Francesca Rogier has had her rescue dog Brindi taken away 2 times by Halifax Animal Control. She’s accrued lawyer bills in the thousands, brought her case to the Supreme Court and at one point – even lost her home trying to get her dog back. Francesca’s next court date is in early March, where she will once again fight for the return of her beloved companion.
Brindi’s trainer and veterinarian are greatly concerned for the dog’s welfare. She has suffered psychologically and physically while confined. Mrs. Rogier has cooperated with the judge’s conditions in order to reintegrate Brindi into society and there is strong support for her return from Brindi’s trainer, veterinarian, groomer – and the local community.
Francesca has accepted an interview with Montreal Dog Blog in order for this story to reach further audiences – and win your support in signing the petition calling out for Brindi’s liberty.
When you adopted Brindi from the shelter, what age was she?
She was four. They rescued her at age two, along with a litter of beautiful puppies.
Brindi was taken from you at the age of 5. Just 13 months after you took her home. Did Brindi have any problems before that? Did the shelter tell you of any problem behaviors?
The shelter operators reported no problems at all. They loved her enormously! They were even a bit reluctant to let her go – people have since contacted me to say they were turned down! It was funny, because they kind of put her together with me when I went up to that shelter to see another dog.
At what moment did Brindi show aggression towards dogs or humans?
It was a few months after I adopted her, oddly, we had just finished a tough obedience class. One day, while I was getting ready to drive us the store, and she was waiting on the lawn, attached to a lead, she pulled out of it to go after a dog being walked along the front property line. I got there as fast as I could and stopped her. The other dog was unharmed, and I apologized profusely, but the lady called animal control. The officer gave me a warning, and explained the routine: they usually give a few warnings, then issue a fine or two, and only if there is a very serious problem, like injuries, etc., do they ever take a dog and put it down. This is not the way they would handle our case after that, however.
Did Brindi ever bite a human, even before she was adopted?
According to the shelter owners, no.
In 2008, what made the city of Halifax take the action of taking Brindi away from her family and home?
She got loose from my back door early one Sunday morning, when I was leashing her up. She jolted away from me because she sensed a dog approaching the property along the front road. She normally never ran off from me, stuck like glue! Nobody was hurt, and I got Brindi back home within seconds. But the man called Animal Control. I think he heard a lot of false rumours. I didn’t know about it at all, until four days later, when two animal control officers came and took Brindi and had a signed euthanasia order with them. This was the third time somebody called.
Would you consider the incidents you mention any different from those that occur at any dog park?
Not at all. Far worse attacks have happened in my own neighborhood and gone unreported – before and since, in fact. Brindi has had a few brushes with dogs, yes – but she got along famously with many, many dogs, as well as cats, small kids, babies, adults, postmen, you name it! She was sleeping with my two cats within weeks of her adoption.
The problem is that when people hear a dog is under a muzzle order, they stop asking questions – they just assume there was a good reason. But in this case it had nothing to do the attack. It came about in a totally different way. After a lady reported Brindi for attacking her dog – in front of our house again – they were going to fine me $220. Then she went back and asked them not to fine me. She only did that to make sure I’d pay her vet bill; I had offered to pay to have her dog looked at for a small cut. But the bill ended up costing $143. I am not allowed to work here – and I thought it was fair if I paid half, for the cut, because the other half was a full check-up. How I wish I had never said a word! Because after they got her message, the animal control people decided to muzzle Brindi. This was after they got one report without injury and one with a small injury. I didn’t know anything about this deal until much later.
In July 2008, the Halifax Regional Municipality decided arbitrarily that Brindi is a dangerous dog and ordered her to be put down. It cited a few incidents with other dogs, all but one without injury. The one instance of injury required no medical treatment. Brindi had gotten along well with most dogs she met, and also had never attacked a human. Yet Halifax would not reconsider its decision, nor would it agree to any options or offers Francesca put forward. It offered no process of appeal, and even blocked her from getting assessment of Brindi’s temperament without a court order. When Francesca obtained the order and asked a behaviorist to examine Brindi, the outcome was decidedly positive. But Halifax ignored the results, thus forcing Francesca to take her case before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
Was it intimidating going against the Nova Scotia Supreme Court? Were you afraid of the ruling?
It was very frightening, especially as I am not a citizen of Canada. It was a very long day. I had done a tremendous amount of work to get there, with support from a number of women and men across the country. The city’s lawyer seemed to have no good arguments, but the justice still put off his decision for two weeks. Finally, my lawyer called me on Jan. 16 to say we won, Brindi was coming home! But within less than 24 hours, the city decided not to give her back. Two days later, they laid charges against me for the July incident – just barely an hour before the statute of limitations ran out. They had never laid any charges before. Nobody could believe this, after the whole court case and the verdict against the city. It was very hard then because my lawyer dumped the case and sent me an astronomical bill, which he pursued in a whole different court. I tried to find other lawyers, but none of them really helped me.
In January 2009, a judge ruled that by seizing Brindi without notice or the right of appeal, Francesca’s civil rights were violated. It proved a hollow victory, as Halifax simply continued to refuse to return Brindi. Instead, it laid charges against Francesca.
Although the court ruled in your favor, under what grounds would Halifax still keep prisoner in Animal Control?
Basically, they kept claiming she was dangerous. That was all. But we found that they did not have any legislation to permit them to do this. They need a special court order, but they never got one. They don’t usually seize dogs at all, even ones who attack humans or kill animals. (One recent exception was two dogs who killed a shitzu.)
What were you charged with by the city of Halifax?
Violating a muzzle order, “owning a dog that attacks”, and “owning a dog that runs at large”. In reality, my dog was just a few feet shy of the property line, at most. The by-law does not distinguish between attacks on humans vs. animals, or among degrees of attack. And it says that these offenses may be penalized with a fine. It says nothing about putting a dog down because of violating a muzzle order. It only provides for fines, nothing more. After my supreme court case, animal control officers now have to get a court order to put down a dog. The law they are using was a provincial law up to 2009, that only allows a city to ask for a court order to put down a dog after the owner is found guilty of an offense under local law. There are no other criteria, and no evidence is required. The judge can have the dog “put down or otherwise dealt with”. Recently, Halifax incorporated the provincial clause to their by-law. Most towns have different local provisions.
Why would they not grant you visitation rights?
They just said no. There was some talk by the SPCA, who ran the pound, about it being bad for my dog. But if they let me see her all along it would not be. They would not even let my city councilor see her just to make sure she was still alive. After five months, somebody at the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies suggested I go to the pound and refuse to leave until they let me see her. This just made things worse. They called the police, who forced me to leave and banned me from the premises for six months.
After the court ruling in Jan. 2009, they let me see her for a half hour. Then I didn’t see her until April, when there was a cancer scare. They started letting me have very short weekly visits (30 minutes), under very strict conditions. They cut them eight months later, and it was another six months before I saw her again.
The matter soon became tied up in the courts, prolonging Brindi’s confinement even further. Not surprisingly, her health began to suffer. In February 2010, Dartmouth Judge Alanna Murphy found Francesca guilty of three offenses, and delayed sentencing to three weeks later. This was further delayed by blocks to Francesca’s aim to obtain a second behavior assessment. Finally, on April 30, Murphy sentenced her to three fines (reduced to $50 each) and set conditions for Brindi’s release.
Under what conditions were you able to have the right to have Brindi back when the court ruled on April 30?
Compliance with the muzzle order; maintaining an “approved” dog run – which I had attached to the back door; payment of fines for the three offenses; and additional training. As I said, they were identical to what I begged for at the start. But then the judge also ordered that the training be done before she would release Brindi, and that my trainer must appear in court when she felt Brindi was ready. This was so frustrating! For a whole month, the city did not comply with the order to give us access to Brindi. I had to go to the media about it. Then we worked another month until we felt confident about returning to court – about 30 hours of work. My trainer notified the court she was ready to go present her report as ordered, but the judge skipped it and just gave permission for Brindi to go home!
You got Brindi back July 7, 2010 – nearly two years after she was seized. What was her physical condition after being in isolation for so long?
She was overweight, had permanent dental damage, enamel loss on a molar that the vet said would drop out in a year, and signs of gum disease. She also had had attacks of chronic pancreatitis before she came home. She had a few bouts after she came home too, but picked up within a few weeks, with the help of the vet and good food and care. Her weight is a constant concern, as extra pounds affects her posture, which can lead to problems.
Four months later – the city takes Brindi back again. Why? Could you describe the situation?
They took her after a very strange incident happened one night in front of my house. A couple and a dog were passing right by my driveway as I turned into it – I had just bought a new (used) car. In the car I usually always had her leashed and muzzled – though it’s not required – but this time I had her off because I didn’t want her tangling herself in the stick shift. It was so dark, and I didn’t see much. Brindi got out and then right into a tangle with their dog. I got her away quickly, and then I just begged for Brindi’s life. They first told me their dog was okay, but said they would report it anyway. I begged some more, trying hard to keep my cool, but they said they only cared about their dog, nobody else’s. When they later noticed two small cuts and a scrape, they took lots of pictures. But they didn’t go to a vet until the next morning. The cuts just needed basic first aid and cleaning. Nevertheless, the city is using this as a reason to kill Brindi all over again.
Did you know the people involved?
No, I had never seen them before. It turned out that they live further up the road and her father lives directly next door. They are directly related to the woman who first reported Brindi (for a non-injury scuffle). It was such a painful discovery. Five family members testified against us in the first court hearings. Also, the woman’s husband works for the Halifax department of city planning.
What was it like when they seized her again?
I was crushed – I had done so much training and we had really stuck to every condition. We were still doing more training to make Brindi’s behavior even better. But believe it or not, several dogs had attacked her that summer. My trainer felt the muzzle must confuse them, because it covers up her face and they get scared and react aggressively. Once, an off-leash dog went after her on a public beach. Twice, two dogs went after her! She was never hurt, luckily – but I started carrying a very loud whistle to scare them off.
When they seized Brindi again, I just died inside. It was such a huge shock. But I was determined to get her home before trial. I tried in vain to get a lawyers to help – I had given up on them and represented myself in court – so I filed for an injunction right away at the supreme court. But the judge wouldn’t consider the request – didn’t turn it down, just said he didn’t have jurisdiction. Total shock. The same day, the city began a campaign to evict me and take my house, starting the day I applied for the injunction.
The building inspector told me to get out, but never said why, or ordered me to fix anything to get back in. It looked to me as though the city was taking advantage. They knew I was building a new foundation when they took Brindi in 2008. I had to stop the work, because I needed all my time to get her back. I stopped the inspector’s order by adding more supports. But a few weeks later, by-law officials threw me out without notice. I became homeless; my cat and I had to go live in people’s basements. Then the city would not let me file an appeal. But I never forgot about Brindi for a second, and in December, I begged the HRM prosecutor to release her to a foster home, but she said no. So I asked her to let somebody else adopt Brindi; she said no. Then I asked her to let Brindi go with me back to the States. No again.
Months later, the city went to the point of issuing a demolition order – even though the inspector never deemed the house unsound, they pretended it was. It was awful, and they denied an appeal again, but I managed to stop that too. I got back into my house last August. But it all kept me from going back to court to get Brindi out. They are still holding her without a court order. They are still planning to take the house another way, using extra charges to my tax bill – over $10,000!
Are you able to visit Brindi now?
For the first five months, they refused visits, then changed their minds. But my vet and I both feel it would be better not to visit, to avoid stressing her out. It would have been okay if they’d let me see her from the start. But visiting her after so long would make her think I was there to take her home, just like in January 2009. I believed I’d be back in a few days to get her – this was right after the ruling – but still it was a horrible experience to see her shock and disappointment when they made me leave after just a few minutes. Nobody else is allowed to see her. I’m afraid by now Brindi must believe she’s a dog that only deserves to live in a kennel, and that breaks my heart.
Do they provide you with updates about her health and pictures of her?
At my request, they bring Brindi to our vet every so often, because I am worried. I pay for this, because the city claims it does not have to as it has its own vets. It’s not very easy to afford it all.
The vet clinic had been taking photos of her as well, and I can see these. Just before Christmas 2011, the city suddenly banned photos, which was very mean, but I complained and they said it’s up to the vet.
The latest update on Brindi’s health is that there was another cancer scare, in her pancreas. But last week they did an ultrasound, and decided everything was fine, thank heaven! Many people pitched in to help pay for the tests and I am very grateful for that. People really love Brindi, even though they never met her!
When is the next hearing and what do you expect?
The next court date is March 2 and March 16. I am not sure what to expect, nothing ever goes as I think it will. The trial is so late, because the courts are so booked up. It was first set for Nov. 8, 2011 – over a year after they took her. But just before that, I injured my hand a few days earlier, so it was adjourned to March 2012.
I would like to get the charges dropped, because I don’t feel it was right for them to take her again. This case is not at all about public safety. There are a lot of complicated legal issues, but I believe the bottom line is that if they put her down, it would set a bad precedent – they could start putting other dogs down for minor things, and what then?
What would you tell the people of Halifax and our readers – to convince them to sign the online petition?
Brindi deserves to live a happy life. She should not be punished with death. We had a few cases of bad luck, and I take full responsibility. I just want the law to be applied fairly. We were never given a fair chance. I have lost so much, it’s really been awful, and I am even been harassed by strange people on the internet. But I am not going to let them kill Brindi. So I am very grateful to everyone who adds their name to that petition! Thank you, and I pray that it helps!
To sign the petition please click HERE
Please if you would like to donate to help out Francesca and donate to her Brindi Medical Fund you can do it on Francesca’s paypal account : click here