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The living room of Florence Vanosky's central-Phoenix home is filled with pictures of family, but for years Vanosky's only roommate had been her dog--a purebred golden retriever named Scooter.
Now Vanosky lives alone. On April 9, an investigator for the Arizona Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals removed Scooter from Vanosky's property--while Vanosky was at the grocery store--and within 30 minutes had the dog euthanized without Vanosky's knowledge, let alone her permission.
Treva Slote, the executive director and founder of the Arizona SPCA, a private, nonprofit organization, says she had no choice when she responded to an anonymous call and found the dog suffering.
A veterinarian's report taken that day reveals that, in all likelihood, cancer had spread through Scooter's body. The dog had difficulty breathing, couldn't stand and was incontinent. Her hindquarters were infested with fly eggs.
But the question remains: Did Slote have the right to enter Vanosky's property, take the dog and have it euthanized?
Vanosky says no.
She knew Scooter was sick, but she wanted the dog to die naturally, at home.
"I don't know what to say anymore. It was a mean trick," she says.
Vanosky, almost 80 years old, is a woman of striking looks--slim, with pretty, silver hair--but she has heart trouble and difficulty hearing. Still, she and her home are immaculate, and she cared for Scooter every day.
She fixed Scooter rice in the morning, lettuce at noon and dog food in the evening. She shooed the flies away, and helped the dog in and out of the house.
Scooter spent a lot of time sleeping under shade trees in Vanosky's backyard. Vanosky says that's where she left Scooter the morning of April 9, when she and a friend walked to a nearby grocery store.
Slote says she found Scooter lying in the driveway of Vanosky's home when she responded to an anonymous complaint about Scooter's condition. The dog had no identification, just a flea collar. In her report, Slote writes that the dog was "lying in driveway in full sun with flies swarming. First impression--dead."
But the dog was alive. Slote knocked on the front and back doors of Vanosky's house, but when no one answered, she left a notice and loaded Scooter into her car. Slote brought the dog to Emergency Animal Clinic in Phoenix, where a diagnosis was made: Breast cancer had spread to Scooter's lungs and bones.
Slote approved euthanasia and cremation.
Sue Wilkerson, director of technical services for Emergency Animal Clinic, says the clinic is authorized by SPCA officials to euthanize animals without an owner's permission.
"This dog was critical. This dog was dying," Wilkerson says after reviewing Scooter's chart.
When Vanosky and her friend returned from the grocery store, Scooter was gone from the backyard and the gate was wide open.
The friend--who asked to remain anonymous--called Slote and learned of Scooter's demise.
"We didn't appreciate it, the way they went about it," the friend says.
Slote says the friend couldn't understand her on the phone when she tried to explain that the dog had been euthanized, so she ended up screaming, "We had to kill the dog!"
"It was awful," Slote adds.
Slote says she is not concerned about the legality of entering Vanosky's property. "You don't charge people with trespassing when they are there for a benign reason," she says. "If there had been anything that we could do for this dog, we would have done it, and we would have tracked down the owner."
But because nothing could be done, she says she thought it best to euthanize the dog immediately.
"The dog was already suffering. Why extend it? That's not what we're here for. We are here for the animals, to reduce suffering. That's the entire premise of this organization."
Representatives from the American SPCA in New York City--which has no connection to the Arizona organization--say they are concerned about the legal issues such a situation raises.
Randi Hoffman, the group's spokeswoman, says, "The woman probably loved the dog. Maybe she couldn't afford medical care. But, you know, an animal is considered property unless the person is convicted in a court of some type of neglect."
Patty Keller, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, which oversees the Rabies/Animal Control division, says the county will not enter private property to remove an animal without the owner's permission.
Phoenix city prosecutor Tyler Rich says he has no idea how the law would apply to the euthanization of Scooter.
Ken White, executive director of the Arizona Humane Society, says his organization always makes every effort to contact law enforcement and get an escort before entering private property to remove a sick animal.
Slote says she considered calling police, but didn't want to wait.
She says, "Obviously, there was no intent to steal, in that thieves don't run around leaving great big notices on your door."
But Vanosky disagrees.
"I wanted [Scooter] to die the right way. It was a lot of work for me," she says. "I've cried, and I've cried, and I've cried, and I've cried."
Her neighbor Lee Stafford has paid Vanosky frequent visits since Scooter's death--always with one of her own dogs. Stafford, a dog breeder and volunteer with local animal-rights groups, is horrified by the SPCA's actions. She says she didn't know Vanosky before the incident.
On a recent afternoon, Vanosky reaches down to pet Jerry, Stafford's terrier. The dog wags its tail furiously and wriggles closer to Vanosky.
Will she get another dog?
She shakes her head. "Dogs like me, but I'm not gonna have any more. That was too much for me.