Poor People's Dogs Killed Unless They Pay Outrageous Fines

The United States has a two-tiered system for pet-owning, according to a CNNMoney investigation. The findings cite the story of Gerilynn Aflleje, a California resident who had her 4-year-old Siberian Husky mix killed after she was unable to pay a $180 fine to a local animal shelter. The dog was dropped off at the Stockton shelter after getting lost. The shelter told Aflleje she had 24 hours to come up with the money, an impossible task for the unemployed woman. The dog was put to death after Aflleje failed to scrape together the fine before the deadline.

The report, by Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, demonstrates that this is not an isolated incident. Across the country, some animal control agencies seem to be targeting low-income pet owners and applying large fines to small infractions. Elizabeth Vasquez claims that her two dogs were actually in her backyard when animal control officers picked them up for being loose in the neighborhood. The Indio, California resident was able to use grocery money to get one of her dogs back, but the second one was killed before she could save another $200. 

Indio is a low-income city where 68% of the residents are Hispanic and many do not speak English. Last year, Riverside County inspectors swept through the city and fined pet owners up to $400 for infractions like failing to license their dog. According to the CNN report, they made some citations without ever having seen the animals. The sweep had the effect of nearly doubling the county's licensing revenue.

These tactics sometimes go beyond massive fines or killing pets. Mary Root is an 82-year-old woman from Havre de Grace, Maryland. She was fined $525 after a neighbor complained that her Chihuahuas were loose in the neighborhood. Root, on a fixed income, couldn't afford the fines and a medical situation forced her to miss a court hearing on the situation. A warrant was taken out for Root's arrest and she was jailed for two days in March. Root was presented with the option of paying over $7,000 in fines or spending a year in jail. Fortunately a local resident heard Root's story and helped bail her out. A pro bono attorney assisted in lowering the fine and Root's church helped her pay the fee. Her dogs were not harmed. 

When asked how economic inequality impacts these situations, Allan Drusys, chief veterinarian for Riverside County, told CNN, "It's not our fault that we don't go to the gated communities—we go there all the time, they refuse entry."

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