation.

The question is: can you scale and have human oversight in a way that makes sense? We think so.

Keep Reading

Save Ferris Frontburner

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D Magazine’s blog, The Frontburner, is selling sponsorships to pay for a new server and to justify the editorial time-suck to the businessfolk.  The Frontburner: a.) is a snarky celebration of ignorance; b.) is one of many early inspirations for Pegasus News; c.) gives us regular props/traffic and; d.) is the only blog that is good enough for me to bother to read even though it only posts intros in its RSS feed.

I thought, briefly, about becoming a Frontburner sponsor, but cash is just to dear for us to do any advertising right now. So, I’ll do what I can and urge our local readers to kick in for The Frontburner crew.

(And yes, I know I’ve gotten entirely too fond of strikethrough font lately. I’ll get over it soon eventually.)

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