by Marianne Skoczek
On July 14, 1997, PHS humane officers Sue Brusatori and Stephanie Carter were patrolling in Redwood City when they received an "active" call that a man was beating his dog. Within 10 minutes, they had arrived at the scene to meet the reporting party. Joan Smallwood* told the officers that for the past year she had repeatedly witnessed her neighbor, Nick Draper*, beat his young German shepherd with a board, kick the dog, and beat her with his fist and with a chain he used to contain her in the backyard. She noted that she had also seen Draper throw rocks and a child's play bicycle at the dog, named Duchess. Her verbal efforts to intervene only caused Draper to yell back at her to mind her own business.
On this day, Smallwood was moving. Suddenly she heard loud yelps coming from Draper's backyard. As she watched from her bedroom window, Draper beat Duchess with a hose and then kicked her in the stomach, yelling at her the whole time. He then chained Duchess to a post, picked up the hose and blasted a strong stream of water in the frightened dog's face.
Officer Carter had joined PHS' field services department just a month and a half before and was in the middle of her officer training program. She had spent the past several weeks riding along with 12-year veteran Corporal Brusatori, observing, assisting, applying the law and gradually assuming greater responsibility for their cases. Duchess was her first animal abuse case and she remembers it vividly. "We looked down and could see Duchess. She had somehow wrapped her chain around a couple of poles and then squeezed herself under the deck, where she lay shivering."
Smallwood told the officers that the 30-year-old Draper appeared "out of control," and that she could no longer ignore the abuse he was routinely heaped on his frightened dog. She also mentioned that she had several times heard Draper yell at his wife and children and then go out to the backyard and beat Duchess.
Because of Draper's reported demeanor, Corporal Brusatori called the Redwood City Police Department for backup. When Officer A.P. Bailey responded, the PHS officers shared Smallwood's information with him; they then walked together to Draper's house.
Draper did not deny hitting his dog. He explained that he had come home from work to find that Duchess had chewed up a dirty diaper and that this had upset him; he hit Duchess to discipline her and show her who was "boss." He claimed that he had "only" hit her with an open hand, never with a fist. Corporal Brusatori asked to see Duchess, and Draper agreed to let the officers into his backyard. Still shaking Duchess was still hiding under the deck. She refused to emerge when Draper called her, and stuck her ground when, for several minutes, he tried to pull her out by yanking on her chain. Corporal Brusatori carefully described the scene in her report:
"I could see the dog's hip and leg area trembling and she went further under he deck as [Draper] tried to coax her out. Finally, I asked [Draper] to allow me to try to get Duchess out. I attempted to pull the dog out by puling on the chain. The dog was wagging her tail as I spoke to her. I reached under the deck and unhooked the chain from the choke collar around her neck. Duchess came out and continued to wag her tail until she saw [Draper]. Then she began to tremble and put her tail between her legs. While Officer Carter took down [Draper's] license information, I tested to see how Duchess would respond to my raising my hand over over." (This is a common method of determining if a dog has been hit.)
The report continued: "Based on the statements from [Smallwood] and seeing how Duchess responded to her owner, I believe that [Draper] did beat Duchess that day and has beaten her in the past. For this reason, [Draper] should lose custody of Duchess and face charge of crimes against animals. I request that this report be reviewed with the district attorney's office for the violation." The officers cited Draper and removed Duchess to the humane society, where she was placed in protective custody.
Corporal Brusatori's report was submitted to the District Attorney's office for review and deputy DA Christine Ford filed a criminal complaint against Draper. Over the next nine months the case slowly wound its way through the legal system. On April 9, 1998 Draper appeared before Judge Miram in Southern Municipal Court in Redwood City and pled no contest to the charge of cruelty. Two counts of threatening a witness (Joan Smallwood) were dropped. Judge Miram sentenced Draper to five days on county jail, placed him on two years court probation and ordered him to relinquish ownership of Duchess to PHS. Draper is also subject to search and seizure and cannot own or possess any animals during his probation period.
A new beginning
Eventually, Duchess returned to the shelter while justice cranked its slow wheels. Soon after the case was closed, she was lucky to meet an East Bay family who had headed west after hearing about Duchess from German Shepherd Rescue.
Maggie and Jeff** had recently visited their local shelter to find a dog for Maggie's father. At the shelter, the dogs there brought back memories of a German shepherd they'd had several years earlier in Panama. Their daughters, seven-year-old Amanda and Lauren, 15, had been begging for a dog, and the next thing Maggie knew she was talking to PHS and German Shepherd Rescue volunteer Linda Vartanian. The next day they came to PHS, and very quickly Duchess had a new home.
She's doing extremely well, too. "She loves to play; she'll spontaneously pick up a ball or her bone and start playing with it," Maggie says. "She just thrives on our attention." Though Duchess is still very submissive when she knows she's done something wrong, her new family is helping her slowly build confidence. And, of course, she's getting all the love she needs. "The girls are just crazy about her," notes Maggie. "She's made us all very happy."
* The names of both the reporting party and Duchess' original owner have been changed. ** Last name is withheld to protect Duchess in her new home.