December 19

Sometimes, even a dog needs a good lawyer

first_img Sometimes, even a dog needs a good lawyer Associate EditorWhen Lou Kwall goes to his law office in Clearwater, padding along right behind him is Howie, his buff-colored cocker spaniel he calls “the boy.”While Kwall does all that lawyerly stuff at his desk, Howie stretches out on the couch and waits patiently.“Everybody knows about my dog,” said Kwall, of the tail-wagging, face-licking gift his lawyer wife Jean Kwall gave him on his 50th birthday a decade ago.“All my friends want to come back as my dog in another life,” Kwall said with a laugh.So, when Jane Helms, pro bono coordinator of Gulfcoast Legal Services, needed to find a lawyer for the Humane Society of North Pinellas, embroiled in a custody battle over 21 abused pooches, she remembered Kwall and his best friend Howie.“I called four other attorneys, and frankly, they were a little baffled,” Helms recalled. “Like, you want me to do what for dogs? So I called Lou Kwall to ask him for advice on who I could get to do this. He said, ‘I’ll do it.’”And so, at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, when most working souls are looking forward to shifting into weekend mode, Kwall took the challenge and got right to work.“It was not that big of a deal, honestly,” said Kwall, who represents the Sixth Circuit on the Board of Governors. “It’s just something that happened.”But he could have just said, No.“I couldn’t have, that’s the thing,” Kwall admits. “I couldn’t say, No.”What saying yes meant was a new beginning for 21 dogs living in stench-ridden squalor at a booth at the Oldsmar Flea Market.The dogs — ranging in age from six months to 1½ years — sat in their own feces in too-small cages. To try to mask the odor, the owner, who had already been charged with animal cruelty in the past, opened jugs of bleach and ammonia that made breathing the air almost unbearable. There was no sign of water or food for the dogs, some needing medical attention, including a golden retriever with a skin disease, a boxer with bad knees, and a bloodhound with a tumor. All of the 21 dogs had hookworm and internal parasites.As Rick Chaboudy, director of the Humane Society of North Pinellas, recounted, most of the dogs had spent their puppyhoods in small crates or kiddie wading pools encased with wire mesh, so when they were finally free to walk they crouched and slunk. It was obvious they had never been on a leash, and didn’t know how to run around and friskily play.It took four baths to remove the urine odor from a Shih Tzu pup; five other pups, with urine-soaked matted fur, had to be shaved to the nub.While the humane society workers rescued the dogs, they had to have “legal custody” to carry out complete medical care, including spaying and neutering to ready the dogs for adoption.“What happens in cases of animal cruelty or abuse is we hold the animals, but they are not really ours,” explained Betsey McFarland, director of development for the Humane Society of North Pinellas.“We were holding them until the state attorney processed the case. We wanted to get the owner to turn custody over to us, and that is a separate court process. We were looking for someone to assist with that. It was rather involved with paperwork.”So McFarland called her friend Helms, who agreed to find a lawyer.“Anyone who brings his dog to work is our kind of guy,” McFarland said.“Lou was willing to step up and take our information and professionally present it so we weren’t struggling through getting to the courts. He really got us out of the middle of it. What was needed was beyond our professional skills. He was just wonderful. He took it on his shoulders. And he was there when we needed him.”Kwall said his tactic with the pooch peddler’s lawyer worked out.“My position was that whether it became a civil matter or a criminal matter, if they willingly released the dogs, it would be to their benefit. We allowed them to have a vet come over and have the dogs vet-examined prior to adoption, in case it went to trial, and they had to represent their position,” Kwall explained.In January, the owner was charged with 21 counts of animal cruelty, pleaded not guilty, and her lawyer said she is no longer in the pet business.Meanwhile, the case known as the “Bark Avenue dogs” got a lot of media attention. Prospective adoptive parents were lining up to give the dogs a new lease on life.The humane society held an “Adoptathon” for the Bark Avenue dogs, after carefully screening applicants and matching dogs with new owners.“It was quite a festive evening,” McFarland said.“Yes, they are ‘just dogs,’” said Helms, who made sure to watch the happy ending to a sad story, too. “But you should have seen all the happy children and their parents. I’m a dog lover myself, and I wanted to see them going out the door and going home.”The Kwalls were there that day (with Howie, of course) to joyfully watch 20 transformed dogs adopted by loving owners.Jean Kwall had her eye on another buff-colored cocker spaniel as a buddy for Howie, but, as Lou Kwall said, “Thank goodness, it had been adopted.”The 21st dog, Jake the black shepherd, was adopted a couple of weeks later.Since then, McFarland said they’ve received pictures of happily frisking dogs and positive reports from the adoptive owners.And if dogs could talk, no doubt they’d say, “Thanks for saying yes, Lou.”Oh, turns out a Bark Avenue adopted dog named Nala did write a thank you note, printed in the humane society’s newsletter Paw Prints. “It’s me — the one you put ‘cautious’ on from the Bark Avenue dogs. Well, I’m here to tell you, you did a wonderful job finding my new home. I have never had so much fun running, jumping, barking, and chasing squirrels. Man, this is the life.. . . I’d like to thank you all there for taking such good care of me and getting the attorney so soon to come to this great place.”Sometimes, even a dog needs a good lawyer. March 15, 2003 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News Sometimes, even a dog needs a good lawyerlast_img read more