OK, show of hands: Who out there has just about had it with the Annie-the-dog saga? Yeah, me too.
In my 35 years in the news biz, I don’t remember such a zeitgeist-forming issue; it’s like a sequel to Billy Wilder’s “The Big Carnival,” a 1951 movie originally titled “Ace in the Hole” where reporter Kirk Douglas milks the nationwide media to follow the plight of a guy stuck in a New Mexico cave.
In that light, a fair question is: Did we, the media, fan Annie’s story?
A quick recap: Tribune staffer Bob Cuddy wrote a column Aug. 8 (“Sad story of two families and one dog”) about Annie being lost by owner Chuck Hoage, and how another family adopted her through county Animal Services. The crux of the rub is that they don’t want to give her up.
Bob’s column captured the attention of readers — who bombarded county supervisors and Animal Services with calls — as well as the attention of local radio talk-show host Dave Congalton, whose love of dogs is unquestioned.
So when Dave had Hoage on his show, and Annie’s bereft owner gave a tearful, impassioned plea to the family to return her, well, that seems to have been the blasting cap this powder keg needed.
In the ensuing days, a squad of officials tried to winkle Annie from her adopters with no success.
Counting Bob’s initial column, we ran four other updates on Annie’s saga, which garnered a collective 15,997 page views on our website, which is a lot. I don’t know how many times Dave revisited the topic on his show, but I imagine he kept a steady drumbeat.
Then, enter the folks who post comments anonymously behind our stories.
(A couple of observations: I’ll match our readers to any others on the planet for empathy; we could have bumper stickers that say “We’re empathetic about compassion.”)
At last count, some 500-plus people had taken the time — often through obviously Jolt/Red Bull-fueled wee hours — to debate Annie’s fate. There was talk of “outing” the name and address of Annie’s new owners, a move I strongly advised against.
I lean toward those who think this could be a prime learning experience for the adoptive family to teach their child(ren) the inestimable power of doing the right thing and returning Annie to Hoage. We’ll see.
So, did the media cause this circus? In my estimation, yes. But this “Big Carnival” also offered a catharsis for the compassionates among us to emphasize their love of animals and voice their demand for a fair shake for a guy who’d lost his dog. And, in the final tally, those are character qualities in which none of us should ever become jaded.