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Dog Theft Draws Eyes of National Groups

By Mike Gervais

April 12, 2005, BISHOP, CALIFORNIA -- Brian Vincent stands firm in his belief he did the right thing, despite the looming threat of jail time. "If I am convicted and if I do go to jail, I'm fully prepared to go on a hunger strike," said Vincent, a man whose unique story, which started here in the Owens Valley, has received international attention.

Vincent was arrested in February for stealing a small dog from a Chalfant Valley woman, who, Vincent alleges, was not taking care of the animal. A long-time animal rights advocate, Vincent - currently released on bond - faces a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail for what he describes as the rescue of a neglected dog named Tiger but what the Mono County District Attorney's Office considers "misdemeanor petty theft."

No trial date has been set in the case, and both the Mono County District Attorney and Animal Law - the San Francisco-based law firm representing Vincent - are trying to resolve the matter before it has to go to trial.

"The D.A. is doing a good job" in understanding Vincent's perspective and that of the dog's owner, said Vincent's attorney, Corey Evans. "There are discussions that would resolve the case," but no agreement has been met at this point. And besides, he added, "Vincent is more interested in the welfare of the dog than any criminal charges brought against him," Evans said.

"I failed (Tiger) and that's what breaks my heart," Vincent said, despondent that the dog was returned to its owner.

The Mono County D.A.'s Office did not respond to multiple phone requests by The Inyo Register to comment on the case.

For now, animal rights activists across the country are going to bat for Vincent with a heavy letter-writing campaign in an effort to get the charges against him dropped.

The incident for which Vincent may or may not be prosecuted could have been avoided, according to Vincent and his supporters, had Mono County Animal Control authorities done anything about Tiger's living situation.

Vincent said his attention was first drawn to Tiger's predicament while he was staying in Chalfant in January. He said he was out for a jog one day and saw Tiger chained in a back yard in "poor conditions" and without water or food. According to Vincent, Tiger's fur was matted with feces and the yard near his shelter (a cardboard box with no insulation) was littered with sharp objects and dangerous chemicals.

"He just looked miserable," Vincent said. Tiger was kept on a five-foot chain "that looks like it should be on a bull," not a dog the size of Benji. "He just looked miserable," he repeated.

He went to the owner and offered to buy the dog, but, according to Vincent, she refused, so he offered to buy and erect a full fence around the yard, at no cost to the dog's owner, so Tiger would be able run free without being able to escape from the yard. Once again, Vincent said, the owner refused.

Vincent's next step to safeguard the dog was to contact Mono County Animal Control, he said. On two occasions, said Vincent, he was informed by Animal Control that the department had been "working with the owner for a year" to improve the dog's living condition, but refused to remove the dog from the owner's custody.

Concerned for about a month that no one was going to help Tiger, Vincent finally stole the dog from the owner.

Later that day he was arrested by Inyo and Mono county officials for theft and incarcerated for three days in Inyo County Jail. He was later released on $5,000 bail and the charges were dropped to misdemeanor petty theft.

"Initially, when it happened I needed legal" and financial help, Vincent said. So he wrote letters and made phone calls to friends and sympathetic organizations to raise money to hire legal counsel.

His words caught the attention of international organizations such as The STAND Foundation and PETA, as well as numerous individuals the world over who have a soft spot for animals.

"Every day when I open my e-mail, there are at least 40 new messages," Vincent said, adding that he has received pledges for substantial donations toward his defense.

Through donations, Vincent has been able to hire Animal Law, a firm based out of San Francisco that specializes in animal cruelty cases.

According to Evans, Vincent's attorney, there have been a number of phone calls and e-mails pledging money to Vincent's defense, including one promised donation of $1,000 from an anonymous individual. The attention that the case has received has gone far beyond financial aid for Vincent to high reaching legal help.

The STAND Foundation, based in Southern California, has begun a petition to boycott not only Mono County but Mammoth Mountain Ski Area as well. It is the organization's goal - as stated on its Web site - to have the Mono County Board of Supervisors dismiss the Animal Control director and the control officer involved in the Tiger case for "failing to safeguard" the animal.

"Clearly, (Tiger's) guardian lacks the empathy" to care for such an animal, Vincent said, adding, "I think this woman forfeited her right to own this dog I think he deserves better."

NOTE from www.UnchainYourDog.org  - You can donate to Brian Vincent's legal fund at: www.standfoundation.org