Anyone who’s been involved in animal rescue for at least five nanoseconds has probably figured out it’s likely easier to make rainbows out of a mud puddle than it is to please every Tom, Dick, and Fanny who’ve got fabulously bad intentions for how they’d like the rescue operation to fit into their agendas. Sometimes Tom, Dick, and Fanny have great ideas that serve the needs of our dogs’ adoptive processes; sometimes, though, Tom, Dick, and Fanny need a reality check. That happened this past week.
It all started when “Betty” (sorry, Betties of the world) wanted our group to send over twenty puppies for a “puppy bowl,” which was to take place in a large arena. Betty’s email rattled on AND ON about her expectations for her client. I mean, we hadn’t ever talked to this woman, and here she was delivering explicit details regarding what was to follow as if she was doing our rescue a huge favor we’d be nuts to refuse. She wanted breed-specific dogs, namely “at least two yellow Lab puppies.” She wanted to give points to dogs for defecating and urinating before spectators to her game. Why? Because that’s just so cute to freak out young dogs, who are already scared and nervous, so strangers can laugh and point fingers — to bet on their fear. Right. Making matters worse, Betty explained that “not all dogs would be adopted.” Well. Thanks for that hot news flash, ladycakes. I’ll cut to the chase: Betty paved a yellow brick road straight to Crazytown in her email, and we weren’t gonna let her take Toto down with her.
A short, yet polite decline was fired off immediately to Betty, but she wasn’t having it. She wanted a referral to another puppy “agency.” Without dragging it out further, it was decided to tell Betty why we wouldn’t help her humiliate our dogs or any other dogs. After thinking about it this week, I’d like to also stick the reply here for all to read because it pertains to everyone who doesn’t understand the line between abuse and otherwise. We are here to rescue animals, not to perpetuate and catapult the sick ideals of man.
No pussyfooting about it:
After considering your request carefully, I feel the need to fully explain why our rescue, as well as any reputable rescue that focuses on addressing animal welfare needs, will not participate.
When we bring dogs into our system, including puppies, it’s for the sole purpose of locating good homes. These animals have been dumped. They’ve been abandoned. They’ve been stuck on city streets without food, water, love, shelter, etc. Humans have not been kind to them, and because of that, these guys have no reason to trust us. Our goal is to treat them with dignity and respect — to give them what they deserve rather than to utilize them as puppets for what sounds an awful lot like a precursor for some sort of bizarre Roman Olympics opening act.
Our volunteers don’t receive compensation for assisting these dogs. They use their own gas, vehicles, homes, time, etc. When someone applies to adopt a dog, we want it to be because s/he loves that creature — not because the individual saw the poor dog scared and confused and “cute” in a gaming arena with 19 other puppies feeling the same way. We will not strain our volunteers’ resources to accommodate requests like yours when we could spend that time finding homes for their fosters at a legitimate adoption event. Read as: That’s a slap in the face to every rescuer who gives more than what can ever be received in return.
You’ve requested for your “client,” gag, to have in attendance a couple of breed-specific dogs. At least “two.” For crying in a bucket, I hope I don’t trip over all the breeders dumping yellow Lab puppies at the pound in my effort to nab the right actors for your production. You want a couple unicorns with that order? How ’bout some fries and a magical talking narwhal, too? The biggest part of what we do as rescue workers is to help the public understand we have a huge crisis that affects us all going on in city shelters. It’s about battling discrimination and irresponsible breeding. It’s about serving the needs of the animals who are left behind by people who want the fluffy lookers, about giving taxpayers a break from footing the bill for that sort of flippancy. All of our puppies are cute, damn it, even the ones that may be ugly ducklings to your “client.” What you’re asking is akin to calling an orphanage and suggesting it rush over twenty orphans for your Hunger Games mockery — a couple with blue eyes, some with golden hair, etc., for the viewing pleasure of someone who’s paying to see it, for someone who stands to make money off of our rescued dogs’ misfortunes. That’s disgusting and slimy, and we want no part of this trivialization.
As for the games themselves, your description involved something “similar” to what Animal Planet does for its puppy bowl. Animal Planet doesn’t throw puppies in the XXXXXXXXXX Ballroom in front of a bunch of strangers attending a XXXXXXXX. And just because AP does something, it doesn’t make it ethical. There’s nothing cute or kind about giving a puppy points for taking a dump in public.
This is not to suggest that our group is a stranger to mankind’s insistence upon demanding dogs and other animals play games for human enjoyment. Not at all. We’ve dealt with a lot of that. I’m attaching a photo as proof.
Allow me to describe what you’re seeing. This is Bubbles. I was nice and sent you the “after” shot. When we found her, we weren’t sure she’d make it, but she did. It wasn’t cheap. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of tears and anger from a lot of people. Today she’s living with the most wonderful couple along with a pack of other dogs (none of them yellow Lab puppies, mind you). Bubbles wasn’t forced to attend a XXXXXXXXX puppy bowl, but she was possibly forced to bait other dogs into fighting as a source of amusement and financial gain for those who wanted to see it. I realize the analogy might run the gamut between comparisons here, but I want you to understand how very seriously we stand against animals being used in any capacity against their wills for gaming purposes of any shape, size, or color. If we were to allow our dogs to participate in ANY end of this spectrum, that would blur the line between what is acceptable and what is abuse. We label abuse as anything degrading to an animal, and your puppy bowl certainly falls into that category, even if only at an entry level. After everything that we’ve done to help Bubbles and many dogs just like her, we can’t look her in the eyes now and say, “Give us your puppies for people to laugh at…but only the cute ones. Thanks, girl.” Ain’t happening.
This email might seem a tad harsh, but I hope you’ll take a minute to truly examine why. There’s a reason we run one of the most successful dog adoption programs in north Texas. We’re fair. We’re honest. We are tough. We get it done. And now I’ve got to get back to the mission.
Thanks, but no thanks.
DFW Rescue Me and its 1300 adopted dogs not attending the puppy bowl
So there you have it, “Betty.”
And about this Thanksgiving bizwax? Well, I’m super grateful to volunteer for a rescue that isn’t afraid to tell Tom, Dick, and Fanny what time it is.
Disclaimer: I’ll add here in all fairness that there were no witnesses to Bubbles’ injuries. Therefore, it can’t be written with certainty that she was, without a doubt, used for fighting.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t given much thought to judicial elections in the past, but the entire ordeal with Judge Larry Mitchell grandly fudging up his original decision in the Justice case this week demonstrated how important it is to use the people’s power as wisely as possible moving forward. And how convenient; we are entering an election cycle as I type.
A quick jaunt on social media revealed the name of a prosecutor running against Mitchell: Brandon Birmingham. Mr. Birmingham’s website provided enough information for me to determine he wasn’t on a mission to become the next Montgomery Burns of the 292nd Judicial District Court, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to throw my full support toward a candidate I didn’t know. Therefore, I decided to introduce him to the toughest possible critic, Sweetie the Pit Bull, who’s never failed at separating the wannabes from the true contenders. With Birmingham and Sweetie both game, I set out to meet our next judge hopeful. I told Birmingham, “Wear comfortable clothes. It’s one thousand degrees where we’re heading, and you’re going to get covered in dog fur.”
What he didn’t know was the great significance of our meeting place. As I opened the hatch of my vehicle, I told Birmingham, “This facility is where I met Sweetie. She was abandoned here for six months a year and a half ago by people who’d neglected her for a lifetime, dumped her when she was dying. Luckily, DFW Rescue Me and Toothacres were able to step in and save her life. Give me a minute to make sure she’s comfortable being here, ok?” I searched for compassion in his eyes. Found it.
Sweetie lumbered her way out of my car and greeted him. Happy tail, so we were off for a walk around the grassy perimeter of the property. We bragged about our kids and families, the rescue effort in north Texas, and it felt like I was really just walking dogs with a new volunteer rather than discovering more about a politician. After a bit, Birmingham asked if Sweetie wanted some water, so we headed over to where an oscillating sprinkler was being operated by a couple of other volunteers. He coaxed, “Come on, Sweetie! Cool down a little,” and stood next to her while she tested things out. I tried to stop him: “Wait, I was going to get a photo of you. You’re going to be all wet,” but Birmingham laughed, “Oh, it’s fine. I don’t mind. She’s hot. You can take a picture anyway.” I watched the sprinkler chase them while Sweetie rolled in the mud like a pig. Hard to imagine Judge Mitchell doing any of that. Really hard.
One of the ladies introduced herself from Duck Team 6, a local rescue group that serves the needs of Dallas’s street dog population. When I mentioned my guest was running against Mitchell, who presided over the Justice case, she couldn’t conceal her excitement. “You’re running? And you’re here? That’s wonderful. Thank you!” Suffice it to say that finding political candidates willing to spend their free time walking around a deserted pet cemetery with a wet-and-muddy, old, rescued Pit Bull is akin to spotting a unicorn riding a narwhal over a rainbow; it just doesn’t happen often enough.
While we visited, I asked the prosecutor where he stands on animal welfare: “I always look at why people commit crimes. What were their motivations? If I find a lawless person has been senseless with no mitigating reason, I feel those responsible for acts of violence deserve to be punished severely. Animal cruelty cases fall into the spectrum of individuals who cannot stand up for themselves. They don’t deserve what happens to them. Those are the class of victims I take to heart and have throughout my career.”
And Birmingham’s record attests to his claims. With over a decade of prosecuting experience, he successfully tried the state’s case against Willie Atkins, who was sentenced to life in prison for intentionally spreading AIDS to many unknowing people. Imagine proving THAT. Bank robbery cases? Yep. Abuse cases? Check. He was even able to deliver a guilty conviction in the case of unapologetic, child killer Jose Sifuentes by presenting evidence recovered through the enlistment of superdogs Vodin and Pace from Search One Rescue Team. “Because of those dogs, the defendant pled guilty and got a life sentence,” he mentioned. In addition, Birmingham was the key prosecutor in the conviction of Juan Cantu, a member of the Mexican Mafia who received life for the brutal murders of his friend’s child and ex-girlfriend in 2004.
“The defendant was mad at his friend’s girlfriend, went to the house where he found not just her, but also her poor kid and another woman. He raped and tried to kill the other woman, even set her on fire. Just a horrible crime. We got him on DNA evidence and witness testimony. It was a tense case, and I admit there were a few times I feared for my personal safety, but that’s a part of my job.” Elaborating further on proving cases through DNA, Birmingham, who is also Chief of the Cold Case Unit, pointed toward his role in the judgments against Marion Sayles and Frederick Anderson last winter. “Once the DNA previously exonerated [Raymond Jackson and James Wilson in court proceedings prior to Birmingham's involvement], we had the DNA from the rape exam entered into the CODIS database — it’s a database of DNA profiles created from inmates in TDC — and the DNA matched two inmates. The case was indicted, and I was asked to try it. I did — both of them with Russell WIlson, Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit. I wish I could say that I shook the hands of the exonerated [who'd been wrongly imprisoned for 29 years]; I hugged the victim Mary Smith after the trial and was proud to do so.” He credits the partnership between the two units as being instrumental in securing life sentences for the “true perpetrators who committed this horrendous crime.” Nice.
When I asked about a case that really touched his heart, he paused and inquired, “Do you remember Monika Korra? She was the SMU student who was abducted by three men as she was walking with her friends and repeatedly sexually assaulted. They just stopped and swept her away. She lived and wanted to come forward to stand up as a voice for rape victims; she didn’t want to be silent. Very, very brave young woman. A book about her plight is currently being written.” He continued, “It feels good to stand up for a victim as a prosecutor, to channel anger to prove a case. There are long hours. It’s tedious and like a roller coaster, but at the end of the day, I really feel honored to do the work on a case and tell the story from the victim’s standpoint, revealing all the vile and deceitful acts of a violent criminal. I know more about their crimes than they do. Because of that, I can’t wait to tell twelve people what I found out.”
Sweetie is all about changing the world for the better, so I thought I should throw in a couple of questions for her about what Birmingham would like to see happen in the future. He obliged. “The judicial system is set up to be reactive and tends to not, by nature, be proactive. I like to see programs put in place by groups that enlist our help to go into the community.” He says he’d be happy to lose his job as a prosecutor if it meant there were no more cases for him to try. “That would be great, but right now there’s a need. Violent offenders need to be locked up, and we need to be vigilant about those other non-violent offenders to help them become productive members of society.”
Having covered the heavy stuff, I figured I should give the guy a break. After all, Sweetie reeeaaally wanted to know: “Do you have a dog?”
[Laughing] “A cat.”
I assured him, “I can fix that.”
“Yes, we’re quickly on our way then! No, we have a thirteen-almost-fourteen-year-old cat named ‘Macy’.” Then he quickly added, “That’s ‘M-A-C-Y’.” (Love that.)
“Got it. Macy. ‘M-A-C-Y’?”
“Yes, that’s correct. I adopted her from the Houston SPCA. She was with me through law school and has been my friend ever since.” He whipped out his cell phone and scrolled through pictures of his girl. “This is her right here,” he smiled.
“And what would Macy have to say about you?”
“Oh, Macy would say something like she prefers to be fed by hand and drink water directly from the faucet. She’d also say she misses me because I work too much.”
Wrapping things up since Sweetie was past due for her third afternoon nap, I asked my new legal friend what he’d be doing if he wasn’t in law. After assuring me he’d be point guard for the Mavs, Birmingham admitted he’d love to teach history or philosophy . . . or become a musician. I shouldn’t second guess his aspirations. He’s already appeared on “The First 48,” lectured around the nation regarding rules of evidence as well as constitutional and ethical issues, learned how to play guitar and drums, and, of course, continues to fulfill his most important role as family guy to his wife and two kiddos and Macy.
For now, though, he’s prepared to put aside his secret ambition to join the Dallas Mavs in order to serve the residents of Dallas County. He assures, “I pledge to be a full-time judge, who is decisive, consistent, fair, and tough when needed.”
“So you’ll hammer and hammer to get us what we deserve?” (I had to.)
“Ha, ha! YES!”
(Hear that? March 4th. Mark it on your calendars. That’s the big day, not to be missed, folks. He’s got to win the primary in order to make it to November’s ballot. Click here for precinct and voting info.)
After submitting to Sweetie’s pressing inquiries, Birmingham told her goodbye and that he really enjoyed meeting her. She reciprocated the sentiment and prepared for her big nap home.
Sometimes you meet someone who sincerely wants to make the world better for everybody in it. There’s just an obvious quality about that sort of genuine kindness you can’t fake. That was the overwhelming feeling I had about Brandon Birmingham as I drove away: What a super nice guy. Just don’t tick him off by breaking the law because, evidently, then he’s, eh, not such a nice guy.
And that’s what we need.
It’s been a year and four months since our community laid Justice to rest. A spring. A summer. A fall. A winter . . . another spring . . . another summer, and here we are today reeling from the aftermath of your shocking ruling. We’ve camped out a long while for this storm.
For you, this may be business as usual — another day, another case. That’s not how it is for me, though. I do not have the luxury of forgetting and moving on because I still have to visit Justice all the time. See, one of the hats I wear for our animal rescue is as his grave’s guardian.
I’m not alone, at least, and far from it; this is what I’d like to share with you.
I remember the week Jim collected Justice from Dallas Animal Services. The news traveled quickly amongst volunteers about the young dog who’d been strangled and lit ablaze. We didn’t want the publicity. We only wanted to save his life so Justice would know something more than misery. We wanted to find his perfect home. That’s the goal for every dog we meet.
It didn’t work out that way, and I’ll never forget holding my phone as I read the words: “We lost Justice.” At the time, we had no way of knowing exactly how much justice we’d lost that morning.
When our group buried him, the option to cremate his remains was on the table. However, it was decided Justice had been burned enough in life, and so he was put in the ground inside a tiny casket. I think about that every time I see his grave — about how even in death, he was protected symbolically from further pain and suffering. He’d been attacked using “flammable” or “ignitable” materials, to quote official court documents. For the humans who were left to pick up the pieces, that was too much fire.
It took hours upon hours for mourners to sign the guest book at his funeral. I watched from the sidelines as people slowly waited their turns in the heat of that day. If you’d been present, of course, it would have been impossible for you to have thought the public took his death slightly.
Shortly thereafter, we laid a beautiful headstone donated by caring individuals in a private ceremony. It reads: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” You can see for yourself, if you’d like. It’s still there. It’ll be there forever, Judge Mitchell, because we don’t plan on putting this tragedy out of memory.
What I never expected in a million years were all the incredible events I’d witness while walking rescue dogs near Justice’s site. I’ve seen cards and letters left there; one written by a young child wore my heart in half. People regularly place toys and bones on the memorial. There are always flowers. The grass around his grave is always greener for some reason. More than that, I’ve seen compassion unfold there like no other place I’ve known in my life.
One day while I was approaching the area, I noticed an elderly woman with her head buried in the crook of a man’s arm. Both were crying. I watched them for a moment before closing the gap and stood silently in front of the grave for a bit. The gentleman wiped his tears after a while and said to me, “We saw this story on the news. I didn’t know he was buried here.” They’d just laid to rest their own dog, but were there in front of Justice’s grave, caught up in the grief of his misfortune as well. The wife added, “Our girl had a good life, but this one never had a chance. It breaks my heart to know he’s not the only one who’s suffered.”
And that’s the point, Judge. He’s not the only one. That’s why we held a memorial and a funeral and created the Justice Fund and Voices for Justice. We wanted the world to know: He’s not the only one, so let’s fix things. The opportunity was yours to tell this woman and her husband and the rest of us that you recognize the problem, but you blew it. Instead, you delivered this case reportedly to the defense on a silver platter based on technicality.
Good thing the rest of us fighting for justice don’t live in a world based around your morals and ethics in the courtroom. We’d be a big lot of sniveling weasels that never accomplished anything resembling common decency.
People ask me frequently how the case is going. What do I tell them now? Do I tell them it’s largely over at this point because Judge Larry Mitchell doesn’t have the basic skills it would require to operate a thesaurus — that Judge Larry Mitchell had an issue with the terms “ignitable” and “flammable”? Please. This is not your first time dealing with communication issues. You of all people should take zero offense at such inconsequential discrepancy after all the damaging legal trouble you’ve faced, sir.
Just last summer, the Dallas Morning News reported you were given a suspension for misconduct. Within the same article, we learned that wasn’t your first time at that rodeo; it was “at least” your fourth. And now you’re a judge. Fantastic. You’re exactly the guy we needed to elect for the job you’re currently performing. (Pfft. Not.) I particularly cringed when I read: “The State Bar says Mitchell never filed writs of habeas corpus as his client wanted and did not communicate with [the client] and his family for more than three years between 2003 and 2006, according to testimony.”
Jaw officially slack. Where is the integrity? I hope there’s a sliver of that left on the other side of this case. People are waiting and hoping, counting on something more than this.
At the end of the day, what happened in your courtroom was about Darius Ewing’s plea. The public wasn’t trying him for crimes he didn’t commit or for vindication on behalf of every dog who’s ever suffered. Still, the message you have dangerously implied into the ether is: This was just a dog, folks.
Oddly, I take solace when guarding that burial site. The people who visit know there’s more than just a dog below that dirt. He was a creature capable of love, companionship, fear, reverence, loyalty — qualities we understand as humans. There’s deeply personal fellowship to be had at the place where “all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
In the succinctly sweet words of the child who left a card at Justice’s grave: “I am sad. I am sorry.”
Well, Judge Mitchell, I am certainly sad.
And, Justice, I am really sorry.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a good man. He died honorably, fighting a decent battle for the welfare of all — men, women, children, and animals alike. His message was one of equality, not segregation. King challenged us:
Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
That said, I won’t look the other way as Reverend Ron Wright hoards the media’s attention surrounding Justice the puppy’s animal cruelty case with what I view as divisive, counterproductive rhetoric.
If you’re unfamiliar, Wright is the fancy suit wearin’, sweet talkin’ reverend who appears to be racing toward every camera and reporter he can wrangle, spieling sweet Lordy Lordy Hallelujahs over the bail bond amount set for Darius Ewing. Ewing, who turned himself in under felony warrant last month, reportedly lit a stray puppy named Justice on fire for amusement. The puppy, who was hung first before being set ablaze, died a week and a half later from serious burn injuries. Wright surprised just about everybody when he zeroed in on this case as being racial, which I believe is nothing short of manipulating the facts.
I gave Ron Wright the benefit of a doubt when I first became aware of his public mission. After all, we seemingly have many binding interests. Truth is, after witnessing his behavior in person and during interviews over the course of the past few weeks, I’m not only wary of, but also disappointed by this so-called preacher man parading around like just about everything except a humble servant to his faith.
I’m not the only one put off by Wright’s antics. As reported by The Dallas Morning News in 2008, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a longstanding African-American civil rights organization first led by Dr. King, issued an official statement claiming Wright was “not authorized” to speak for the group, calling statements he made “unfounded”:
Dexter M. Wimbish, Esq.
SCLC General Counsel
SCLC Statement of Clarification of Dallas Representatives
The national office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has become aware of public statements made concerning issues involving the shooting of an unarmed man in Dallas, Texas. The statements made by Rev. Ronald Wright, Peter Johnson and others as it related to SCLC are not authorized by the National SCLC. In additional there is no regional SCLC office located in Dallas, Texas nor has the Board of Directors authorized the creation of a regional office.
There is a properly sanctioned Dallas Chapter in the City of Dallas with established leadership under the direction of SCLC President Derrick Bowman and any public comments held attributable to SCLC should come from that chapter or the national SCLC office. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference employs a systematic approach to nonviolence and conflict resolution that includes conducting a fact finding phase before making unfounded statements such as those attributed to Rev. Ronald Wright.
Ouch. What a complete mutilation of Wright’s legitimacy amongst his religious and political peers.
Likewise, activists today are questioning Ron Wright’s motives for such aggressive finger pointing in the Darius Ewing case. Richard Hunter, an animal rights advocate who adopted one of Michael Vick’s dogs, recently challenged Wright-and-Ewing supporter, Bonnie Mathias, when she asserted Ewing’s bond was set unfairly high. Hunter requested:
Jim Wenger co-founder of DFW Rescue Me, the group that sponsored Justice’s medical care, agrees this case is strictly about a violent crime. When asked outside the courtroom, he told reporters: “It’s an animal cruelty issue. His bond was set where it was because he was a flight risk, it’s a felony.”
In the press, though, Wright maintained, “It [the bond] says that dogs are more important when it comes to African-American men.” For good measure, Wright added, “Women and dogs are even when it comes to getting bail.”
(Yes, you really just read that.)
I wager I’m not alone in my failure to connect with Wright’s cavalcade of Crazytown logic. In fact, reality couldn’t differ more from the hot air rolling off Wright’s tongue. Our society has clearly indicated through repeated example that dogs are unimportant and acceptably cast aside when inconvenient. Obviously, an animal isn’t capable of committing the heinous act for which Darius Ewing turned himself in, yet, in the event a dog is apprehended for malicious behavior, there is no bond, no trial, no jail sentence, no reprieve. There’s death. So I’d say, despite how the rev paints the comparison, Darius Ewing’s prospects look a lot better than they would for any canine in his position — guilty or otherwise. As for Wright’s commentary equating women to dogs in relation to “getting bail,” I think it’s safe to assume no bondsman would consider a paw print any sort of legally binding signature. Let’s face it: Dogs have nothing over people of either sex or any color of the rainbow unless we’re discussing mugshots, and then I readily admit dogs have the upper hand. (I hope Ron Wright is okay with that injustice.)
Before the initial bond hearing, Wright made claims that his dog Sadie was poisoned as a retaliatory measure for his championing Darius Ewing’s case, that he thought someone threw meat dipped in antifreeze or something over his fence. Again, as in the instance with the SCLC, Wright’s accusations are unfounded and reprehensible. According to articles like this one, he didn’t rush to file for police investigation. He didn’t get an official opinion by physically visiting a licensed veterinarian or obtaining a necropsy — something you would need to do to prove a serious allegation worthy of reporting. He provided no body, no evidence. He offered no photo of the dog in the state of death which he described. Nah, Wright called Shaun Rabb from Fox 4 News over to scavenge around in the ramshackle backyard to view poor Sadie’s grave instead. The condition of that dog’s dilapidated, potentially dangerous living quarters — full of what appear to be plants poisonous to canines and construction materials with jagged edges — in combination with Wright’s immediate, speculative actions demonstrate to viewers like myself that his primary concern was not in stopping the possible poisoning of other dogs in his area. It might seem the intention was, sadly, to use Sadie’s death as a platform to further try Darius’s case in the media, to imply blame in a manner where Wright could easily also later step back and say, Oh, I never told anyone it was an animal rights activist who did this. I just said I thought it was retaliation. But, really, what other reason would there have been for calling a camera crew? Generally, people who are grieving the loss of an animal don’t stumble over themselves trying to speed dial reporters. I feel terrible for the rev’s dog. Sincerely, I do feel awful for the way she was left to fend for herself in that filthy backyard within close proximity to where another dog was recently known to be burned to death by someone Darius’s family and supporters insist is still at large. I feel sorry for how Sadie had to seek shelter in that decrepit dog house. I feel sickened her owner turned her death into something fit more for a drama llama than for a beautiful German Shepherd. Hopefully, someone is capable of getting to the root of this issue for Sadie and her animal brethren, who cannot speak for themselves.
What I’ve said might seem harsh given the heartbreaking circumstances of Wright’s dog, but we are talking about a public figure whose track record is not one of obvious concern for animal welfare, someone who bullied his way through an entire crowd post-hearing in order to reach the bevy of cameras outside the courtroom. Once in front of the microphones, Ron Wright carelessly segregated viewers by waving his familiar flag about an issue that’s got nothing to do with anything except an animal being hung and lit on fire. Remember, this case attracted international attention. Great weather for glory-seeking if you’re into that swarmy sort of thing.
Click to view footage of the rev holding his position: “It reeks of racism.” I wonder: If Darius Ewing had been a white man, would Ronald Wright have claimed a bond of the same amount “reeked of racism?” Would that even have created a blip on the reverend’s justice radar? Naw, come on.
As I was trying to help an older woman leave the hectic area near the media, Rev. Wright shoulder-checked my entire right side. I felt uncertain it was intentional even though it was definitely rude, yet decided to let it go. In the video link above, he narrowly misses doing the same thing to another female (marker :44), barreling past the smiling woman in all manners of pompous self-importance as she is forced to literally scale the side of the doorframe to avoid making contact. A gentleman only steps aside when he’s a gentleman, I suppose.
Then I observed him perform the same move at a later time on Jim Wenger, DFWRM. This time, Wright seemed to avoid the open spaces to the right and left of Wenger, and appeared to move directly in front of the animal advocate in a physically confrontational manner. Refusing to participate in the rev’s pissing match, Jim continued to proceed toward our group, and I asked, “Did Wright really just body-check you? That’s what it looked like from over here.” To which, Jim casually replied, “Tried to, didn’t he?”
I might have been surprised a bit more if I hadn’t also witnessed Wright’s less-than-professional courtroom etiquette where he audibly laughed and shook his head as the detective testified that Ewing cussed at him, telling him: “F*** the police. Suck my d***. Come get me if you want me.” During the hearing, there were several moments I could not understand what the witness was saying because Wright was holding conversation with the woman next to him. Their recurring laughter at the cops who were on the stand was unbelievably disrespectful. When the witness discussed the arrest of Ewing, including how he was detained by Homicide at the police station, Wright could no longer contain himself: “Homicide. It was just a dog. This was all FOR A DOG!” And then he and the people near him giggled insensitively, rolling their eyes, making faces, shaking their heads as they cracked up. It was like being trapped within close proximity to the live action, mannerless rendition of People of Walmart (dot com). This version of Wright beyond the camera’s scope was a completely different guy from the one who was traipsing around with Shaun Rabb after Sadie died. He certainly didn’t tell Rabb she was “just a dog.” No, he saved that for the courtroom when he refused to contain his thoughts out of consideration for others, including the gentlemen who sat behind him respectfully the entire time — also there in support of Ewing. Perhaps, those guys didn’t miss the teaching in Proverbs 29: 11:
A fool utters all his mind, but a wise man keeps it in ’til afterwards.
In the hallway, Wright and members of Darius Ewing’s family were upset the bond was reduced by half. That wasn’t good enough for them even though it was really quite a victory. A family member said the bond should be $1,500 because that’s what they could afford (making the cash portion $150). Seriously. Look, I realize there is a chance Darius could be innocent and understand that his family doesn’t want to see him go to jail. Got that. However, the guy’s behavior for the past four years — supported by his record of breaking probation, refusing to turn himself in under a juvenile warrant for a different violent crime, and his sign-throwing, gun-glorifying Facebook photos — doesn’t suggest that he’s the kind of person who won’t run or who’s incapable of committing a crime like the one with which he’s been indicted. Last week’s judicial due process involved a bond hearing, not a determination of guilt or innocence. The reverend went on camera saying he wanted fairness for Darius Ewing. What in the world did he think was happening that day when the judge heard both arguments before granting the defense a 50% reduction?
The family is still trying to scrape funds together to free Ewing. Maybe Reverend Wright could find it in his heart to sell a few suits or something.
Or maybe he could give them the “due’s” [sic] he collects from his website. Oddly, Wright charges a fee to be a part of his civil rights-seeking, justice-y group, or to paraphrase his referral to that when publicly telling one woman online she needed to pay up: “their” was a “memebership” rate she needed to submit. (For what, the spellchecked version?)
Also suggested by the website is for the reader to conduct a search for Rev. Wright’s name online using terms the web admin, presumably Wright, provided. So, naturally, I obliged. Turns out he doesn’t have a very heavy amount of Google juice outside of his involvement in Justice’s case, and I was immediately pointed back to his website. (Well. That was informative.) I couldn’t find anything about his church. No schedule of his speaking events. There was his Twitter, at least, where he claims God “commission” him. (I would love to hear the story of God commissioning him to charge people membership fees to utilize similar services they can easily and independently access elsewhere for free.) His last tweet was forever ago, which is odd for a community leader, given today’s necessity for social media, especially since his target members are clearly using technology. He last parted Twitter with a fantastic message about Michael Jackson having been a “historian.” Amazingly, I never knew MJ was a historian. Good thing I took the time to visit Ron’s Twitter trail where 24 followers await his next pearls of wisdom. In a rabbit hole worth noting, his first tweet mentions Jenny, the controversial elephant from the Dallas Zoo, but not because he was worried about her welfare; he was irritated that the proposed “Tax payers monies” [do I need to keep sic-ing?] were being spent unwisely (proposal was to upgrade her living conditions or release her to sanctuary, another blog altogether). His concern, of course, only mentioned money, not the animal’s welfare. Again.
I guess I’m just bewildered as to why anyone would want to enlist the services of Rev. Ron Wright as a third party when s/he can obtain information and referrals for no membership charge elsewhere and from professional resources that are written using competent communication skills. In less than five seconds at the library, you can look up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all subsequent language. If Wright truly was capable of delivering the goods, his group might have secured a non-court appointed attorney who specializes in cases meeting the criteria Wright deems applicable. Likewise, can the Justice Seekers not afford to pony up 5G for bail bond after being in business for two years? You’d think the Rev would consider Darius’s treatment a top priority since he is so adamant about that in the press. Truth of the matter is Ewing’s still sitting in jail and on his second court-appointed lawyer since the case took shape (last one recused herself). The only individual who remotely benefits from this case is the reverend, who appears before reporters more than any other person legitimately involved in the courtroom drama surrounding Justice the puppy, usually peddling the name of his group along the bottom of the TV screen and rehashing his convoluted, racial message. For the record, I come from multiple generations of southern ministers who are degreed theologists, with decades upon decades of international missionary work and professional church leadership experience. Even if Wright’s poorly articulated hootin’-and-hollerin’ hadn’t raised my eyebrows, a lifetime of dealing with people who truly know how to craft religious touchdowns every Sunday morning would have eventually made it impossible for me to take this camera hog seriously.
I might dislike Rev. Wright’s modus operandi, but I support him fully when he says Darius Ewing is innocent until proven guilty. That is how we do it here, and I would have things no differently. Saying that, I’m no cheerleader for Darius Ewing based upon the evidence presented thus far, which was actually much more damning than I’d imagined it might be, but I believe it’s only fair to allow Darius his day in court and to afford him the shot to tell us the truth. Without doubt, we know Justice was brutally, fatally abused in Darius’s apartment complex. If Ewing didn’t do it and is a dog lover as his grandmother assured the media, he probably knows the felonious party and should be man enough to tell the public who committed the crime. If Darius burned Justice alive, coming forward with that truth will be the only thing that will truly set him free in the end — even if that freedom means he must pay for his crime in jail. I know it may not be a popular view, but I have no hate in my heart for Darius Ewing. Justice’s abuse angers and saddens me deeply, but hate makes it difficult to move toward resolution.
Going further, Wright should not have to deal with racial slurs being left on his voice mail any more than I should have to deal with being called a “white b**ch” by one of Ewing’s supporters. Having read derogatory comments on Darius Ewing’s Justice for Justice Facebook page from both white and black individuals, I am disappointed people feel the need to radiate racism about something that isn’t remotely about that topic. Racists of any color who are using this case as an opportunity to spread contempt should understand their commentaries detract from the root of this issue, regardless of whose side they support.
Unlike the rev, I’m not a local celebrity or a public figure, nor do I choose to put myself in front of cameras. I do, however, have the same rights and the same freedom of speech as he does, even as a regular old Joe. Rev. Wright has accomplished some good things in the past. As a watchful citizen, I encourage him to focus on uniting the community with his power instead of portraying insensitivity toward an entire movement, thus compromising the greater good. When a leader in any facet creates a detrimental environment for a cause worthy of supporting, I feel it’s against the advice of Dr. King to ignore such behavior, especially when it concerns the very things King died defending: Fairness and dignity for all. Animals included.
Again, MLK cautioned:
Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
Duly noted, Dr.
RIP, poor Sadie and Justice. May the world learn compassion through your tragedies; may your unnecessary sacrifices reveal the path toward kindness and respect for all creatures.
I knew I heard it. I’ll keep waiting. Maybe it was the hammock or something. Maybe it was a bird.
The dog didn’t move. The cats didn’t move. Russell didn’t move. I decided I was being paranoid about what happened sixteen years ago, so when the air conditioner cycled back around, burying the nocturnal world outside my window, I fell back to sleep.
But before I could rest, my mind returned to California in 1996.
The cat’s cries were obvious, no doubt about that. Our Edie kitty — a tiny, solid black female with green eyes — was panicked in the window, watching everything unfold outside. I peeked through the blinds while Edie jumped into my arms, frightened.
As quickly as I realized what was going on, I was screaming for my husband to wake up and help me stop it. We raced across the terrace in our pajamas, but we were too late. The crowd of young Marines thinned, disappeared into another apartment, and we were left alone with a young, black cat — almost identical to our own — who was gurgling its own blood, paralyzed, lacerated over the course of its whole body from being swung by its tail repeatedly and beaten against a stucco wall and a car’s hood.
I called 911. When I returned, my husband, a USMC rifle range coach, was partially slumped over the cat’s lifeless body. He’d put her out of her extreme misery. It wasn’t fair. Not to the cat. Not to him. Not to me.
Not to the woman who came crying and angry from her apartment when she realized the cat was hers.
It wasn’t fair to the other men and women of the USMC, who shared the same uniform as the men who ran like cowards when we chased them off in our underwear and night robes. There was nothing right about any of it.
Two hours later, the police finally arrived after we’d called multiple times. They gathered the remains of the cat in a bag and left. They’d be “in touch,” but nobody called, and I went on a letter-writing spree like no other. We were ridiculed by neighbors and co-workers for speaking out against what happened. They asked, “What about that guy’s wife and kids? Don’t you care about them?” Animal Control refused to take our statement because “the owner doesn’t want to press charges.” After a long battle, the murderers were charged and jailed, but somehow we were the villains. I was blown away by how little most people seemed to care, how it was the USMC that had taken action when the citizens and local authorities thought it was a non-event.
What happened sixteen years ago never gets easier to remember, but seeing hundreds of people gathered to stand against similar abuse at Justice the puppy’s candlelight vigil last week in Dallas, Texas, shows me that we as a society, as well as our law enforcement, are headed in a better direction. When I held my candle for Justice, I let it shine for Black Kitten, too.
Even though the corners can seem a little dark, the world isn’t completely horrible. Usually there’s joy lurking around the bend somewhere.
On Sunday morning, I heard the mewing again. This time, it was undeniable. Even though we aren’t married anymore, Merrin my then-husband from our younger years in California, just happened to knock on our front door at the exact time we were searching for the kitten, whose mews we’d lost in the backyard, “Do you guys know there’s a kitten crying up here?”
Shortly thereafter, we’d wrangled the wiry, gray baby from the rosebush and sat in my kitchen trying to plan how to handle the rescue from there. My mind traveled back to Black Kitten — how we’d tried to save her all those years ago and failed — and I was grateful we shared this happier moment together. I knew this gray kitten would have a much better future, even if it was spitting and biting at the time.
By Monday, we’d located the rest of the litter. They were living under a shed in the neighbors’ yard. Thinking back to the terrible storm a few weeks ago, I wondered how they’d ever survived down there. It must have been terrible for their mother, too, having kittens who were maybe a week old, trying to shelter them from the hail and the wind. The extreme rain was so harsh it flooded the interior of our own home. I wondered if she’d lost a baby. I couldn’t imagine trying to be a new mother in that environment and felt irritated by the irresponsibility of humans — again. Even so, the two starving kittens who were left at the shed came readily to us once we showed them some food. Safe. They were safe now. Russell named the three: Penn, Jillette, and Teller.
Two gray, one black. Merrin told me, “I’ll take the black one.”
It’s been such a sweet experience spending my life this week with these three kittens, who will soon be finding their own adoptive families. I can’t imagine anyone hurting something so defenseless, being capable of swinging them by their tails into a wall or setting them on fire, like Justice. Staring into their itty bitty faces, I’m glad I didn’t give up sixteen years ago when Black Kitten died. It was worth the ridicule, and I believe the apathy and taunting we encountered from others enabled us to care further — to care on behalf of those who didn’t, wouldn’t.
Black Kitten, I remember you — your memory’s in my heart always. Always. Thank you for leading me . . . here.
This Saturday at 7:30 outside Fort Worth’s City Hall, there is another vigil for a former bait dog, Nathan, who passed away from severe injuries sustained from fighting. Nathan’s memory, like that of Black Kitten and Justice, et al, serves to remind all that the struggle to increase animal rights is ongoing. Standing together in word alone will not change legislation or encourage others to quit ignoring abuse; we each have to answer to action within our communities and as groups. If you’d like to make your voice heard, follow the hyperlink here.