Man clashes with WCAS over dog seizure

In what appears to be either a miscommunication of facts or a misapplication of authority, a local man is angry that his dog was taken by Winnebago County Animal Services.

Dennis Marik contacted The Rock River Times the afternoon of March 30 after his dog was taken from his home on Eighth Avenue. The dog had originally belonged to his neighbors, who gave it to him after they could no longer care for it. “Lady,” a rottweiler, was at least 8 years old and has always been an outdoor dog. Marik says he used to take her for walks along the bike path with the permission of the neighbors. After they moved, the dog stayed with him.

“Until last December, she was walking a couple miles with me,” he said. In February 2005, he noticed the dog was walking with a limp. He noticed a swelling on her right shoulder, and the limp grew worse. At that time, the dog was still with the previous owners. They would not take the dog to a vet, so Marik offered to do it.

Marik was keeping the dog at his house because he felt sorry for her being out in the cold. At the time, his mother, Shirley, was living with him, and they took “Lady” to Hillcrest. A vet there took X-rays and diagnosed one large tumor and what appeared to be a couple smaller ones. Marik was told he had two options: take the dog to the veterinary hospital in Madison, Wis., for radiation or amputation, or euthanasia. The vet’s personal opinion was that euthanasia was best. Marik asked how long the dog might live. “About a month,” the vet replied.

Unwanted visitors

About three weeks later, Marik had unexpected visitors. At 8 a.m., Friday, March 30, he answered the doorbell, and a female Animal Services officer asked, “Do you have a dog here?” Marik said yes, and was informed that someone had called in a complaint about a dog being left outside without food or water. The officer asked to see the dog. Marik took her around to the back, where “Lady” was lying next to a big doghouse. Marik pointed out the doghouse with straw in it, and a big bucket of water and a pan of food nearby.

The officer allegedly told Marik, “This animal is suffering.” “How do you know?” he says he asked her. “I just took her to the vet.” Then, he says, the officer demanded to see his identification. Indignant, Marik replied, “I can’t believe you people—accusing me like I’m an animal abuser.”

Marik says he was so disgusted, he threw his driver’s license at her. She picked it up and wrote down the ID number. The officer still insisted the dog was suffering, according to Marik, and then she gave him an ultimatum: “I will give you until 4 o’clock to take that dog to the vet and bring back proof that the dog is not in pain.”

“I said, ‘I don’t have that kind of money,’” Marik replied. “‘I’m on disability. I can’t afford it.’” Then, he said, “she went to the radio and called it in. Then a male officer showed up.” Then, Marik alleges, “she said, ‘You know what? I want you to make that dog eat something right now.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, make the dog eat? Is the dog human like you?”

According to Marik, the woman officer then said, “Otherwise, we are taking you to court.” “I said, ‘OK, take me to court.’ She said, ‘You don’t want to do that.’ I said, ‘I want to cost you as much money as it takes, and take up the court system [time].’”

Marik admits that he made a “smart remark.” After that, he recalls, an Animal Services officer with a gun arrived (later identified as WCAS Director Gary Longanecker). “He approached me,” said Marik.

“The woman officer said, ‘We will take the dog back to our doctor and see if she is in any pain.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to take this to court.’

“She said, ‘I’m not going to argue with you any more.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to argue about it either.’ Then he [Longanecker] told the female officer to get the cage. Then they forcibly took her [the dog] away without obtaining permission. They said they had a phone number.”

The mother’s story

Shirley Marik, Dennis’ mother, who now lives at another address, provided some background. “We had taken this dog in because it was chained up in the back yard all winter,” she explained. “He [Dennis] would look in on it and make sure it had water and take it for walks until he discovered she had a large, prominent swelling. He thought maybe she had hurt her leg. He talked to the people and asked, ‘Do you want her?’ So he took her home and had her in the house, even though she was having a hard time getting around. We took her to the vet and had the leg checked out.

“That’s when they took X-rays. [The vet] said there was a big malignancy. So then he [Dennis] let the dog out, and she was getting around on three legs because one leg was disabled. He said she was able to climb on the couch, but it sounds like they were jumping to conclusions, assuming that she didn’t have water or food or a doghouse. But she had all these things. She had been an outdoor dog all her life. So when he [Dennis] called me, he was very upset. … They said they couldn’t find the record at Hillcrest that she was treated. That was puzzling, because I have the receipt. I paid for it myself because he doesn’t have a lot of money… So, at that time, he couldn’t face putting her down.

“Hillcrest said there was nothing they could do for her condition. We couldn’t afford to take her to a specific [facility] such as at Madison, so [Dennis decided] to take her home and try to make her as comfortable as possible… So, in the meantime, I guess these neighbors called and made it sound like this dog was injured and neglected, and I wasn’t there. So when the woman officer called me, I explained what was going on … they did check back with Hillcrest, and they found the record.

“In the meantime, they had taken the dog with them to have it evaluated… I called my son-in-law because he was very upset, and he called Animal Control and talked to people. They said she has an advanced malignancy, and that it should be put down. They needed someone to sign the paper, and I don’t want my son to be upset with his brother-in-law… The thinking was they seemed to jump to conclusions because they got this report that the dog was not being taken care of. I can understand that. We do have to watch out for these poor animals.”

Friend speaks up

After this, Vince Cimino, a friend of Dennis Marik, came in to TRRT to verify that he witnessed the incident. “I was going to my car to get something,” he recalled. “I saw the second officer, who was backup for the woman officer. He came up to me and asked me what was my name, do you live here, how do you know him [Dennis]? I thought, what? That’s none of their business.” He did not see the officer with the gun, but Cimino said this officer said, “‘We’re going to take her.’ They put her in a cage and hauled her away.” Cimino also stated that the dog was taken inside every night.

Longanecker responds

WCAS Director Gary Longanecker called TRRT that same afternoon in response to our call. He said: “The complaint was that there was an animal down in the yard unattended. Two of my officers responded as they normally do. Dennis got the dog from a friend. We checked, and the animal wasn’t registered or vaccinated. It has a huge tumor on its right front chest. The officers attempted to talk to the man and ask him what he was going to do because the animal couldn’t walk. He had (taken) it to the vet, and the animal was outside at the house… The officers said the animal needed to be seen by a vet.

“We have a vet on duty, and it can be seen at no cost. He began to cuss and scream at the officers. So I went out and talked with him, and he was very pleasant to me. He was very worried. He said, ‘I don’t have any money, and I don’t have a job.’ I said it needed to see a vet. So we brought the animal out to Animal Services. The vet (Dr. Sarah Thurber) said it was a very advanced tumor. She said the most humane thing that could be done was to humanely euthanize the animal.

“In the meantime, Dennis’ mother called, and I talked with Shirley, an

d she indicated that now her son-in-law called and asked, ‘what can I do to help? We will help you load the animal. I will have Hillcrest take care of it.’ We said, fine. But Dennis is the only one who can sign the release forms. Our concern is for this animal that is suffering. We have agreed to hold the animal here at Animal Services. It is being seen by a vet and being fed and watered. The family is going to decide between now and Monday. The animal will not suffer any more here than at Dennis’ home. They found that it had a horrible, horrible tumor, and if left unattended, it can’t be treated. The most common thing for the animal is that it will lose control of its bowels, and the tumor is huge. He’s mad at the two officers, and he just called here. We are not going to impose any fees. If it needs to be taken to another vet clinic, we will do it… At this point, we are just waiting to hear from Dennis or a member of the family what we are to do.

“We will err on the side of animal health, and it will not cost anybody any money. Being that the animal was not vaccinated, he could not prove—no tags or registration, no rabies vaccination—but that’s not the point. Right now, if we leave the animal at our facility or at Hillcrest, the animal is going to die and is going to suffer…

“The man stood there with another gentleman and gave us permission to remove the animal from his yard to our facility. If he would have said, ‘No, you can’t take the dog,’ under the circumstances, we would still have impounded the animal for concerns over its health, to take it to medical attention. Within 15 minutes on arrival, it was seen by Dr. Thurber.

“The animal was in need of immediate attention, and with or without his permission, we are within our rights under state law to remove the animal for veterinary care, and he gave us verbal permission and said he understood we were taking the animal… But if he wants to make the case, our interest in Animal Control is to render such care as is necessary by law. He says, ‘I don’t have any money,’ and we said to him, ‘Sir, no charge. We will take the animal to a veterinarian.’”

Longanecker said he was the officer with the gun. “As a sworn police officer with the State’s Attorney’s office, I am authorized to carry it,” he said.

Dog euthanized

Dennis Marik came into The Rock River Times office Monday, April 2, and informed us that WCAS was willing to release the dog to him. Later, however, he informed us that he was told he had to pay a $107 boarding fee to get “Lady” back, which he could not afford. As a result, the dog was euthanized by WCAS. Contrary to what WCAS and Longanecker assert, Marik still maintains he never gave Longanecker or any other officer permission to take the animal off his property.

From the April 27-May 3, 2005, issue

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