Category Archives: Justice

Happy Puppy Bowl! “And may the odds be ever in your favor.” Or something like that. Pshaw.

Anyone who’s been involved in animal rescue for at least five nanoseconds has probably figured out it’s likely easier to make rainbows out of a mud puddle than it is to please every Tom, Dick, and Fanny who’ve got fabulously bad intentions for how they’d like the rescue operation to fit into their agendas. Sometimes Tom, Dick, and Fanny have great ideas that serve the needs of our dogs’ adoptive processes; sometimes, though, Tom, Dick, and Fanny need a reality check. That happened this past week.

It all started when “Betty” (sorry, Betties of the world) wanted our group to send over twenty puppies for a “puppy bowl,” which was to take place in a large arena. Betty’s email rattled on AND ON about her expectations for her client. I mean, we hadn’t ever talked to this woman, and here she was delivering explicit details regarding what was to follow as if she was doing our rescue a huge favor we’d be nuts to refuse. She wanted breed-specific dogs, namely “at least two yellow Lab puppies.” She wanted to give points to dogs for defecating and urinating before spectators to her game. Why? Because that’s just so cute to freak out young dogs, who are already scared and nervous, so strangers can laugh and point fingers — to bet on their fear. Right. Making matters worse, Betty explained that “not all dogs would be adopted.” Well. Thanks for that hot news flash, ladycakes. I’ll cut to the chase: Betty paved a yellow brick road straight to Crazytown in her email, and we weren’t gonna let her take Toto down with her.

A short, yet polite decline was fired off immediately to Betty, but she wasn’t having it. She wanted a referral to another puppy “agency.” Without dragging it out further, it was decided to tell Betty why we wouldn’t help her humiliate our dogs or any other dogs. After thinking about it this week, I’d like to also stick the reply here for all to read because it pertains to everyone who doesn’t understand the line between abuse and otherwise. We are here to rescue animals, not to perpetuate and catapult the sick ideals of man.

No pussyfooting about it:

After considering your request carefully, I feel the need to fully explain why our rescue, as well as any reputable rescue that focuses on addressing animal welfare needs, will not participate.

When we bring dogs into our system, including puppies, it’s for the sole purpose of locating good homes. These animals have been dumped. They’ve been abandoned. They’ve been stuck on city streets without food, water, love, shelter, etc. Humans have not been kind to them, and because of that, these guys have no reason to trust us. Our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect — to give them what they deserve rather than to utilize them as puppets for what sounds an awful lot like a precursor for some sort of bizarre Roman Olympics opening act.

Our volunteers don’t receive compensation for assisting these dogs. They use their own gas, vehicles, homes, time, etc. When someone applies to adopt a dog, we want it to be because s/he loves that creature — not because the individual saw the poor dog scared and confused and “cute” in a gaming arena with 19 other puppies feeling the same way. We will not strain our volunteers’ resources to accommodate requests like yours when we could spend that time finding homes for their fosters at a legitimate adoption event. Read as: That’s a slap in the face to every rescuer who gives more than what can ever be received in return.

You’ve requested for your “client,” gag, to have in attendance a couple of breed-specific dogs. At least “two.” For crying in a bucket, I hope I don’t trip over all the breeders dumping yellow Lab puppies at the pound in my effort to nab the right actors for your production. You want a couple unicorns with that order? How ’bout some fries and a magical talking narwhal, too? The biggest part of what we do as rescue workers is to help the public understand we have a huge crisis that affects us all going on in city shelters. It’s about battling discrimination and irresponsible breeding. It’s about serving the needs of the animals who are left behind by people who want the fluffy lookers, about giving taxpayers a break from footing the bill for that sort of flippancy. All of our puppies are cute, damn it, even the ones that may be ugly ducklings to your “client.” What you’re asking is akin to calling an orphanage and suggesting it rush over twenty orphans for your Hunger Games mockery — a couple with blue eyes, some with golden hair, etc., for the viewing pleasure of someone who’s paying to see it, for someone who stands to make money off of our rescued dogs’ misfortunes. That’s disgusting and slimy, and we want no part of this trivialization.

As for the games themselves, your description involved something “similar” to what Animal Planet does for its puppy bowl. Animal Planet doesn’t throw puppies in the XXXXXXXXXX Ballroom in front of a bunch of strangers attending a XXXXXXXX. And just because AP does something, it doesn’t make it ethical. There’s nothing cute or kind about giving a puppy points for taking a dump in public.

This is not to suggest that our group is a stranger to mankind’s insistence upon demanding dogs and other animals play games for human enjoyment. Not at all.

The images of dogs who’ve been made to fight are the sorts of things one can’t easily forget. 

I realize the analogy might run the gamut between comparisons here, but I want you to understand how very seriously we stand against animals being used in any capacity against their wills for gaming purposes of any shape, size, or color. If we were to allow our dogs to participate in ANY end of this spectrum, that would blur the line between what is acceptable and what is abuse. We label abuse as anything degrading to an animal, and your puppy bowl certainly falls into that category, even if only at an entry level. 

This email might seem a tad harsh, but I hope you’ll take a minute to truly examine why. There’s a reason we run one of the most successful dog adoption programs in north Texas. We’re fair. We’re honest. We are tough. We get it done. And now I’ve got to get back to the mission.

Thanks, but no thanks.

So there you have it, “Betty.”

And about this Thanksgiving bizwax? Well, I’m super grateful to volunteer for a rescue that isn’t afraid to tell Tom, Dick, and Fanny what time it is.

Sweetie’s Official Endorsement for the 292: Brandon Birmingham

I’ll be honest: I haven’t given much thought to judicial elections in the past, but the entire ordeal with Judge Larry Mitchell grandly fudging up his original decision in the Justice case this week demonstrated how important it is to use the people’s power as wisely as possible moving forward. And how convenient; we are entering an election cycle as I type.

Absolutely: "God bless our pets."
Absolutely: “God bless our pets.”

A quick jaunt on social media revealed the name of a prosecutor running against Mitchell: Brandon Birmingham. Mr. Birmingham’s website provided enough information for me to determine he wasn’t on a mission to become the next Montgomery Burns of the 292nd Judicial District Court, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to throw my full support toward a candidate I didn’t know. Therefore, I decided to introduce him to the toughest possible critic, Sweetie the Pit Bull, who’s never failed at separating the wannabes from the true contenders. With Birmingham and Sweetie both game, I set out to meet our next judge hopeful. I told Birmingham, “Wear comfortable clothes. It’s one thousand degrees where we’re heading, and you’re going to get covered in dog fur.”

What he didn’t know was the great significance of our meeting place. As I opened the hatch of my vehicle, I told Birmingham, “This facility is where I met Sweetie. She was abandoned here for six months a year and a half ago by people who’d neglected her for a lifetime, dumped her when she was dying. Luckily, DFW Rescue Me and Toothacres were able to step in and save her life. Give me a minute to make sure she’s comfortable being here, ok?” I searched for compassion in his eyes. Found it.

Sweetie lumbered her way out of my car and greeted him. Happy tail, so we were off for a walk around the grassy perimeter of the property. We bragged about our kids and families, the rescue effort in north Texas, and it felt like I was really just walking dogs with a new volunteer rather than discovering more about a politician. After a bit, Birmingham asked if Sweetie wanted some water, so we headed over to where an oscillating sprinkler was being operated by a couple of other volunteers. He coaxed, “Come on, Sweetie! Cool down a little,” and stood next to her while she tested things out. I tried to stop him: “Wait, I was going to get a photo of you. You’re going to be all wet,” but Birmingham laughed, “Oh, it’s fine. I don’t mind. She’s hot. You can take a picture anyway.” I watched the sprinkler chase them while Sweetie rolled in the mud like a pig. Hard to imagine Judge Mitchell doing any of that. Really hard.

One of the ladies introduced herself from Duck Team 6, a local rescue group that serves the needs of Dallas’s street dog population. When I mentioned my guest was running against Mitchell, who presided over the Justice case, she couldn’t conceal her excitement. “You’re running? And you’re here? That’s wonderful. Thank you!” Suffice it to say that finding political candidates willing to spend their free time walking around a deserted pet cemetery with a wet-and-muddy, old, rescued Pit Bull is akin to spotting a unicorn riding a narwhal over a rainbow; it just doesn’t happen often enough.

While we visited, I asked the prosecutor where he stands on animal welfare: “I always look at why people commit crimes. What were their motivations? If I find a lawless person has been senseless with no mitigating reason, I feel those responsible for acts of violence deserve to be punished severely. Animal cruelty cases fall into the spectrum of individuals who cannot stand up for themselves. They don’t deserve what happens to them. Those are the class of victims I take to heart and have throughout my career.”

And Birmingham’s record attests to his claims. With over a decade of prosecuting experience, he successfully tried the state’s case against Willie Atkins, who was sentenced to life in prison for intentionally spreading AIDS to many unknowing people. Imagine proving THAT. Bank robbery cases? Yep. Abuse cases? Check. He was even able to deliver a guilty conviction in the case of unapologetic, child killer Jose Sifuentes by presenting evidence recovered through the enlistment of superdogs Vodin and Pace from Search One Rescue Team. “Because of those dogs, the defendant pled guilty and got a life sentence,” he mentioned. In addition, Birmingham was the key prosecutor in the conviction of Juan Cantu, a member of the Mexican Mafia who received life for the brutal murders of his friend’s child and ex-girlfriend in 2004.

“The defendant was mad at his friend’s girlfriend, went to the house where he found not just her, but also her poor kid and another woman. He raped and tried to kill the other woman, even set her on fire. Just a horrible crime. We got him on DNA evidence and witness testimony. It was a tense case, and I admit there were a few times I feared for my personal safety, but that’s a part of my job.” Elaborating further on proving cases through DNA, Birmingham, who is also Chief of the Cold Case Unit, pointed toward his role in the judgments against Marion Sayles and Frederick Anderson last winter. “Once the DNA previously exonerated [Raymond Jackson and James Wilson in court proceedings prior to Birmingham’s involvement], we had the DNA from the rape exam entered into the CODIS database —  it’s a database of DNA profiles created from inmates in TDC — and the DNA matched two inmates. The case was indicted, and I was asked to try it. I did — both of them with Russell WIlson, Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit. I wish I could say that I shook the hands of the exonerated [who’d been wrongly imprisoned for 29 years]; I hugged the victim Mary Smith after the trial and was proud to do so.” He credits the partnership between the two units as being instrumental in securing life sentences for the “true perpetrators who committed this horrendous crime.” Nice.

When I asked about a case that really touched his heart, he paused and inquired, “Do you remember Monika Korra? She was the SMU student who was abducted by three men as she was walking with her friends and repeatedly sexually assaulted. They just stopped and swept her away. She lived and wanted to come forward to stand up as a voice for rape victims; she didn’t want to be silent. Very, very brave young woman. A book about her plight is currently being written.” He continued, “It feels good to stand up for a victim as a prosecutor, to channel anger to prove a case. There are long hours. It’s tedious and like a roller coaster, but at the end of the day, I really feel honored to do the work on a case and tell the story from the victim’s standpoint, revealing all the vile and deceitful acts of a violent criminal. I know more about their crimes than they do. Because of that, I can’t wait to tell twelve people what I found out.”

IMG_0545Sweetie is all about changing the world for the better, so I thought I should throw in a couple of questions for her about what Birmingham would like to see happen in the future. He obliged. “The judicial system is set up to be reactive and tends to not, by nature, be proactive. I like to see programs put in place by groups that enlist our help to go into the community.” He says he’d be happy to lose his job as a prosecutor if it meant there were no more cases for him to try. “That would be great, but right now there’s a need. Violent offenders need to be locked up, and we need to be vigilant about those other non-violent offenders to help them become productive members of society.”

Having covered the heavy stuff, I figured I should give the guy a break. After all, Sweetie reeeaaally wanted to know: “Do you have a dog?”

[Laughing] “A cat.”

I assured him, “I can fix that.”

“Yes, we’re quickly on our way then! No, we have a thirteen-almost-fourteen-year-old cat named ‘Macy’.” Then he quickly added, “That’s ‘M-A-C-Y’.” (Love that.)

“Got it. Macy. ‘M-A-C-Y’?”

“Yes, that’s correct. I adopted her from the Houston SPCA. She was with me through law school and has been my friend ever since.” He whipped out his cell phone and scrolled through pictures of his girl. “This is her right here,” he smiled. IMG_0477

“And what would Macy have to say about you?”

“Oh, Macy would say something like she prefers to be fed by hand and drink water directly from the faucet. She’d also say she misses me because I work too much.”

Wrapping things up since Sweetie was past due for her third afternoon nap, I asked my new legal friend what he’d be doing if he wasn’t in law. After assuring me he’d be point guard for the Mavs, Birmingham admitted he’d love to teach history or philosophy . . . or become a musician. I shouldn’t second guess his aspirations. He’s already appeared on “The First 48,” lectured around the nation regarding rules of evidence as well as constitutional and ethical issues, learned how to play guitar and drums, and, of course, continues to fulfill his most important role as family guy to his wife and two kiddos and Macy.

For now, though, he’s prepared to put aside his secret ambition to join the Dallas Mavs in order to serve the residents of Dallas County. He assures, “I pledge to be a full-time judge, who is decisive, consistent, fair, and tough when needed.”

“So you’ll hammer and hammer to get us what we deserve?” (I had to.)

“Ha, ha! YES!”

(Hear that? March 4th. Mark it on your calendars. That’s the big day, not to be missed, folks. He’s got to win the primary in order to make it to November’s ballot. Click here for precinct and voting info.)

After submitting to Sweetie’s pressing inquiries, Birmingham told her goodbye and that he really enjoyed meeting her. She reciprocated the sentiment and prepared for her big nap home.

Sometimes you meet someone who sincerely wants to make the world better for everybody in it. There’s just an obvious quality about that sort of genuine kindness you can’t fake. That was the overwhelming feeling I had about Brandon Birmingham as I drove away: What a super nice guy. Just don’t tick him off by breaking the law because, evidently, then he’s, eh, not such a nice guy.

And that’s what we need.

Sweetie concurs.

Brandon Birmingham for Judge of the 292nd Judicial District Court

Follow him on Facebook  and Twitter, too. (He actually manages and checks his accounts, unlike . . . cough, cough, Mitchell, cough, cough . . . *some* people currently on the bench.)

Dear Judge Larry Mitchell

Justice_Stone

It’s been a year and four months since our community laid Justice to rest. A spring. A summer. A fall. A winter . . . another spring . . . another summer, and here we are today reeling from the aftermath of your shocking ruling. We’ve camped out a long while for this storm.

For you, this may be business as usual — another day, another case. That’s not how it is for me, though. I do not have the luxury of forgetting and moving on because I still have to visit Justice all the time. See, one of the hats I wear for our animal rescue is as his grave’s guardian.

I’m not alone, at least, and far from it; this is what I’d like to share with you.

I remember the week Jim collected Justice from Dallas Animal Services. The news traveled quickly amongst volunteers about the young dog who’d been strangled and lit ablaze. We didn’t want the publicity. We only wanted to save his life so Justice would know something more than misery. We wanted to find his perfect home. That’s the goal for every dog we meet.

It didn’t work out that way, and I’ll never forget holding my phone as I read the words: “We lost Justice.” At the time, we had no way of knowing exactly how much justice we’d lost that morning.

When our group buried him, the option to cremate his remains was on the table. However, it was decided Justice had been burned enough in life, and so he was put in the ground inside a tiny casket. I think about that every time I see his grave — about how even in death, he was protected symbolically from further pain and suffering. He’d been attacked using “flammable” or “ignitable” materials, to quote official court documents. For the humans who were left to pick up the pieces, that was too much fire.

It took hours upon hours for mourners to sign the guest book at his funeral. I watched from the sidelines as people slowly waited their turns in the heat of that day. If you’d been present, of course, it would have been impossible for you to have thought the public took his death slightly.

Shortly thereafter, we laid a beautiful headstone donated by caring individuals in a private ceremony. It reads: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” You can see for yourself, if you’d like. It’s still there. It’ll be there forever, Judge Mitchell, because we don’t plan on putting this tragedy out of memory.

What I never expected in a million years were all the incredible events I’d witness while walking rescue dogs near Justice’s site. I’ve seen cards and letters left there; one written by a young child wore my heart in half. People regularly place toys and bones on the memorial. There are always flowers. The grass around his grave is always greener for some reason. More than that, I’ve seen compassion unfold there like no other place I’ve known in my life.

One day while I was approaching the area, I noticed an elderly woman with her head buried in the crook of a man’s arm. Both were crying. I watched them for a moment before closing the gap and stood silently in front of the grave for a bit. The gentleman wiped his tears after a while and said to me, “We saw this story on the news. I didn’t know he was buried here.” They’d just laid to rest their own dog, but were there in front of Justice’s grave, caught up in the grief of his misfortune as well. The wife added, “Our girl had a good life, but this one never had a chance. It breaks my heart to know he’s not the only one who’s suffered.”

And that’s the point, Judge. He’s not the only one. That’s why we held a memorial and a funeral and created the Justice Fund and Voices for Justice. We wanted the world to know: He’s not the only one, so let’s fix things. The opportunity was yours to tell this woman and her husband and the rest of us that you recognize the problem, but you blew it. Instead, you delivered this case reportedly to the defense on a silver platter based on technicality.

Good thing the rest of us fighting for justice don’t live in a world based around your morals and ethics in the courtroom. We’d be a big lot of sniveling weasels that never accomplished anything resembling common decency.

People ask me frequently how the case is going. What do I tell them now? Do I tell them it’s largely over at this point because Judge Larry Mitchell doesn’t have the basic skills it would require to operate a thesaurus — that Judge Larry Mitchell had an issue with the terms “ignitable” and “flammable”? Please. This is not your first time dealing with communication issues. You of all people should take zero offense at such inconsequential discrepancy after all the damaging legal trouble you’ve faced, sir.

Just last summer, the Dallas Morning News reported you were given a suspension for misconduct. Within the same article, we learned that wasn’t your first time at that rodeo; it was “at least” your fourth. And now you’re a judge. Fantastic. You’re exactly the guy we needed to elect for the job you’re currently performing. (Pfft. Not.) I particularly cringed when I read: “The State Bar says Mitchell never filed writs of habeas corpus as his client wanted and did not communicate with [the client] and his family for more than three years between 2003 and 2006, according to testimony.”

Jaw officially slack. Where is the integrity? I hope there’s a sliver of that left on the other side of this case. People are waiting and hoping, counting on something more than this.

At the end of the day, what happened in your courtroom was about Darius Ewing’s plea. The public wasn’t trying him for crimes he didn’t commit or for vindication on behalf of every dog who’s ever suffered. Still, the message you have dangerously implied into the ether is: This was just a dog, folks.

Oddly, I take solace when guarding that burial site. The people who visit know there’s more than just a dog below that dirt. He was a creature capable of love, companionship, fear, reverence, loyalty — qualities we understand as humans. There’s deeply personal fellowship to be had at the place where “all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

In the succinctly sweet words of the child who left a card at Justice’s grave: “I am sad. I am sorry.”

Well, Judge Mitchell, I am certainly sad.

And, Justice, I am really sorry.