When Randy Hawkins left a 15-minute message on the hotline for the Tucson mayor and City Council on Feb. 17, he told a story of what appeared to be a gross misuse of power by the Pima Animal Care Center--formally called Animal Control and colloquially referred to as "the pound."
The tale begins with 1 1/2-year-old "Bruiser," a female Chihuahua/Boston terrier mix who had given birth to six puppies a week earlier. Bruiser was in her front yard, in the 2000 block of East Sylvosa Street, when she was attacked by two pit bulls. Hawkins took the injured dog to the Ajo Vet clinic, even though he is on a limited income. When he was told the bill would be $1,000, he requested assistance from the Animal Rescue League--who, he says, offered to help pay, as long as Bruiser was also spayed.
"I didn't want Bruiser fixed at that moment, because she was nursing six puppies," says Hawkins. He then took the injured dog home.
After removing the still-ailing dog from the clinic, "the pound" became interested.
"They took an anonymous tip, came over to my house, and all hell breaks loose," recalls Hawkins.
The animal control officer didn't get much cooperation from Hawkins, and Tucson Police were called in. Hawkins was given 24 hours to seek care for Bruiser. When that time passed, the animal cops took Bruiser to get medical care and seized the six puppies; Hawkins was charged with animal neglect.
"Because of what happened with the female when he pulled her out of the vet when she needed medical care, we had concerns about the care of the puppies," says Dr. Rodrigo Silva, manager of the Pima County Animal Care Center.
On Feb. 13, Bruiser died at the Animal Care Center's clinic, and a war of words between Hawkins and Silva escalated regarding the return of the six puppies, which were at a foster home that specialized in the care of newborn pups.
"I told Sylva, 'The bottom line is, my dog is dead, and she died in your care,'" says Hawkins. "And every time I said that, they would get so angry, so I gave the whole story on the City Council phone line."
That message caught the attention of City Council member Kathleen Dunbar, because of her long stance as an animal-welfare advocate. Interestingly, Dunbar once worked as the director of community relations for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, side-by-side with Dr. Rodrigo Silva.
"Nobody has fought with Sylva like I have," says Dunbar. "If I thought Animal Control was acting inappropriately, I'd say so."
Dunbar took an immediate interest in the welfare of the puppies and called Hawkins just as he was walking out the door to visit the dogs. She introduced herself simply as Kathleen Dunbar and offered to buy the six puppies for him at the cost of $300. It was only later that Hawkins discovered Dunbar was a city official, and he initially thought Sylva had put her up to it. He was happy to find out he was wrong.
Says Dunbar: "I offered him money, but he didn't want it. I was just doing it to try to relieve him. I was ready to come forward and compensate him out of my own pocket."
When she finally called Hawkins again, it was clear puppies were not his only problem--Dunbar says paramedics were there treating him for heart problems.
Hawkins' fight had to be postponed while he spent time in intensive care. Time went by before negotiations resumed, but Dunbar is puzzled that an animal-rescue group apparently demanded that Bruiser get spayed--the reason Hawkins refused medical care and is now charged with neglect.
"Not a vet in the world is going to spay a female who is nursing puppies, because when this happened, the puppies were one week old," says Dunbar. (A random survey of local vets by the Weekly confirmed this.)
The communication lapses and financial issues surrounding the case all center around Hawkins' health. Since the mid-'90s, Hawkins--a 53-year-old former first-grade teacher with three degrees--has had two open-heart surgeries and has lost 80 percent of his heart. He's also a diabetic. He found it difficult to explain to his autistic son where the six puppies disappeared to.
What's at issue now is the law. Hawkins was issued four citations: cruelty, medical neglect, lack of license and lack of a record of vaccine.
"When the vet says this dog needs medical care, that care must be given," says Sylva. "That's the law."
Dunbar, who had a hand in writing some of these abuse laws, thinks the Hawkins case is delving into a gray area.
"He doesn't fit the profile," says Dunbar, "I mean, he didn't do this on purpose."
As far as who dropped the dime on Hawkins, state law makes it the duty of veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse and extends legal protection to veterinarians reporting.
"I think the laws are having the opposite effect, because people will be afraid to take their animals in for care, for fear they will be fined," says Hawkins.
In order to have the puppies returned, Sylva's agency asked Hawkins to receive training from a vet on the care of puppies. Hawkins complied and has since had his six puppies returned, but it's not over--an angry Hawkins is looking forward to his March 29 court date.
"When I talked to Sylva, I told him just because I get my puppies back, don't think I'm going to back off," says Hawkins. "He tried to twist that into I was threatening him. This is no way to run a pound, and I don't want it to happen to anyone else."
Dunbar says she hopes Hawkins' court date goes well.
"I'd hope the judge would listen to the circumstances and be able to weigh the differences between intended animal cruelty and a person who didn't have economic means nor the skill in how to deal with the situation," says Dunbar. "The pit bull, I'm still uncomfortable with, and I'm not letting go of that one, because I want to find out about his neighborhood and how many reports of attacks are over there."
In the meantime, Hawkins says he will keep one puppy and let his son's friends adopt the others.