Save a dog, go to jail?

In December of 2007 Tammy Grimes, the founder of Dogs Deserve Better, was found guilty of theft and receiving stolen property. Her crime? Rescuing a weak, sick dog from a stranger’s backyard.

Two months later, Grimes, age 43, who lives near the East Freedom, Pennsylvania home where the dog was chained, was sentenced. The sentence included 300 hours community service for an organization focused on helping people, not animals, as well as a year of probation. The judge also ordered Grimes to pay for the costs of her own trial and to take down anything Doogie-related on her website and on any site she has any control over. Grimes is even being charged five dollars an hour to do her community service.

The dog’s owners, meanwhile, were never charged with animal cruelty, although Grimes argues they broke Pennsylvania law by not taking their ailing dog to the vet.

The District Attorney in charge of the case, Richard Consiglio, thinks otherwise. He counters that the owners were treating the dog with aspirin, and although it may not have been the best treatment, it was enough. “The owners didn’t do anything wrong, but Tammy Grimes did,” he says.

The situation doesn’t exactly surprise Grimes, who founded her nonprofit to publicize the cruelty of chaining dogs. “It’s the general attitude around here,” she says, noting that tying dogs outside for hours, weeks, or even years at a time is common, but animal cruelty charges are rare.

Unchaining Doogie

Grimes was called to the backyard in East Freedom in September of 2006, by a tearful neighbor. The neighbor explained that the dog, who she’d never seen off his chain in the backyard, had been unable to stand for three days. For each of those three days, she’d called the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society for help, and gotten no response.

Later, during the trial, friends of the dog’s owners and another neighbor testified otherwise, saying they’d seen the family’s dogs up and about that weekend. But all Grimes knew is what she saw when she arrived at the house: a skinny Shepherd mix lying on the muddy and feces-caked ground, making feeble attempts to get up. The house was empty. So she took a few photos and a video, undid the dog’s collar, and took him straight to the vet.

Grimes says the vet diagnosed the dog with painful back spurs that made it hard for him to move. He also spotted signs of malnourishment and dehydration, as well as bald spots and sores. Grimes quickly found a safe foster home for the dog, whom she renamed Doogie.

Paying the price

That night, police officers showed up at Grimes’ house and ordered her to return the dog to his owners. When she refused to tell them where the dog was–offering instead to hand over her photos and video for a cruelty case against the dog’s owners–they arrested her.

Grimes was released on bail, returned home that night, and began working on her defense the next day. She drew strength from knowing that Doogie was finally getting some care and attention.

A week after his rescue, he was up, walking around, and discovering what life lived inside a house with a family was like. Eventually he gained 15 pounds. He lived five more good months before eventually succumbing to his infirmities–the vet estimated he was about 12 years old.

As for Grimes, she doesn’t regret a thing. Six days after her sentencing, she filed an appeal. She’s determined to bring as much negative attention to the DA, judge, and humane society as it takes to convince them to start protecting animals. She’s posted her video on YouTube, is sending letters to rescue groups, and doing whatever she can to highlight the plight faced by so many dogs.

As she wrote to her supporters on her blog: “I stood for Doogie because he couldn’t stand for himself.”