He was sobbing, said he was a veteran, had PTSD, had a service-related traumatic brain injury, and was grieving the loss of his dog.
The public contacts the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in a variety of ways, but my experience has been the most interesting contacts come by phone.
The old man told me the story of how his dog came to die. He gave me an inaccurate timeline so it wasn’t until the end that I could piece it all together. Here’s the linear timeline with names changed.
It seems that more than two years ago, the caller befriended another man who was down on his luck and homeless. The dog owner offered to feed the man and provide lodging for a “short period of time,” until he could get back on his feet.
What was meant to be “three or four days,” soon turned into seven months. The formerly homeless man was living in a derelict motor home on the property next to the house.
Each morning, the homeowner opened his back door to let his dog, Olive, out to do her business and return. It was no secret, the lodger did not like the yellow Labrador cross or her occasional barking. And after seven months, everything between the two men became a point of irritation.
Olive’s owner decided enough was enough and began to pressure the man to leave. The other man inherited some property and converted that to cash. Olive’s owner asked for some fair recompense for seven months’ food and lodging.
“How much?” asked the man.
“I figure a fair amount is $1,500 for use of the motor home and the same for food, toilet, laundry, etc.,” said the homeowner.
The man reached in a pocket and pulled out a roll of cash and handed the $3,000 over.
Angered, the lodger allegedly said, “Dogs really like antifreeze.”
The homeowner took the threat as said. The next day, Olive bounded out of the house, did her business, and was allegedly called by the lodger over to the motor home where a bowl of the sweet-tasting, deadly liquid waited.
The homeowner came out when Olive didn’t return in time to see the lodger refilling the bowl. Olive died of acute kidney failure that night.
The old man put his dog in a plastic trash bag at the veterinarian’s office, took her home, and placed her in his freezer. He called the police. They gave him a case number and said it was a he-said, he-said without other witnesses.
“I warned you, dogs like antifreeze,” said the lodger allegedly as he walked off the property for the last time.
Olive was in the freezer for six months before the old man could bring himself to bury her in the backyard.
His unresolved grief soon converted to trying to hold the former lodger accountable. There it has remained for more than two years.
He contacted an attorney. According to Olive’s pet dad, the lawyer said that for $7,000 up front, he could come with a veterinarian and pathologist in tow, dig up the dog and prove it was killed by antifreeze poisoning.
Olive’s dad was calling to find out if that was even possible because, “As a veteran I’ve buried a lot of people and some animals.”
He was right. What was promised was a near impossibility unless the counselor was misinformed, which is likely.
After we talked and I probed a bit more, the call ended with the old man saying he’d do better if he focused on his new pup, Gino.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.