What Happens to Your Dog When You Get Arrested?
A lot of the time, the dogs go to a jail of their own.
Collage by Frances Smith
In 2012, Gabriella Fox, owner of a white fox terrier with brown spots called Dizzy, ended up in Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis after getting arrested on suspicion of burglary and possession of a stolen TV. When Fox was released after 72 hours due to insufficient evidence, she recalled to VICE that she felt "really, really excited to curl up into a ball with my dog, cuddle, and get high."
But when she got home, it turned out her door had never been properly shut, and Dizzy had escaped. Fox grieved over the loss of her "last remaining connection to life and unconditional love," and then got high.
Fox's case is one of an unknown number of instances in which dogs vanish after their owners get arrested. There's no uniform national policy about what police should do about dogs in these cases. Local governments have different ways of making sure dogs don't simply starve in people's houses, or languish in abandoned cars, but these systems are imperfect, and there are generally some hoops for the owner to jump through.
Some dogs are in their owners' cars during the arrest, say for a DUI. This leaves the arresting officer with an obvious potential paperwork problem. "If the person arrested is cooperative and easy to communicate with, most officers will ask the person if there is someone that can be called to pick up the dog," said Walter Duncan, a retired sheriff's deputy who worked in Riverside County, California, both in corrections and as an officer in the field.
Matthew Ludwig, an LAPD officer, said there's no formal policy about what to do in his jurisdiction. "Usually, it's a family member who takes care of the dog," he said, but if no family materializes, the problem goes up the chain of command. "We can call our supervisors for advice," Ludwig said. If need be, he continued, "We could also call the animal task force unit." The LAPD is in a large enough city to have a task force designated to dealing with animal problems—usually complaints of cruelty.
But across all circumstances, Duncan pointed out that in his jurisdiction, "the dog's owner is responsible for the care of the dog." At every stage, from booking to final incarceration, he explained that people in jails have the opportunity to call someone and make sure the dog is being looked after, or just notify the officers about his or her concerns.
But during her three-day lockup, Fox didn't let any authority figures know there was a four-legged problem back at the apartment where she'd just been moving "large quantities of drugs." She stayed quiet because she mistrusted her captors and partly because she was in withdrawal. "I was kicking heroin and meth," she said.
"We get a couple of these a week," Karen Knipscheer Cox who represents Los Angeles animals services told VICE. When animal services gets involved, they'd like more than anything to get the dog safely out of their custody, by handing it over to the incarcerated owner's family member, or getting someone else to adopt it. They prefer, Cox said, if the arresting officer gives them a call and puts the arrestee on the line immediately. "We need to obtain all the information we can on the owner—and custodian if they give us one—or ask the arrestee to sign the dog over to us."
In other jurisdictions, the policy can be more arcane. One example is Kitsap County, Washington, where according to an investigation by its local newspaper, the shelter "faxes a document to the Kitsap County jail asking the owner to choose between having the animal picked up by someone else or paying $16.29 a day to have the animal boarded."
In Los Angeles, a dog that's not immediately signed over to the city is held as private property in a municipal shelter for 30 days, Cox told VICE. That's a long stay, actually; other jurisdictions give owners as few as five days to make other arrangements—then the dog enters the general population and goes up for adoption.
If adoption doesn't work out, depending on circumstances and local policies, the dog of an arrestee is just as likely as any other dog to be euthanized.
In Kitsap County, Washington, in 2010, a man named Douglas Bolds was picked up for a DUI while his dog, Chloe, was in his car. He suffered a similar fate to Fox: When he got out of lockup 60 days later, Chloe had vanished. He found Chloe in someone's car almost a year later, stole her back, and found himself in hot water for dognapping his own dog. He later claimed that his rights of private property had been violated.
Fox was luckier. In the days after she returned from lockup, a woman who lived in her building was suddenly in possession of a fox terrier mix that looked strangely like Dizzy. When Fox repeatedly asked, the neighbor denied it was the same dog.
Fox was evicted not long after. Suddenly, she had no reason to behave herself, and she decided to commit one last petty crime. "I picked her lock and took my dog at the last minute before we left," she said.
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