On June 24th, Cindy Hodges’ dog, Sadie, was seized by Roscommon County Animal Control because Hodges didn’t get surgery done on Sadie’s paw and they considered that to be abuse under Michigan animal law for failure to provide an animal with adequate care.
It brings up questions about the limitations of governmental interference regarding the care we choose for our pets. Plenty of pet owners who read this article have, I’m sure, been in a similar situation where their pet is injured or sick and they can’t afford a treatment – or might not even agree with a Veterinarian’s recommendation. My own cat, Ali, had cancer and it got worse at the beginning of this year. There was no way I could afford thousands of dollars for radiation. Because the cancer had spread to more than one area, the radiation was likely to be unsuccessful anyway. The Veterinarian agreed that the radiation most likely would not improve Ali’s quality of life – or extend it substantially. But what if the Vet said it might give her another year of life? And what if my County found out about the Vet’s recommendation and deemed my decision to be abuse or neglect? What criteria is the government using to decide what constitutes neglect and abuse?
And even more importantly, can our County government disregard the opinion of a pet owner’s Veterinarian and the pet’s treatment plan and move ahead with an abuse charge?
Our local governments shouldn’t be able to interfere in our pet’s treatment even when our Veterinarian might not agree with us. However, in Sadie’s case, Surry Veterinary Clinic and Hodges were working together in agreement with the treatment being done.
There are plenty of pet owners who do their best for their pets but might have limited funds due to being disabled or because of other circumstances. Are their pets going to be taken from them because they can’t afford an ACL surgery or ear drops? As a pet owner, we know our pets better than anyone. We know their behavioral and medical history, what kind of pain they are able to put up with, what kind of food they eat, their stress levels, their sedation history and more. They are a part of our family and WE own them and we make the decisions for their care. Sometimes it’s a medical decision. Sometimes it’s a financial decision. Sometimes it’s both. But it’s OUR decision.
The vague Michigan laws seems to be at the heart of this case. 750.50 in the Michigan penal code has ambiguous terms of “adequate care” and “good health.” The state defines adequate care as the “provision of sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise and veterinary medical attention in order to maintain an animal in a state of good health.” Technically speaking, an ACO could find that you are not feeding your dog good enough quality food or walking them enough. See where I’m going with this? “State of good health” is defined as “freedom from disease and illness, and in a condition of proper body weight and temperature for the age and species of the animal, unless the animal is undergoing appropriate treatment.” “Neglect” means to fail to sufficiently and properly care for an animal to the extent that the animal’s health is jeopardized.” The state law says an owner shall not fail to provide an animal with adequate care or negligently allow any animal to suffer unnecessary neglect, torture or pain.
What the Roscommon County case involving Sadie shows is that County Animal Control officers can decide what those phrases mean. Usually, these laws have been used to prosecute people who run puppy mills, have dog fighting rings, are hoarders, leave their dogs out in bad weather with no protection or food or things of that nature. This is the first time I have run across a case where a pet owner has been charged for their decision about their pet’s medical care. I find it incredibly unsettling and wonder what kind of precedent it will set for others in Roscommon County and also other counties in Michigan. I have found that, in talking to other staff members of animal shelters in Michigan (off the record), that when they’ve been presented with similar cases like Sadie’s, they have not gone to court over it. They have tried to open a dialogue with the pet owner and assist them in helping their pet, keeping in contact with them to try to resolve the issue.
The reason that other Roscommon County pet owners need to be concerned is a statement the Prosecutor gave to 9&10 News where he says more charges could be coming for others in the future.
In the case of Hodges’ dog, Sadie, Hodges was not neglecting the care of her dog. In fact, she made many trips to Veterinarians and got a second opinion.
According to Cindy Hodges, this is what transpired. On May 22nd, she came home from work and noticed Sadie limping. Her paw had gotten run over when one of her sons was riding on a go-cart. Because Hodges had to work, her son Ryan took Sadie to the South Shore Animal Clinic. They were busy that morning but examined Sadie that afternoon, including doing x-rays. The Vet told Ryan that there was torn/twisted ligaments in the paw and wrist but no broken bones. The Vet told Ryan that they didn’t take care of that type of injury and gave him a flyer for an animal clinic in Traverse City. Ryan told the Vet his mom didn’t want Sadie to have surgery and the Vet said Sadie didn’t have to have surgery and that her paw would heal but she might have a limp. Ryan relayed this information to his mom. The notes from the South Shore say that they recommended the dog see an ortho specialist but Hodges didn’t have the vet notes until later when she went back to ask for them.
Ryan brought Sadie home and he cared for the dog as his mom was working long shifts as a nurse at her job. The verbal discharge instructions for Sadie were rest and taking pain medication. No written instructions were given to Ryan. When Hodges picked up Sadie from her son a few days later, she continued to give the dog pain medication and rested Sadie as much as an active 13 month-old-dog can be rested. Hodges says “her paw was healing well. She had an occasional limp but was using her paw.”
About two weeks after Sadie’s injury, Hodges was scheduled to work and because no one else would be home for the day, she put Sadie on her cable outside, giving her plenty of food and water. Sadie had access to a dog house for shelter and had two collars on, her leather collar with her license and her red wireless fence collar. When Hodges returned that evening, the leather collar was on the cable but Sadie was gone. Hodges was unable to find Sadie and called Roscommon County Animal Control (RAC). She was unable to leave a message as the machine wasn’t taking messages. Hodges assumed that Sadie was at the shelter as her neighbor had called Animal Control in the past if one of her dogs got loose.
Hodges was scheduled to work the next morning and asked her son, Ryan, to go to RAC first thing in the morning to pick up Sadie. RAC called Hodges at work around 8:30 a.m. that morning to ask if she had a Golden Retriever that was missing. They said they would issue her two tickets, dog at large and no license. Hodges told them Sadie had a license and that it was on her other collar at home. Hodges faxed the copy of the license. RAC told Hodges that Sadie hurt her paw and Cindy explained that she had already taken her to the Vet and her paw was healing. When Ryan got to RAC, they wouldn’t release the dog to him. RAC employee Shelter Supervisor Tina Peterson told Ryan that the “dog had an injury and you did not get care for her.” Ryan told her he had taken Sadie to the Vet and told her what t the Vet had told him.
Ryan called Hodges to tell her that they wouldn’t release Sadie. Cindy called RAC but Animal Control Director Terry McKillop (who lives across the street from Hodges) would not return her calls. She told Peterson that if Sadie had reinjured her paw, she wanted to come and get her and take her back to the Vet. Peterson contacted McKillop and told Hodges, “Terry said we are not releasing dog and you or none of your family members are allowed on the property.”
Hodges called an attorney who arranged for her to have a phone interview with Roscommon County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Collini. He told Hodges that “they (RAC) can’t keep your dog” but “now that you know she is injured, you have seven days to get her surgery, surrender her or euthanize her.” Hodges was taken aback. She would never euthanize a well-loved, healthy 13-month old dog that was part of her family.
Hodges called the Surrey Animal Clinic in Clare for a second opinion on Sadie and made an appointment. She was upset with the first Veterinarian who later said that they told Ryan that the dog needed surgery even though that information wasn’t written on any of their notes on Sadie. When Hodges picked up Sadie at the RAC, Sadie was excited to see her and jumped up on her and at the counter. She didn’t act like she was in pain.
See video here Sadie leaving the shelter June 10 here.
Hodges asked for any Veterinarian records from RAC that they might have regarding medical exams or x-rays that may have been done while Sadie was in their care. Peterson said that the records were locked up in McKillop’s office and couldn’t get them for her. Hodges told Peterson that if Sadie was on any medication, the new Vet should know about it as well as any more x-rays were done so Hodges would know how much radiation Sadie was exposed to. Sadie’s red wireless collar was missing and when Hodges inquired about it, Peterson said that was locked in McKillop’s office as well. Because the collar was expensive and needed to help keep Sadie in the yard, Hodges asked Peterson to call McKillop she needed to take it with her. A few minutes later, Peterson produced the red collar.
Hodges stopped at South Shore Animal Clinic to pick up Sadie’s records to take to the Surrey Clinic. They would not give her any x-rays. They said they could send it to the new doctor by fax or email. Sadie was seen by Dr. Steve Siegert at Surrey Animal Clinic in Clare. Sadie had an elevated temperature and Dr. Siegert did a thorough exam. The suggestion of doing an x-ray wasn’t discussed, according to Hodges. Dr. Siegert mentioned splinting Sadie’s injury but was hesitant due to possible infection and drainage. Sadie was very active at the appointment, no whimpering or crying. Dr. Siegert reviewed a plan of care with Hodges and never told her that Sadie had to get surgery. Sadie was discharged and Cindy was to give Sadie the medications noted and told her to rest Sadie’s paw.
Sadie’s recovery was going well, according to Hodges. Sadie was eating, drinking and taking medication as ordered and was often crated on the porch to keep her from running and jumping. Sadie was seen again the following week at the Surrey Clinic. According to Hodges, Dr. Siegert observed Sadie using her paw and her temperature was within normal limits. Dr. Siegert didn’t take x-rays or splint Sadie. Cindy says she never refused any care for Sadie – that she was following the Veterinarian’s instructions. Sadie was discharged home again with more antibiotics with another follow-up appointment scheduled.
I contacted Dr. Siegert of Surrey Veterinary Clinic and he stated that he participated in a “chilling” interview with Animal Control Director, Terry McKillop. He said that McKillop was adamant that the dog should either have surgery or be euthanized. Dr. Siegert did not agree. He said he had seen nasty fractures heal and get better and that he could work with a pet owner who couldn’t afford surgery. He said the dog was doing better after the second visit and that it made no sense that McKillop would want the dog euthanized – that Sadie could still function as a pet.
Hodges says that the only time Sadie was quiet and demonstrated any signs of pain was after her initial injury when she went to South Shore. Hodges continued to care for Sadie along with the help of her children and grandchildren. Someone was home the entire seven days after being released from the RAC but they never stopped by. Sadie was often in the crate to keep her calm and was walked on a leash so she wouldn’t run or jump.
On the 8th day, Hodges was scheduled to work and her son Brandon went downstate after taking care of Sadie. Hodges put Sadie in the crate and had her son, Brandon, let Sadie out of the crate and giver her water a couple times during the day. Sadie was in a cool, shaded area on the porch which was a better option than being in the hot and muggy house. RAC Animal Control Officer DeeDee Mendyk visited on that 8th day, leaving a note on the door with a warning/violation and a note to call RAC with an update on Sadie. The violation/citation that Cindy received on June 17th was vague with no specific information about the offense other than the general information printed on the ticket about her violating animal laws of the State of Michigan and local ordinance #2 of Roscommon County. Hodges works 12-hour shifts and the RAC’s answering machine was not working so there was no way for Hodges to know about the citation and call them when they were open.
Mendyk visited again the next day. Hodges’ daughter pulled into the driveway behind her. Mendyk said that Sadie had an empty water bowl. Hodges’ daughter called her mom at work. Hodges talked to Mendyk and told her that Sadie was on a plan of care from Surrie Clinic and that she was improving. When Mendyk mentioned the empty water bowl, Cindy told her that Sadie is well cared for and her water bowl is filled several times a day.
On June 24th, around 7 pm, three police officers and two RAC officers showed up with a warrant to seize Sadie. Hodges asked a police officer for a reason but they did not answer her question. They took Sadie that evening which meant Hodges could not do anything or talk to anyone until Monday. On Monday, she called the Prosecutor’s Office who told her there were “no charges yet” but that they would probably bring them up that day or the next. He told her to call RAC. Hodges called RAC and the answering machine was finally working so she left several messages. She told them she wanted to pick up her dog and that she was following a plan of care and had another follow-up appointment scheduled with Surrey Clinic. She asked them to take her to the appointment if they wouldn’t allow her to do so.
Around 5 pm that day, RAC Animal Control Officer Jenny Lanvers called Hodges to tell her that Sadie was not her dog – that she was owned by John Hodges and Casey Hodges (as appears on the licensing information and South Shore animal records). Hodges told her that John was her husband who had died twelve years ago and that Casey Hodges didn’t live at her house and had nothing to do with the ownership of Sadie. Hodges asked what justification they had to seize Sadie on a Friday night. Lanvers said, “we are resting her for surgery.” Hodges asked if she could visit Sadie and was told, “No. No one can visit her.” They would also not allow Hodges’ friend, who is a nurse, to foster her instead of having Sadie stay at the shelter.
Sadie got an exam and x-rays at the Animal Surgical Center of Michigan in Flint on June 30th. The Center’s letter dated July 7th said that moderate to severe pain was evident and that the injury causes severe pain, lameness and dysfunction in ambulation and capability to use the paw. The letter states that untreated, “pain would likely decrease in time but remain at a severe level for an indefinite period.” Any statements about Sadie needing to have surgery, however, would obviously be in the best interests of the veterinarian clinic doing the surgery as they would profit from the outcome and not be an un-biased third party.
Hodges learned that RAC got surgery for Sadie which Hodges did not give permission for. Hodges says that surgery on an injury that has already begun to heal can be complicated and there are many factors to consider besides the cost of surgery – including infection anesthesia, blood clots, recovery and other issues. It’s also very hard to keep a health, active 13-month-old dog calm. Charges were finally filed against Hodges and and she got a lawyer.
I contacted Animal Control Director Terry McKillop about Sadie but he declined to comment on the on-going case and what led to Sadie’s seizure. A Freedom of Information request (FOIA) was also sent to the County to get information regarding any Veterinarian records they had for Sadie and what criteria was used to get the judge to sign off on the warrant to seize the dog before charges were filed.They refused to turn over the records, citing that the documents were part of an ongoing investigation and exempt from FOIA.
The documents that the County did make available included citations that Hodges received for Sadie in June of 2016 for having a Dog at Large and no license – plus three other similar citations for Sadie and a black Lab since 2013. All citations listed Cindy Hodges as the owner of the dogs. These documents also irresponsibly show Cindy Hodges’ birthday and driver’s license number, information that is supposed to be redacted by the County before being released to the public. When I asked if there were any complaints from individuals or Veterinarians regarding the owner’s treatment of her dog, Sadie, the County said that no written records relevant to the request were located.
Hodges is heartbroken over this situation and misses Sadie tremendously. She says, “I am very hurt that someone would suggest I would be abusive to an animal. I am a caregiver. I live my life to help people when I can. I am 62-years-old. I have been a widow for almost 12 years and married 35 years prior to that. I have raised seven children, have sixteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Abuse and Cindy Hodges do not go together. The people who are responsible for this wrongdoing are not nice. I took my dog to get care when she was injured. I followed the plan of care. I chose to get a second opinion when South Shore Vet accused my son of lying about Sadie’s discharge instructions. No medical professional ever told me surgery was the only option. I hope this injustice never happens to anyone else.”
According to Hodges, the County has made her the following offers:
1. She can accept the misdemeanors and pay $4,000 for the surgery. The misdemeanors would go away in two years if there are no other offenses. She would have two years to pay for the surgery.
2. She can pay $4,000 for the surgery immediately and only get charged with two civil infractions (dog at large and no license).
3. Pay the two tickets and surrender Sadie to RAC.
Hodges says she will not make a deal. She says, “I am not guilty of anything. I want Sadie back. I am not an abuser. I didn’t authorize surgery and no qualified medical person ever told me Sadie had to have surgery. What really baffles me is why they would give Sadie back to me if they think I am an abuser?”
Hodges’ pre-trial was rescheduled for September 18th and the trial set for October 21st.