'A Sad Dog Story' Revisited

A war of words between animal organizations has ignited since the publication of a controversial story

When 53-year-old Randy Hawkins told a story of what appeared to be a gross misuse of power by Pima Animal Care Center ("A Sad Dog Tale," March 25), he was facing four counts of animal abuse-related charges instigated by what he considered a vendetta against him by the Animal Rescue League.

Today, Hawkins--after declining a plea bargain--remains charged with those counts, and he's facing an Aug. 20 court date. He hasn't been able to afford a lawyer, and the court doesn't appoint public defenders for such cases. One lawyer, however, has agreed to "advise" Hawkins.

"It seems to me," says lawyer Roberta Jenson, "that after they (Animal Control) killed the dog, they should have just dropped everything."

At issue was Hawkins' 14-pound Chihuahua mix, Bruiser, who was attacked by two pit bulls in early February. Hawkins called the Humane Society who, in turn, referred him to the Animal Rescue League for assistance in paying the bill. Barbara Drews, of the Animal Rescue League, reportedly told Hawkins to take the dog to the Ajo Animal Clinic and called the clinic to let them know he was on the way. The clinic did $254 of blood work, and estimated that surgery would cost between $950 and $1,350. According to Hawkins, Animal Rescue League changed their minds and opted not to pay the surgery bill. But Drews says that's not true, that Hawkins took the dog home from the vet because he did not wish to agree to have the female fixed for breeding reasons.

"We pay enormous bills for pets and would have paid this one, too," says Drews. Despite Hawkins' actions, Animal Rescue League did make good on the $254 blood work.

According to an Animal Care officers' report, it was after Hawkins later returned Bruiser to Pima Animal Care that he was cited for animal cruelty, lack of veterinary care, no license and no proof of vaccine. Bruiser's six 2-week-old nursing puppies were also placed in foster care.

Bruiser died at the Animal Care Center's clinic. This sparked a war of words between Hawkins and Dr. Rodrigo Silva, manager of Pima County Animal Care Center--formally called Animal Control and commonly referred to as "the pound."

Hawkins plight caught the attention of City Councilwomen Kathleen Dunbar, a long-time animal welfare advocate. Interestingly, Dunbar once worked with Silva.

Hawkins won back the six puppies, which were then at a foster home that specialized in the care of newborn puppies.

Since his three initial court hearings, prosecution documents have been trickling in that paint an interesting portrait of the events that occurred. At the second hearing, the judge had to order the prosecutor, Todd Vick, to hand over all discovery documents to Hawkins.

According to the Animal Control officers' written report, the county received seven complaint calls against Hawkins between Feb. 10 and 12 from Drews of the Animal Rescue League. Drews wrote a scathing letter to the Tucson Weekly, criticizing the Weekly story that chronicled Hawkins' side of what happened, as "95 percent fiction" and calling Dunbar's reported comments "a terrible disservice to an organization that is dedicated to helping animals."

"The reason Barbara did it was to get veterinary care for the dog," says Jane Schwerin, president of the Animal Rescue League. "We have never reneged on anything. All we do is help people pay veterinary bills for sick or injured animals that otherwise would not receive any treatment."

Drews maintains that Hawkins erred by pulling Bruiser out of treatment, and she says she's confident he'll be found guilty on Aug. 20.

"There's one point out of all of this that can not be argued: That dog was in the hospital, in intensive care, getting treatment," says Drews. "All of that was being done, and (Hawkins) went and took her out. That cannot be argued."

Since the Weekly story on March 25, an ugly war of words, rumors, retracted quotes and even lawsuit threats has ignited between Hawkins, the Animal Rescue League and other organizations, including the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.

The Animal Rescue League seems to be taking undue heat. And things don't look like they'll settle down until at least Aug. 20.

The city prosecutor offered Hawkins a deal: They would drop the cruelty and vaccination charges if Hawkins agreed to plead guilty to the lack of vet care and the license violations, pay a fine and submit to random searches of his home to check on the remaining puppies.

"There's no way in hell I'm pleading guilty," says Hawkins.

In the meantime, according to Jenson, Hawkins' adviser, Pima County Animal Care in being served with federal court papers this week stemming from another case Jenson is handling, dating back to 1998.