Born twelve years ago in a rural country setting south of Chicago to a litter of seven brothers and sisters, Pepper, a Labrador Retriever was welcomed into a home that was only to be temporary.
Similar to child custody litigation, he was unfortunately used as a tool, while separated from his rightful owner during a contentious divorce. The arduous trial lasting years would make National headlines, since no laws existed at the time protecting neither the litigant nor animal.
Despite numerous similar cases heard in other States for pet recognition, shamefully your pet is viewed as a table, lamp or similar inert "object."
From this, "Peppers Bill" was created for introduction before the Illinois General Assembly while efforts from courageous Illinois Senator Linda Holmes would take precedence making it to the house floor for the 100th Regular Session.
Illinois Senate Bill 1261, aptly titled Ownership For Companion Animal, would have its first reading on February 9th, 2017, pass the Illinois Senate on April 26th, 2017, pass the Illinois House of Representatives on May 30th, 2017 and become law on August 25th, 2017. Almost sweeping votes, one is left to wonder why it had taken so long.
From this law now provides for the best interest of the animal. Similar to child custody: who cares for the pet, feeds them, and spends most time with them.
* SPOILER ALERT BELOW FOR THOSE WHO PURCHASED THE BOOK *
Years later, Pepper now lives with his rightful owner where he enjoys daily hikes, frequent travel, and hogging the bed wherever he lays his head.
From this process, a seed had been planted further pursuing unfair animal practices that other States abide by similar law. Much larger and more important than Peppers trial, exists today a wider calling for Animal Liberation and Welfare. That they be recognized as living being sentient creatures holding the same ability to reason, love, and experience pain just as we do.
While man may brandish a larger stick and an assumed higher intellect, should be used for compassion and empathy as their guardian rather than for domination and cruelty.
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
~ Mark Twain ~
Forgot our Boarding Papers, so off we went skiing with Pepper in tow.
Potty break and hike along I-25.
On one of many trails.
Two beds, yet would insist we sleep in one.
Day of the final trail date on our way home.
Day at the Beach
Many interested have inquired if Pepper is still alive. This past November 2018, Pepper celebrated his 10th birthday. Recent veterinarian visits and x-rays have determined he suffers from severe arthritis in his back legs, however he remains in great spirits while taking regular pain medication. He still enjoys his hikes while on more forgiving trails, less hilly and not as far.
UPDATE: December 22, 2020.
When a mass was discovered on our pet Labrador Retriever, Pepper, it was suggested he would not survive overnight and euthanasia would be the most humane gesture. This, two weeks before Christmas day. Refusing euthanasia as an option, Pepper would receive additional medications and come back home by our choice rather than the alternative.
His condition deteriorating by the hour and not expected to survive the night, we showered him with attention and began searching for burial arrangements.
Hanging on until the next morning, we refused in letting Pepper go ultimately taking him in for a second and then third opinion while arguing against euthanasia. The subsequent veterinarian visits led us down a rabbit hole of ultrasounds, multiple blood samples being drawn, x-rays, liver analysis, and repeated exploratory testing to determine the cause of his illness. After two days of additional testing, it was determined that Pepper's gallbladder may have ruptured. Rushed to the emergency, fluids were then drawn determining that caustic bile had leaked into his abdomen and exposing his other vital organs from his perforated organ.
Once again, refusing euthanasia as an option, we were given two choices; Immediately Perform a costly and invasive emergency abdominal exploratory surgery or monitor Pepper overnight on intravenous fluids. Opting for surgery, I argued, we already knew he was dying and despite any amount of medications or fluids being pumped into him, he would not survive the night.
Unable to be by Pepper's side during the entire ordeal due to COVID, we waited in our car outside of what is considered the Mayo Clinic of Veterinarian Care facilities where Pepper would undergo emergency surgical removal of his gallbladder and flushing of his body cavity of caustic bile. Upon surgically exposing his abdomen came confirmation that his gallbladder had, in fact, ruptured. Under optimum conditions, dogs on average are given a 50-50 chance of survival during this type of invasive surgery. Due to Pepper's advanced age and prolonged and untreated ruptured gallbladder exposing his other vital organs, his estimated chances of survival were grim. One surgeon suggesting survival at only 15%, while other doctors suspected he would not even survive the surgery, nevermind the crucial 72 hours post-operation.
His prognosis bleak, we waited for the bad news while praying for the best. Hours would pass with no news being good news until two hours after surgery we were notified that he had survived one of the most advanced cases of abdominal septic infections the hospital had seen and that the next 72 hours would be critical for his survival.
Post-surgery, Pepper would lay on life support in intensive care with four tubes, both intravenously and catheters running from his body in all directions. Due to COVID, and prohibited from visiting, we would Face-Time with Pepper while in ICU over the phone monitoring his progress. Watching his lifeless body via video over the phone was heart wrenching. His blood test would reveal an abnormally high white blood cell count, liver enzyme levels that were fifty times higher than normal, and body temperature that continued to plummet. Over the next few hours survival seemed unlikely.
Back at home, depleted, we prayed and lit candles. The very next morning, the anticipated call would instead offer us a slight chance of hope informing us that Pepper had become the miracle dog of the ICU. Slowly, his blood sample readings began to stabilize and liver enzymes leveled. More time would pass as they fed him intravenously and pumped him with medications. Day two after surgery and extremely weak, Pepper would take his first brief walk and progressively beat the odds to the disbelief of hospital staff.
Day three, Christmas Day, 72 hours after invasive surgery, it was announced Pepper could be released and come home for what would be our best Christmas together. He had survived those most crucial hours despite the odds and what his surgeon, after performing countless similar operations, suggested was the worst case of septic invading infection from a ruptured gallbladder he had ever witnessed. In truth, Pepper was not supposed to be alive.
Patiently we waited in our car until the hospital double doors opened until Pepper slowly walked out making his appearance. His smile slight, and his walk wavering, however, his unmistakable antenna tail would wag profusely upon our greeting. Unable to contain our excitement, we lifted him inside the car into the same bed that he had arrived only days earlier and were handed a multitude of medications, instructions and documents. With that, to hell with COVID and social distancing, I hugged the nurse and thanked her and the remarkable staff for saving Pepper's life on Christmas Day.
As suggested by many; why even waste your time or staggering amounts of money on a mere dog already in his advanced senior years? On the very first visit, I sat there in the parking lot on a cold frigid December evening, humbly, surrounded by dozens of cars filled with various walks of people, their dogs, and cats; each waiting their turn. Insistently on their phones, many crying, we all held pilgrimage for promising news. Once again, I was reminded of how our pets have become embedded in our lives, their happiness, well being, and unconditional love they give in return.
Pepper is home now, going on 96 hours post-surgery. He takes 10 different medications every few hours, while each hour and day, his prognosis for survival remains promising. Unable to climb the stairs, I refuse leaving him alone each night, instead, camping out on the couch next to his bed. "A miracle" as described by his nurses and doctors.
No cancer was ever found despite that first x-ray prognosis and flippant suggested euthanasia. It doesn't matter, even with a 15% chance of survival, it offered me hope. Yes, yes, yes, to the skeptics, I understand because of his age, he may only survive a little while longer. However, the alternative would have been a lifetime of self-scrutiny and obsessiveness over the life I would have willingly chosen in taking with the minimalist effort on a whim. Did I merely buy time for what is already an older dog on borrowed time? Contrary, I would like to think I will find peace in knowing I did all I could to save another being, which happened to be a dog and most importantly, my best friend. Be damned 2020 and COVID, but what a wonderful Christmas present for certain.
I can only hope that one day as we do now, looking back in wonder the absurdity of woman's suffrage and the atrocity of slavery. With certainty, we will recognize the disparity and unethical treatment of animals and the commodity we have created of them despite their right to life.
Paul Barthel presides in Cary, Illinois and is the Author of Never Left Behind. One man's refusal for the status quo in how we treat animals.
First of all, I am humbled by the outpouring of concern for Pepper and the story of his life. Thank you all.
As of this writing, Pepper's health has steadily been improving with each passing day. He remains on 10 different medications taken daily, although they are now just starting to run out. His walks are still somewhat labored and cautious, but his spirits seem genuinely optimistic.
My concern now is knowing how the actual surgery had taken place and if his hip dysplasia was taken into consideration. He seems much weaker, even to the point of collapsing on his back legs at times. I am hoping this is due to the medications and the recent surgery. From what I understand, during surgery, they spread him almost full eagle to have access to the abdomen. I cannot imagine his rear legs taped for two continuous hours without repercussions and possible ligament damage. However, I am forever grateful he is alive. Time will tell.
He is definitely spoiled. Peppers meals are cooked hot and fresh. I make a production out of cooking his foods while he watches me stirring the pot over the stove. Anxious, we let his food cool, talking all the while. Come evening, we lay together on the floor or I carefully guide him to bed, grateful for yet another day.
No regrets. Thank you.
PREVIOUS CASE REFERENCE MATERIAL
SENTELL V. NEW ORLEANS& C.R. CO., FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, DOMESTICATED ANIMALS HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED PERSONAL PROPERTY. IN AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE, THE SUPREME COURT ARTICULATED THIS VIEW IN 1897 IN STATING THAT “[B]Y THE COMMON LAW, AS WELL AS BY THE LAW OF MOST, IF NOT ALL, THE STATES, DOGS ARE SO FAR RECOGNIZED AS PROPERTY.” AND, WITH FEW EXCEPTIONS, THIS ANCIENT DOCTRINE REMAINED UNQUESTIONED FOR ANOTHER CENTURY.
ZAGER V. DIMILIA, 524 N.Y.S. 2D 968, (1978). VALUE OF THE PROPERTY SHOULD NOT BE APPLIED IN A CASE WHERE…A LIVING CREATURE IS INVOLVED”.
RAYMOND V. LACHMANN, 695 N.Y.S.2D 308 (1999); COURTS IN NEW YORK, MARYLAND, AND TEXAS HAVE ORDERED SHARED CUSTODY OR VISITATION OF ANIMAL COMPANIONS, BASED SOLELY OR AT LEAST PARTLY ON THE INTERESTS OF THE ANIMALS AT ISSUES.
ASSAL V. KIDWELL, CIVIL NO. 164421 (MD. CIR.CT., MONTGOMERY CTY. DEC. 3, 1999); ONE SHORTCOMING OF THE LAW IS THAT IT HAS NOT MODERNIZED TO DISTINGUISH PETS FROM FARM ANIMALS. WHEN ANIMALS WERE PART OF THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION, PERHAPS IT MADE SOME LEGAL SENSE TO TREAT THEM THE SAME AS FACTORY EQUIPMENT. HOWEVER, THE TIME IS LONG PAST WHEN THE LAW SHOULD RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE NO LONGER AN AGRARIAN SOCIETY AND THAT TRACTORS AND SIMILAR EQUIPMENT HAVE, IN FACT, HEAVILY REPLACED ANIMALS AS A MEANS OF FARM PRODUCTION OR FAMILY INCOME.
ARRINGTON V. ARRINGTON, 613 S.W.2D 565 (TEX APP. 1981). COURTS DECIDING CUSTODY ISSUES ARE INCREASINGLY FINDING THE INTERESTS OF ANIMALS MUST BE CONSIDERED. COURTS IN NEW YORK, MARYLAND, AND TEXAS HAVE ORDERED SHARED CUSTODY OR VISITATION OF ANIMAL COMPANIONS, BASED SOLELY OR AT LEAST PARTLY ON THE INTERESTS OF THE ANIMALS AT ISSUES.
BENNETT V. BENNETT. FLORIDA DISTRICT COURT’S JUDGMENT OF DISSOLUTION IN ALL AREAS EXCEPT ONE: POSSESSION OF THE DOG, “RODDY.” FOLLOWING A HEARING IN WHICH THE HUSBAND ASSERTED HIS CLAIM TO THE DOG AS A “PREMARITAL ASSET,” THE TRIAL JUDGE GRANTED POSSESSION OF RODDY TO MR. BENNETT. HOWEVER, SYMPATHETIC TO THE WIFE, THE COURT ALSO GRANTED VISITATION RIGHTS TO MS. BENNETT EVERY OTHER WEEKEND AND EVERY OTHER CHRISTMAS. BOTH PARTIES FILED A SERIES OF MOTIONS CONTESTING THE COURT’S DECISION.
DESANCTIS AND PRITCHARD, NO. 2990 EA 2001, 2002 PENNSYLVANIA SUP. CT., JULY 5, 2002. PARTIES HAD A SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT INCLUDING SHARED POSSESSION OF THE FAMILY PET. HUSBAND ASSUMED MORE THAN HIS SHARE OF THE MARITAL DEBT, IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS SHARED POSSESSION OF THE FAMILY PET. LATER, WIFE REFUSES TO COMPLY WITH THE AGREEMENT, HUSBAND PETITIONS THE COURT TO ENFORCE THE AGREEMENT. COURT. THE TRIAL COURT AND ALL HIGHER COURTS REFUSED TO RECOGNIZE THAT PARTIES CAN CREATE A SHARED PROPERTY INTEREST IN A PET; DESCRIBING HUSBAND’S COMPLAINT AS “SEEKING AN ARRANGEMENT ANALOGOUS, IN LAW, TO A VISITATION SCHEDULE FOR A TABLE OR A LAMP.”
RAYMOND V. LACHMAN, NEW YORK PLAINTIFF AND DEFENDANT HAD BEEN ROOMMATES AND PLAINTIFF’S CAT HAD LIVED WITH THEM. THE TWO SEPARATED AND DEFENDANT FELT THE CAT BELONGED WITH HIM. PLAINTIFF SOUGHT RELIEF TO OBTAIN PERMANENT CUSTODY OF HIS “PROPERTY”.
AKERS V. SELLERS. 114 IND.APP.660, 54 N.E.2D 779 CONTAINS MANY OF THE PROBLEMS IN PLACING A DOG. THE “TRUE VALUE” OF THE DOG TO THE PARTIES WAS NOT USED, BUT INSTEAD WAS SET ARBITRARILY AT $25. THE COURT RAISED THE QUESTION OF THE PROPRIETY OF USING COURT RESOURCES TO DETERMINE THE ISSUE OF THE DOG'S RESIDENCE, BUT CONCLUDED THAT BECAUSE DOGS GIVE GREAT COMFORT BY THEIR COMPANIONSHIP, THE COURT WOULD ADDRESS THE PROBLEM “WITHOUT ANY FEELING OF INJURED DIGNITY.” WHEN THE COUPLE SEPARATED, THE DOG WAS LEFT BEHIND, SO THE WIFE JUST “NATURALLY CAME INTO CUSTODY OF THE DOG.” THE COURT CHOSE TO AVOID THE QUESTION AS TO “WHETHER THE INTERESTS AND DESIRES OF THE DOG” SHOULD GOVERN THE DECISION OR THE “BRUTAL AND UNFEELING BASIS OF LEGAL TITLE.” APPARENTLY BASED ON THE HUSBAND’S LEAVING THE DOG WITH THE WIFE, THE COURT FOUND THAT HE HAD GIVEN THE DOG TO THE WIFE AND THAT “NO REASON WAS SHOWN WHY POSSESSIONSHOULD NOT ACCOMPANY OWNERSHIP.
THE 2000 “PERKINS CASE” IS PERHAPS THE MOST INFAMOUS PET CUSTODY DISPUTE. IN THIS CASE, AN AFFLUENT SAN DIEGO COUPLE LAUNCHED AN ALL-OUT WAR OVER THE CUSTODY OF “GIGI,” A LITTLE DOG WHO REPORTEDLY TOOK UP HALF OF THE PERKINS’ THREE-DAY DIVORCE TRIAL. THROUGHOUT THE COURSE OF THE LITIGATION, MS. PERKINS ALLEGEDLY INVESTED SOME $146,000 IN THE CASE TO FINANCE, AMONG OTHER THINGS, A “CANINE BONDING” STUDY CONDUCTED BY A PROFESSIONAL ANIMAL BEHAVIORIST AND A VIDEO ABOUT THE DOG TITLED “A DAY IN THE LIFE [OF GIGI].” SEE, FIGHTING LIKE CATS AND DOGS, P. 439).
JONATHAN RANKIN, A BOSTON ATTORNEY WHO RECENTLY LEFT THE FIRM GLICKMAN TURLEY TO OPEN HIS OWN ANIMAL LAW PRACTICE, “COURTS ARE ALWAYS BEHIND SOCIETY.”
"BY STATUTE OR BY PRECEDENT, POSITIVE CHANGES WILL EVENTUALLY IMPROVE FUTURE PET CUSTODY DISPUTES. “IF CORPORATIONS CAN BE PERSONS IN THE EYES OF LAW, IF SHIPS CAN BE PERSONS IN THE EYES OF THE LAW, THEN THE LAW SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIGURE OUT SOMETHING FOR ANIMALS.”
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