Family pet picked up, put to sleep; couple looking for answers, justice

Family pet picked up, put to sleep; couple looking for answers, justice

By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter The last time Wanda Tanner saw her beloved Pudge was Wednesday morning as she backed out of her driveway onto Walker Tanner Road to go to work. She never saw him again. She will never see him again. She only knows that he is dead and that his body lies somewhere under a mountain of garbage at the local landfill. She doesn’t know exactly where, otherwise she would go there and dig it up and bring it home and give it a proper burial in the back yard. She pauses a moment, then struggles to speak again. “He was part of the family and he deserves better than being dumped into a landfill,” she said. A caveat Before you proceed further into this story, be advised that you may find it a difficult read, especially if you are an animal lover. After all, people have an almost biblical affinity for their pets. There is a bond, a tie that binds them to each other. Sole survivor Pudge was one of a litter of three pups born at the Tanner farm in 2002. His mama was “Rosie,” a mixed breed resembling an Irish setter; his papa was “Max,” an Australian sheepdog. The puppies were six weeks old when Rosie was hit by a car and killed. “So I took over as mom and bottle-fed them,” Mrs. Tanner said. “They grew fast. We kept two, gave one away. About three months ago, the other puppy was run over by a car. Of course, it hurts. We buried the little dog in our back yard.” Thus it came to be that Pudge was the sole survivor. Bright eyes At first glance, you might have taken Pudge for a Blue Heeler. He was about that size and he wore a furry coat of many patches. When you talked to him, his ears would perk up, his tail would flail the air and he’d look at you with bright eyes. A veritable bundle of energy, he was, with an insatiable curiosity of the world about him. Perhaps best of all, he was friendly. Everybody in the neighborhood knew him, including sheriff’s deputies on patrol. And he was smart. When he spotted an oncoming car, he’d get off the road and wait for it to pass. Mrs. Tanner’s sister-in-law, Rhonda Tanner, once characterized Pudge as “the heart of the farm.” He had the run of not only the farm but the entire neighborhood. One of the neighborhood places he frequently visited was Formac Stables, just down the road at 2039 Walker Tanner Road. Formac Stables is a horse barn owned by the Tanners and rented by Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jimmy McConnell. Painful and poignant Saturday morning, Mrs. Tanner and her husband, Rodger, sat at a patio table at their home at 1735 Walker Tanner Road and narrated a painful and poignant story. For her, the telling was not easy. Her eyes glistened with the moisture of emotion. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her spoken words were delivered with a tone of agony and sadness, great sadness. “My heart is just broken,” she said. “I almost wish I didn’t know what happened to him (Pudge).” “Yes, I wish I’d never known,” Rodger said. “He didn’t have a chance,” Mrs. Tanner said. “If he’d gotten killed by a car, I could understand it,” Rodger said. “Yes, it happens in the country. We’ve had that heartache before,” she added. Rodger Tanner was equally moved. He expressed his emotions through harsh words — one of them, the word “murder” — and a sense of outrage and injustice. The search “Wednesday morning when I left for work, I saw Pudge here,” Mrs. Tanner said. “There was a little brown dog with him that someone had dropped on us the night before.” Drop-off animals — usually unwanted kittens and puppies — occur frequently in rural areas. The Tanners took it in. “We fed it. I left for work and they were here,” she said. That afternoon when she returned home, neither of the dogs was there. And that was unusual for Pudge. It was his meal time and he never missed it. “So I started looking. I drove around everywhere, knocked on doors, talked to people out here. Nobody had seen him,” she said. “Everybody knew what he looked like, everybody was looking for him. I went to the horse barn, but there was no one there to ask. I came home, did some things and went out again from 8:30 to 10 looking for him. He still hadn’t come home. I knew something was wrong.” Thursday morning, she put a missing dog ad in The Messenger, then went by Reelfoot Animal Hospital. They had treated the dog before and knew it well. Maybe someone had found Pudge injured and brought him in. It was a chance, albeit a slim one. “They hadn’t seen Pudge but they suggested I go by animal shelter (in Union City),” she said. “I hadn’t even thought of that because we’re not in the city limits. So I went and talked to (animal shelter manager) Tim Doyle. I explained about my dog and he said, ‘No, I haven’t seen anything like that. But I’ll take your name and phone number and if I do hear something, I’ll call you.’ “That was at 9:30 Thursday morning.” About 1:30 Thursday afternoon she returned home and got on their four-wheeler and searched some more, looking into roadside ditches and tree lines. “I rode down to the horse barn,” she said. “This time, there was somebody down there. Jimmy McConnell was out of town, but there was a lady and a man there. She’s the wife of one of the men who works there. “The lady said yes, she knew what happened because she was there. Her daughter was playing outside, and my dog and the little brown dog came there and she called the (Union City) dog catcher.” Dogs captured Mrs. Tanner alleges the woman said the animal control officer — Darrell Baty — told her he could not come out to the stables because it was outside the city limits and he could lose his job. “But he also said he would use an address inside the city limits so it would be legal,” she said. “And he came out to the horse barn and pulled in behind the fence and picked up both of the dogs.” Rodger Tanner said he talked to the horse barn employee whose wife had talked to Mrs. Tanner. “What happened was, she and her daughter were sitting on a swing while he was working,” Rodger said. “Jimmy was gone. That happens a lot. They just come out there and picnic. Well, she saw those two dogs and thought somebody dropped them off. So she looks up the number for the dog catcher and her husband, the guy who works for Jimmy, called him. The dog catcher comes out to the horse barn and says, ‘I can lose my job. This is outside the city limits. But I’ll put down some other address so it’ll be inside the city limits.’ “This guy signed a statement yesterday saying that’s exactly what the dog catcher said. The police station’s got the written statement. He put 2100 Walker Tanner Road (on the form). The horse barn is at 2039 Walker Tanner Road. He knew he wasn’t doing right by coming outside the city limits to pick up the dogs. He picked them up at 3:46 p.m. Wednesday. “Pudge was put to sleep at 9 o’clock the next morning.” Pudge euthanized Mrs. Tanner said she called Union City police as soon as she heard the dog catcher had taken the animals. She was assured there is one place and one place only where the dog catcher takes seized animals — the animal shelter at 507 West Main St. in Union City. “I told them I need to talk to the dog catcher,” she said. “He wasn’t there but he called me back. He said, ‘Your dog likes to run, doesn’t he?’ I asked him what he meant. He said, ‘Well, when I got him to the animal shelter, he jumped out of the truck and took off running behind the fire station and I couldn’t catch him.’ “Well, at that point, I’m mad, and I say to him, ‘You were out of your jurisdiction, coming to pick up my dog. I expect you to help me find my dog.’ So I immediately go to that area and I walk up and down the streets talking to people, looking for my dog, for an hour and a half.” She said she later got a call from animal shelter manager Tim Doyle. He asks her to come to his office right away. “I’m thinking, ‘They’ve found my dog.’ So I rush over there and he says, ‘I’ve got to tell you that we euthanized your dog this morning.’ “I said, ‘He wasn’t even here 12 hours.’ Tim Doyle said, ‘It was a mix-up in paperwork.’ Well, there were only two other dogs in the pens when I went there. I was so upset. I said, ‘Well, can I have his body? I want to bury him at my house.’ Tim Doyle said, ‘Naw, he’s gone to the dump.’ “So I called (Barker Brothers Waste manager) Bryan Barker. He tried to help, but it was too late. Pudge was buried with the trash.” Little brown dog, too Rodger Tanner went to the animal shelter to see Doyle himself. He said he asked Doyle, “Where’s the brown dog that you picked up with my dog? Did you get the paperwork mixed up on him, too?” “Tim said, ‘Yeah,’” Rodger said. As it turns out, both dogs were put to sleep, both bodies were put in a dumpster and both were taken to the dump. “I told him, ‘There’s four dogs in here and you get the paperwork mixed up on 50 percent of them? If you can’t do any better than that, you don’t need to be in business. You didn’t give that dog a chance. What you did is, you murdered our dog. It’s nothing but flat-out murder,’” Rodger said. “I told him, ‘You bring dogs in here, but why even have holding pens? Why don’t you just shoot them? You didn’t give him a chance, not one chance. You just killed him.’” Money “I think it’s all about money,” Rodger said. “Tim Doyle gets a contract with the city to operate an animal shelter. What happens is, if he doesn’t have to feed that dog, it’s just more money in his pocket. It’s all about money, and it needs to be stopped. I’ve never been so mad in my whole life. Wanda and I want to do what we can to make sure it doesn’t happen to other people’s pets.” Mrs. Tanner asserts she’s a good person, that she would help anyone, any animal. But right now she doesn’t think she’ll get another dog. At least, not any time soon. The hurt won’t go away for quite a while. Justice? What would have to happen to give Wanda and Rodger Tanner a measure of satisfaction, a modicum of justice, in this unfortunate incident? Mrs. Tanner minces no words. “Someone needs to be held accountable for what was done,” she said. “The dog catcher did not do his job correctly. I think he has lied and he falsified a report that he was in the city limits. He was in the wrong. Then he lied to me, saying my dog had run away and had me out looking for it for two hours. “As for the animal shelter, I think they kill every dog that comes in there because they don’t want to spend money to feed it. I think we are a big enough county to have an animal shelter that could take care of animals and treat them humanely. There are lots of people who love animals. I would like to see a nice, fair place, run by someone who has a genuine love for animals.” Other reaction When contacted by The Messenger for comment, Doyle had little to say. “A mistake was made. That’s all I have to say,” he said. Kathy Dillon, a stand-in for Union City city manager Don Thornton who is on sick leave, said she is not sure how she’s going to handle the matter, but she is looking into it. “I’m asking for any and all reports,” she said. “The police department has handed over a report. I am also waiting on a report from the Tanners. I’m just trying to pull all the facts together. I believe the city council needs to be made aware of all the facts.” Published in The Messenger 6.16.08

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