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    Posted June 22, 2011 by
    nannybanany
    Location
    Seattle, Washington

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    The Boy in a Dog Suit: Abused and neglected, now the center of a nasty custody battle

     

    "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will  not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man." - Mark Twain

     

    Two months after a rescued pit bull named Joel was confiscated from  his foster mother, Dr. Suzanne Fiala, while at a doggie day care center  in West Seattle, the custody battle between Dr. Fiala and Dogs Deserve  Better (DDB) has turned nasty.

     

    Dr. Fiala had a verbal agreement with Kelly Page, a representative  from DDB to adopt Joel. Dr. Fiala began to develop growing concerns over  the Chip-in donations received by DDB for Joel’s care. A majority of  the expenses were paid for by Dr. Fiala with the agreement that she  would be reimbursed. When she questioned Page regarding the donations  for Joel’s care, their relationship grew cold without any resolution.  Once Dr. Fiala signed and mailed Joel’s adoption contract, she emailed  her concerns to Tamira Thayne, founder of DDB, which were forwarded to  Marie Belanger, the regional representative in Indiana. When Dr. Fiala  was finally contacted by Belanger, she was greeted with hostility and  there were no plans to investigate.

     

    Prior to Dr. Fiala expressing her concerns, the news of the adoption  was posted on DDB’s Facebook page. Supporters of Joel and DDB were  ecstatic “Oh Joel Fiala, love it! There is absolutely no better place  for Joel to be. You have given him love like he has never known and he  went from the edge of death to the luckiest dog in the world!” wrote  Ashley George, volunteer for DDB- WA.

     

    On April 14, approximately two hours after Dr. Fiala dropped Joel off  at doggie day care, she received a message from DDB saying that her  adoption contract had been rejected and that Joel had been seized  directly from the day care center. She has not seen Joel since.

     

    According to DDB, the contract was denied because of two slash marks  under the statement “will not chain dog.” The words “will not” were  crossed out. Dr. Fiala denies crossing out those words.

     

    Given that Dr. Fiala had fostered 10 other dogs prior to taking in  Joel, and had been praised by DBB for her compassion and dedication, any  reasonable person would have picked up the phone to question whether or  not the cross marks were intended. If not, a new contract would have  been sent for signature. This never took place and DDB accused Dr. Fiala  of intending to keep Joel chained, which goes against the very  principal of their organization. Dr. Fiala believes the contract was  denied in retaliation for questioning Page’s ethical conduct in handling  the donations.

     

    Dr. Fiala decided to fight the DDB for custody of Joel. A Facebook  page called Bring Joel Home was created which to date has gained over  2600 supporters from around the world. Since then, DDB has brought up  new allegations against Dr. Fiala.

     

    DDB posted an article on their Facebook page written by Dr. Fiala in  2003 regarding her battle with bipolar disorder, with the intent to  discredit her mental stability in adopting Joel.

     

    In a book written by Thayne, “Scream Like a Banshee: 29 Days of Tips  and Tales to Keep Your Sanity as a Doggie Foster Parent,” Thayne writes  about what triggers her “mania” and has considered taking  anti-depressants in the past, “as depression runs on both sides of my  family.” Her obsession with rescuing chained dogs has sometimes gotten  the best of her, but she has since found balance. Dr. Fiala too has  found balance, so the claims of her mental stability over an article  written 8 years ago are irrelevant.

     

    The other allegations refer to the dogs Dr. Fiala had fostered in the  past and were returned. What they didn’t specify is the reason the dogs  were returned.

     

    The first dog, a pit bull/staffie mix named Luna, was billed as  'wonderful with dogs, kids and cats.' After proper introduction, Luna  almost killed Dr. Fiala’s cat. Dr. Fiala contacted Page and told her she could not keep the dog and risk endangering her other pets.

     

    Shortly after Dr. Fiala took in 3 pit bull puppies until her son was  critically injured in a near fatal accident and hospitalized in  intensive care. Dr. Fiala asked Page to take the puppies temporarily  while she stayed by her son’s side. Her son was released from the  hospital 12 days later and Dr. Fiala had taken the puppies back until  they were all adopted.

     

    Next came another dog and her three 4-month old puppies which Dr.  Fiala had taken in for a month until her son had to return to the  hospital for follow-up surgery. Again, Page took the dogs temporarily  for 5 days until Dr. Fiala’s son was released from the hospital. The  dogs were then returned to Dr. Fiala.

     

    In her book, Thayne writes about a chow named Cyclone that she had to  put down because it attacked her. The only way she escaped severe  injury or death was by hitting the dog in the head with a pot and pan. I  don’t think anyone can blame Thayne for her actions in what must have  been an extremely frightening moment. As sad and unfortunate as it is,  some dogs are too risky to be rehabilitated. Dr. Fiala’s reason for  giving back Luna is equally justified. As Thayne writes in her book, “I  no longer take in dogs that don’t get along with others. With me  traveling so much, we have a real need for harmony here. I know my  limits and choose to stay within them, for the safety of all the dogs  and for my own sanity.”

     

    Thayne also reiterates in her book to always take care of yourself  first and move on from your mistakes as a foster. “I harbor only good  intentions for my foster dogs. Even though I sometimes make mistakes, I  know I did my best; I let go of the consequences and learn from them,  but continue in a positive direction.”

     

    Except for Luna, Dr. Fiala did continue in a positive direction by  taking all the dogs back when she was able and cared for them until they  were adopted.

     

    What about Joel? Taking Joel at a critical time during his  rehabilitation was not in his best interest. In an article on DDB’s  website written by Debbie Dobson, owner of “Good Dog!” Animal Behavior,  she writes, “The process of socializing and rehabilitating a dog who has  been confined requires a tremendous commitment – it may take a year or  more to see real progress.” Though most dogs are quick to adjust in  their new homes, Joel and his sister Julie were mentally scarred and  abused as observed by Page. “You can’t raise a hand above their heads  without them ducking,” according to Page in an article by Ralph Nichols,  B-Town Blog, February 15, 2011. Joel had only been with Dr. Fiala a  little over 2 months before he was taken. He was not your typical case  and definitely not ready to be abruptly removed from the only real home  he knew.

     

    DDB did not take into consideration the consequences it would have on  Joel before seizing him. Again, given Dr. Fiala’s positive relationship  with DDB prior to this incident, a follow-up to the alterations on the  contract should have been conducted for Joel’s sake. If Dr. Fiala did  plan on chaining Joel, DDB had every right to take him. But since her  intention was never clarified, DDB was hasty and irresponsible in their  actions without any explanation or any regard to how it would affect  Joel’s rehabilitation progress.

     

    In early June, the first round in court had given DDB temporary  custody of Joel. Though it was a huge set back for Dr. Fiala, it was not  the end. The judge’s decision was based on temporary custody only for  what the law considers ‘property’. Joel will to remain with DDB until  all evidence is presented and ownership is determined.

     

    When I asked Dr. Fiala, why is bringing Joel home so important to  you, why not just let go? She replied, “How does one explain the bonds  of love that make a family? Joel and I share a bond that goes beyond  words. Linear measurements of time really don’t apply in the realm of  the spirit, the soul, the heart.”

     

     

    “I know that Joel needs me to feel truly safe and truly joyous in his  life. How do I know? I just know. I am a highly intuitive person. Joel  and I know one another. I know what makes him nervous – sudden noises  and gestures, males in general, large crowds. I know what makes him  happy – playing with his doggie friends and my children, chewing on a  bone in the sun, knowing that I am nearby. I know his sense of humor –  barking like a girl when he is excited, stealing my side of the bed when  I get up at night, playing hide and seek when my daughter hides in the  closet and he knows where she is the whole time, but he lets her think  she is clever, or bringing my shoes out one by one by one. And I know  what brings him peace and serenity – sleeping with his head on my  pillow, lying close to me when he falls asleep, warm, and with a full  tummy. And conversely, Joel knows me as well. He can sense my mood, my  sadness, my goofiness or joy in the same manner. He is my best friend.  Joel will survive wherever he is. But surviving and living his best life  where he is meant to be are very different things. This poor little boy  has suffered so much, and I made a vow to be there for him. Asking me  if I could move on is asking me to turn my back on him when he needs me,  when he can’t speak for himself. And I will not, I cannot, leave him  behind.”

     

    Supporters of Dr. Fiala and DDB have been battling it out on various  Facebook pages. The battle has turned into an all out war between the  two sides with vicious name calling and allegations. Meanwhile, there is  a boy out there in a dog suit that would love nothing more than to be  back at home with his family and a woman determined to bring him back.

     

    References:

     

    Video courtesy by Anthony Rivisto.

     

    Tamira Ci Thayne (2009). Scream Like Banshee: 29 Days of Tips and Tales to Keep Your Sanity as a Doggie Foster Parent (Kindle Location 1178). Crescent Renewal Resource. Kindle Edition.

     

    Debby Dobson. Rehabilitating Chained or Confined Dogs. Dogs Deserve Better website: http://www.dogsdeservebetter.org/rehab.html.

     

    Ralph Nichols (2011). Joel And Julie, Emaciated Pit Bulls Rescued In Burien, Are Now Improving. B-town Blog.

     

    Bring Joel Home Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/BringJoelHomeWA?ref=ts.

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