The Love 'Em Or Leave 'Em Law

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Arriving at work one snowy morning last month, Payson Humane Society manager Diane Fitzpatrick found a cardboard box on the front stoop.

Huddled inside were three small puppies who might have frozen had they not been crammed in so tightly.

"Someone had left them overnight with snow on the ground in a 2-by-2-foot box," Fitzpatrick said. "They had no room to even move, although that probably saved their lives."

Despite a sign posted at the humane society entrance citing a town ordinance prohibiting the abandonment of animals, it's not uncommon for Fitzpatrick to find animals literally left on the doorstep.

"People abandon animals at the humane society almost on a weekly basis. If it's not in a box, they leave them tied outside, or even throw them over our 10-foot fence," she said.

While it's against the law to abandon an animal, not much is usually done about it.

"There's been like 10 or 15 times where I've called the police because people were abandoning animals and I knew who they were and nobody will do anything," she said. But this time, thanks to a Gila County rabies control officer who decided to take a stand, the outcome might be different.

Mick Greer, a temporary animal control officer, identified a suspect, issued a citation, and the case is going to court.

"I knew the dogs," Greer said. "I recognized them from writing a citation on their mother for not being licensed and being at large. The owner told me the puppies were on a waiting list to be taken by the humane society. That was a lie."

Ultimately the puppies, which were in poor condition when abandoned, developed parvovirus and had to be euthanized.

Now, the Star Valley man accused of abandoning the animals, faces a fine of as much as $800.

"We want to charge $7 a day per puppy for the time they were there, plus the original $10 apiece for shots and worming. Then there's a "put-to-sleep" fee, and you're up to about $400," Greer said. "That's just the restitution. Typically the fine can match the restitution."

The suspect is expected to plead not guilty, but Greer and Fitzpatrick believe he will ultimately be convicted.

"He actually has two charges against him, one civil and one criminal," Greer said. "The first is a town statute that says you can't abandon animals. The second is a criminal statute that says you're guilty of animal cruelty if you abandon them. If you're guilty of the first one, you're automatically guilty of the second."

Greer says he expects the suspect to deny he was the one who left the dogs at the humane society. Fortunately the statute says anyone who "has control and custody of those animals" is guilty of neglect or abandonment.

"I can testify that the dogs belong to (the man) and they are under his control," Greer said.

Even if the maximum fine is not levied, Greer hopes the case will set an example.

"People abandon animals to avoid going through regular channels and paying the $10 fee," Greer said. "What we hope this case will show is that this guy would have been a lot better off paying the $30 for the three puppies."

Fitzpatrick agrees.

"People can do it right walk in the door and set up an appointment," she said.

She hopes this case will hasten the day when she can come to work without worrying about finding abandoned animals.

"This is the first time anyone has ever done anything about the problem," she said. "Whether he's found guilty or not, at least we've gotten this far."

Greer said he realizes he's not going to win any popularity contests.

"Everybody hates the dogcatcher," he said. "That goes with the territory. I'm on the side of the dogs."

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