Sometimes you have to laugh, so that you don't cry. Just ask Francesca Rogier.
"I wouldn't believe this story if somebody told me," she says. "Honestly."
And yet...the fantastically far-fetched plotline that belongs to the story of Brindi the dog---Rogier's five-year-old brown mutt that was seized by the city after three attacks on other dogs, saved from euthanization by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge, and that continues to be held at the Dartmouth SPCA---is the third-rate novelist's narrative Rogier is living.
"I can't explain why things are the way they are," she says.
The conflict started in August 2007, when Brindi was tied up by a thin leash in front of her East Chezzetcook home while Rogier ran inside to change before driving to the store.
"The next I knew," Rogier says, "there was screaming."
Brindi had broken free and dashed her front yard's length to the road, attacking a leashed dog that was walking by. Rogier says it was a shock: "On the last day of obedience training. I had her in a 'lie down and stay' in the middle of a classroom and about 40 dogs were trailing past."
Rogier apologized and offered to pay to have the dog checked out. "Everyone around here is either connected by family or church or time. So I wanted them to understand that I was trying to do the right thing."
Rogier got a written warning from Animal Services.
Seven months later, in April 2008, Brindi and Rogier were in the yard. Brindi was unleashed and far enough away that, Rogier says, "I just couldn't reach and grab her." A dog on a leash was approaching. Rogier gave Brindi a command to stay.
"And then she kind of flexed."
Before Rogier caught up, Brindi attacked the second dog, causing tooth puncture wounds to the animal's chest.
Animal Services delivered a muzzle order for Brindi for any time the dog was not inside or secured on her own property.
Fast forward three months. July 2008. Incident three. Rogier says, "I'll never stop regretting what I did that day."
Rogier was bringing Brindi out back for a pee one early Sunday morning. She slipped out of Rogier's hands before her muzzle was on and ran around to the front of the house. "She knew there was a guy walking a dog. Without even seeing, she knew. If I had known I wouldn't even have touched the door."
The man was walking one dog, with another smaller dog in his arms. As Rogier turned the corner, she saw the man kicking Brindi in the head.
Four days later, two HRM animal control officers arrived at the door with another order paper. "It says that they are going to take Brindi and they are going to euthanize her. That's it. It was like they were speaking Chinese. I couldn't fathom how and why."
So the conflict started in August 2007. But the story---the real story---begins here. Because before Brindi's euthanization date---scheduled for two weeks after she was seized---Rogier sought legal counsel. And she thereby launched her official journey into sainthood or crackpotdom. Depending, of course, on your take.
Francesca Rogier arrived in Nova Scotia from Kentucky with Howard, a deaf half-collie, half-setter with a bad coat and scabs. After Howard died, Rogier decided her new dog would not---repeat: not---be high-needs.
What's that saying about god having other plans?
She saw Brindi's ad on petfinder.com. Month after month, she scrolled on by. "She seemed like a good dog," Rogier says, "but not a good fit for me because I wanted to take the time to work on the house."
Ah, the house.
The house is the circa-1862, one-and-a-half-storey Cape Cod Rogier bought for $55,000 in January 2006---furniture, dishes and linens included. It needed a new foundation and Rogier, an architect and former prof at the University of Kentucky, had drawn up plans for a reno, too.
In June 2007, Rogier ended up visiting the Cape Breton shelter where Brindi was living. She had been taken in two years earlier after being found tied up in the rain with a litter of puppies. She was not socialized, not spayed, never trained. She had never really had a home.
"You'd have to be a real creep to walk away from a dog that had been there for two years. You'd have to be a really big stinker," Rogier says.
She took her for a walk. Brindi, she remembers, was excited but well behaved. She filled out the paperwork. "Mutts are my favourite thing."
The shelter owner wouldn't take the standard fee for Brindi. "She just said, 'take her and give her a good life.'"
After Brindi was seized to be killed---that is, after the shock wore away and she could think---Rogier formulated a position: "It doesn't fit into any pattern of enforcement."
And with that argument, Rogier took the city to court.
She won. At least in a manner.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge Duncan Beveridge quashed Brindi's original euthanization order because the city failed, he wrote, to accord Rogier "even the most minimal requirements for procedural fairness." One example? In what the city called its "complete investigation" of the third attack, no one bothered to take a statement from, or even contact, Rogier.
Beveridge awarded Rogier costs. But he didn't order Brindi released---Rogier is unsure if her lawyer never asked or Beveridge never offered. But the city didn't get an order so it didn't budge. It continues, today, to hold Brindi at the SPCA shelter on Scarfe Court in Dartmouth.
Rogier---who had only ever been to court before the Brindi mess once, to fight a parking ticket ("and I paid it," she says)---goes back to court June 5 to answer to the city's second try---new charges stemming from the third attack incident. [See Correction below.]
But win or lose, it might not end there. HRM spokesperson Deborah Story says, "We'll wait until the present charges are seen to. Then we'll decide what course of action to take."
Neither party is backing down.
The city, you see, views this as black-and-white:
Here is a dog that has attacked three animals and whose owner is unable, or unwilling, to follow restraint orders. "Our bylaw clearly states the criteria for declaring a dog to be dangerous. And in this case that is what happened," says Deborah Story.
Francesca Rogier? She sees the story of Brindi in shades of grey:
Here is a dog that has had a terrible life, whose owner took her on when no one else would. "I got her spayed, I got her microchipped, I did her obedience training, I got her shots, I gave her regular baths...I tried to do everything right that I could," Rogier says.
"She had a problem [with territory]. I had mess-ups. We needed to do more training. I needed a fence. That's a little different than killing her. Taking her out of my home and killing her."
But black or white or grey, the question is: How can someone fight this for so long and so hard and risk losing so much?
Remember Francesca Rogier's house?
Rogier---about 50, short, wavy black hair and a black Columbia fleece---sits at her clutter-topped kitchen table dusting with her bare palm under random items---a Brindi donation jar, a calculator, envelopes, deodorant. Brindi's dried up beef bones still kick around the kitchen. Behind Rogier, a bumper sticker on the side of the fridge reads: "Well behaved women rarely make history."
The house has a striking view of Chezzetcook Inlet out the back, the calibre of vista that only approaches affordable anymore on Nova Scotia's eastern shore. Inside, the generous mouldings are intact and there's a built-in corner cabinet in the dining room. The floors, as you might expect with a 150-year-old house, are off-kilter.
Except "off-kilter" is the understatement of the century.
The back door is open. Well, let's call it ajar---a curtain's jammed in the crack and Tuck Tape holds it all in place. Another door? Same thing. Open a closet, look down and you can see a skating rink of ice. See, there's no foundation here. So there's no heat. No hot water. No water at all. A wobbly ramp leads to the kitchen door. "Why don't you sit in the sun? It's warmer," Rogier offers. The oven is turned on and left open in a fight against the cold. February, for its part, is winning.
The house has been jacked up since last summer---see-through where houses aren't supposed to be see-through.
The footings were poured July 12 and everything with Brindi and the city started two weeks later. "We're talking February here," Rogier says. "I have stopped my life cold, thinking if I devote 100 percent of my time to this, I can get her out faster." Rogier's architectural plans are still up on the kitchen wall. But in the meantime, the contractor has gone bankrupt.
"I'm facing everything in ruin," she says. "I don't know what to say."
Rogier may owe lawyers (she's now looking for her third) in the $70,000 range. By June, the $25-a-day shelter fees, if she is ordered to pay them by the provincial court, will hit $8,000. The city is using its no-added-cost in-house legal.
The elephant in this very cold room is the suggestion that perhaps Rogier is being made an example of.
"That is totally not the case," says HRM's Deborah Story. "We have developed these bylaws which are legal and binding. We have to operate under the terms of that bylaw. For us to just say, 'Oh, in this case we won't or in another case we won't [go this far]'...then the city has not performed its job."
Rogier says this. "If [the city] took someone else's dog tomorrow and they even did it the right way---like, let's say they did do an investigation, let's say they did charge them [at the time of the incidents]. Do you think that owner is going to fight to get that dog back? After what happened to me? I don't think so."
If not---or if not only---being made an example of by the city, Rogier has certainly become an example of a cause bolstered by online social networking. She started a blog about her experiences, which led to a Facebook page started by a Calgary supporter she's never met. "Brindi's Angels" are firing off letters from across the country and into the southern United States.
To these dog-lovers, Rogier is a saint.
To some others? A crackpot.
She's probably neither, and at the same time a little bit of both. She may have started this fight because she believed the process for seizing her dog was unfair, and she may have had that belief confirmed by a judge. But mostly she can't win no matter what.
If she succeeds June 5 in provincial court---if she gets Brindi back---she'll be, to some, that lady with the dangerous dog on East Chezzetcook Road. Small town rumours die hard.
If she loses? If Brindi is euthanized or sent to another shelter for re-adoption? She'll be, to some, that crazy lady who lost her dog and a big chunk of her money along with her.
"There will be people who are angry with me no matter what I do," Rogier says.
And still, she keeps doing it.
We're standing at the kitchen table now. The snow is coming down in a shag carpet and there's sanding only on East Chezzetcook Road. But it's hard to get away because two hours later there's still more to this story---death threats, a hunger strike, Rogier's take on the SPCA.
Rogier laughs. She laughs. It's pretty much all she can do. She laughs in awkwardness and sincerity and exasperation---"If you can't save a dog, what good are you? There's a lot of things you work for in your life. You work for poverty, you work for peace. But just saving a dog's life shouldn't take that much trouble. Really. Especially a dog like this. You know, people ask me: 'Why don't you just let it go?' It's like, what hope do I have of accomplishing anything if I can't save a dog?"Correction: The original version of the story stated Rogier "goes back to court June 5 to answer to the city's second try---new charges stemming from the three old attack incidents." The new charges actually relate only to the third attack incident, and the text was changed to reflect that on April 1, 2009.