Top 10 of 2010: No. 5: Annie the dog's story enthralled SLO county

The countdown continues for the Top 10 Stories of 2010 as selected by The Tribune's editorial staff. The series publishes every day, culminating New Year’s Day with the top story.

Chuck Hoage and his semi-famous dog, Annie, are riding out the rain these days on their back porch in Pismo Beach, with occasional forays to the ranch in Arroyo Grande where Hoage works.

Both are hoping 2011 is a good deal less troublesome than 2010.

The 8-year-old Australian shepherd and her master became big news in San Luis Obispo County this past summer after Annie ran off from the ranch in the El Campo area June 22.

Hoage searched for the pooch but couldn’t find her.

As it turned out, Annie had been at the county animal shelter, from where she was adopted out to new owners.

A columnist for The Tribune — this reporter — wrote a story Aug. 8 about Hoage and Annie and asked that the new owners give up the dog so the pair could be reunited.

It didn’t happen that way. The new owners wouldn’t give Annie back.

Animal lovers, they felt Hoage had been negligent in letting Annie get away and in not implanting a microchip in the dog. They believed Hoage didn’t try hard enough to find Annie and that she was better off with them.

They also said they may have saved Annie from being euthanized.

Hoage told The Tribune this week that any allegation he didn’t take good care of Annie was “a bunch of malarkey.”

As the controversy began to swell, Hoage took to the airwaves, using the small-town local radio program of Dave Congalton to promote the cause of reuniting him and his dog.

Congalton, a dog owner who ends every show by telling his dogs on the air to get off the couch because he is coming home, took up the crusade.

Over the next few weeks, Hoage, Congalton and their backers held rallies, created a website and used the radio show to put pressure on the new owners to give up the dog.

A key belief of theirs was that the new owners were selfish for not yielding. The new owners said they were being portrayed as “cold-hearted, dishonest, lacking human compassion.”

The new owners continued to resist giving up Annie, and the situation grew ugly.

Upset that Annie and Hoage remained apart despite their considerable efforts, some of Congalton and Hoage’s backers began acting like “a lynch mob,” the new owners said.

They allegedly parked in front of the new owners’ house, called their home and hung up, forced them to cut short a vacation, frightened the family’s daughter so greatly that she had to flee the house and overtly threatened them on Internet posts.

Fearful and bitter, the new owners finally relinquished Annie.

Hoage and Annie were reunited Aug. 30, to the great joy of their supporters. Annie had some new accoutrements — a microchip and two new pink tags, one of which has Hoage’s address and phone number.

Annie also had been spayed and treated by a veterinarian.

Hoage said the episode taught him a lesson — make sure your dog is licensed.

That is how the saga ended. “Annie and I are having a great time,” Hoage said last week.