The city police car flew around the corner, the first SPCA law enforcement truck following close behind; the SPCA truck I was riding in followed on its heels. All three vehicles came to an abrupt stop halfway down the street, completely blocking it. Car doors opened and we all got out, making our way up to the row home door like a small army. People on the street stopped in mid-activity and watched with undisguised curiosity, staring at the firearms on everyone’s side and wondering what was to happen. Police on the street could only mean one thing: trouble. When a woman finally opened the door the search warrant was served and we all entered, surveying the scene, looking at everything, flashlights on and eyes adjusting to the dim light.
The warrant itself had taken a long time to write. It needed to be spotless and perfect, or the judge who was asked to sign it could have thrown it out. Probable cause needed to be documented in detail. No elements could be forgotten. As it turned out, it was signed within hours.
The dog we had come to find was supposed to be in the basement, but one of the officers saw a dog in the back courtyard when he looked out the kitchen window. Before the dog could be seized, however, the rest of the house had to be searched.
The basement was dark and damp. No dogs, but make-shift leashes and thick collars gave plenty of evidence that dogs had been there. The first and second floors had very little furniture. It looked like a stash-house: a hiding place for drugs, or dog fighting, or any number of illicit activities. The woman’s clothes were in dresser drawers, clearly disputing her statement that she didn’t live there. No one besides her was in the home. The city police stayed out of our way, but provided a great deal of security in a very bad neighborhood.
Two SPCA officers opened the door in the kitchen that led to the courtyard, yelling, “Get back!” at the dog on the other side, who was clearly trying to shove its way inside. I expected to see an enormous giant of a dog bursting in, but when the officers managed to get the leash around its neck, the small, horribly emaciated pit bull that appeared didn’t in any way resemble the image in my mind.
The little dog was splattered with dried red paint. It was smeared on his ears, tail, legs, and back. There were scars and fairly fresh injuries on his face. One officer took him to the truck and loaded him into a cage in the back. The other officer checked the woman’s identification, asked her questions, and obtained a picture of her boyfriend, whom she said lived at the home with her.
Pictures were taken of the yard where the dog was found. It is the pictures of a crime scene and victim that can often make or break a case. The yard was littered with garbage, trash bags, cardboard, and junk. An open paint can that had once held red paint was seen. There was no food or water.
Inside, an officer spoke on the phone with the woman’s boyfriend, while the woman sat on the steps staring at her cell phone. She showed complete disregard for the entire situation. The boyfriend gave multiple stories: the dog was put in the yard by someone else, he didn’t own the home but stayed there sometimes, his cousin, the actual homeowner, was in jail, he couldn’t remember the address of his employer, etc. The officer showed no mercy, telling the boyfriend that if he was not willing to provide the correct information, he would be forced to do so at a later date.
I stood outside on the steps for a bit, watching the people from the block mill about and talk to each other. I heard one woman say that she needed to move, that the block was too “hot”; too much trouble. It was a known drug area. A man across the street sat on his stoop with his pit bull the entire time we were there, as if trying to show us that his dog was fine and he was not part of the problem. Kids ran and played on the street, some petting the man’s pit bull, and in retrospect I wish I had attempted to talk to them and gauge their perspective on how animals should be treated. I am convinced that change in this area must start with educating the children who are so often desensitized to the violence all around them.
An officer told me to keep an eye on the truck, since it was unlocked and running in order to provide air conditioning for the dog. “That’s our evidence in there,” he said, referring to the dog. “You never know what people may do.”
I went to check on the dog, and we eyed each other warily. He stood in his cage, and when I spoke he wagged his tail. No sign of aggression, no overt fear. From the looks of the injuries on his head and face I thought maybe he was used as a bait dog in fights. He let me pet him. He was a beautiful dog and seemed very young.
The woman in the house was given a citation and a copy of the search warrant. The city police waited for us to finish and escorted us off the block. Back at the shelter, pictures were taken to document the dog’s sad condition; getting the “money-shot”, the one showing the extent of his injuries and starvation, was extremely important for court. Staring at the dried paint all over him, we decided to name him Sherwin, after the Sherwin-Williams paint company. He was a happy boy, despite all he’d probably been through, didn’t flinch when given his shots, and devoured the small amount of food he was given. He also didn’t seem to be at all familiar with human attention and affection. He wasn’t aloof or standoffish, but some dogs, especially those starved for attention, will nuzzle or lean into people when being petted; Sherwin acted as if he had never experienced it. I hope with time he will learn what it’s like to have a loving home.
If you are interested in adopting or fostering Sherwin, please contact me by leaving a comment about your interest. He is currently on hold pending forensic evaluation by a veterinarian, but should be released soon.