Annie the Dog is back with her original owner, Chuck Hoage. But nobody involved in this episode has any reason to feel warm and fuzzy about it.
Annie is going back because its new owners have been terrorized into giving up the dog.Terrorism works. That’s the lesson here. And all of us who were involved in this, starting with yours truly, should re-examine our behavior.
There should be a run on mirrors in this county because we all need to take a good look at ourselves.
We have here at The Tribune a long letter about the Annie episode that purports to be from the dog’s new owners. We don’t have that verified yet, but this angry and anguished letter contains plenty of detail and the ring of truth.
If the letter is true and from the new owners, it says something horrifying about the saga of Annie the dog.
The new owners are alternately enraged and fearful.
They are fearful because people who have wanted them to return Annie have parked in front of their 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.
They say they feel threatened by “a lynch mob.”
The new owners are enraged that their good deed — rescuing a dog from the local animal shelter, where it had a chance of being euthanized — somehow became to be seen as villainous.
They see many actors playing a role in that vilification — local radio talk-show host Dave Congalton and his followers, the crazies that comment on websites, and, not least of all, the local media.
That last part would begin with me. So let me take us back to the day this thing began.In early August someone tipped me that Hoage had lost his dog and, while he was looking for her, she was adopted out to a new family.
So I wrote a column that ran Aug. 8, asking the new owners to give back the dog to Hoage.
I thought they would do that right away, once they realized the dog’s real owner had showed up.
They would get a new dog from the shelter, saving two doggie lives instead of one. They would be happy. Hoage and Annie would be happy. Everyone, in fact, would live happily ever after.
It was going to be a warm and wonderful column.
We all know now how wrong I was. The first of many mistakes I made was to break a cardinal rule of journalism: Never assume anything. There’s an old editor’s line, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” I didn’t do that with the Annie story.
Annie’s new owners stomped all over my first erroneous assumption by not giving back the dog to Hoage.
Congalton had a sobbing Hoage on his show the day after the column ran, and made it a personal crusade to reunite Hoage and the dog. He soon had a small army of followers, putting up websites and holding community rallies.
A key belief of these folks is that the new owners were selfish. The new owners say they have been portrayed as “cold-hearted, dishonest, lacking human compassion.”
There was no evidence of this — their reasons for holding on to Annie were never made public, and could have been very good.
In the letter sent to The Tribune, the new owners provide a hint — they say Hoage “broke all the laws of responsibility to Annie.” They say Annie has an impacted tooth. They ask in their letter “Why wasn’t Annie tagged?” and why Hoage didn’t go to the shelter to look for the dog.
But the Hoage followers did not know about this rationale.
Soon, the blogosphere got into the act, with that special sick mixture of bile and venom you find at the end of online stories across the nation, placed there by troubled people who don’t have to sign their names and therefore face no accountability.
It was a short lurch from there to fear-mongering, give-the-dog-back-or-else terrorism. Then the County Counsel’s Office inadvertently released the names of the new owners. Even Congalton got worried.
In an e-mail to County Supervisor Adam Hill, obtained by The Tribune under a Public Records Act request, Congalton wrote “county ****ed up on the redacting part of the adoption papers. They didn’t black out everything. I’m not going to give out the information, but Chuck (Hoage) has it. So do his friends.”
He urged Hill, who has taken a lead role in trying to reunite Hoage and Annie, to “move up the clock.” He left a similar message on the voicemail of the new owners. “If I know, a lot of other people are about to know and I’m hoping that some way we can resolve this we need to talk sooner than later.”
The new owners felt an implied threat in this message, go figure, and turned it over to the police.
And so, here we are, with the new owners having given up Annie, for all the wrong reasons.
And what about those of us who wanted Chuck and Annie back together? You know, us animal lovers?
How come our love of dogs doesn’t extend to the human beings, including, apparently, children, who own the dog?
Are we just a bunch of bullies?
We need to be honest with ourselves about this.
And while we’re doing that, we might also ask ourselves why we are giving so much energy to a dog when there is so much human suffering in the world: Haiti, Pakistan, the poor and homeless in our own country and county.
In other words, who are we?
While we ponder that, I’m going to give the last word to Annie’s new owners, who have earned it.
“I challenge Annie’s fan club and ralliers to put the same passion into issues such as education for our children, homelessness, creating food banks, affordable housing, or county water issues. I’ve yet to see this public show of support for the ‘real issues facing the county.’
“What will all of you do with the extra time, once the Annie situation is resolved?”