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Owner Finds His Dogs but Is Still at Loss Figuring Out Fee

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Before getting into Ben Pisarski’s beef, a little about the hounds.

Their names are Huckleberry and Walter. Huckleberry, 9, is the dad and “Walter is his dumb kid,” according to Pisarski, who calls them “the boys” or “the love pigs.”

Frankly, bassets don’t do a whole lot except hang around the house. The boys accompany Pisarski when he jogs, but after about a quarter-mile, they simply stop and lie down. As watchdogs, they might bark at a stranger but, with the chips down, they’ll turn and walk away from trouble. On top of that, give them a whiff of fresh air and no leash, and they’re gone.

Which is what happened last Friday, when someone broke into the Laguna Hills condo Pisarski shares with his fiancee and made off with various items. In kicking in the door, the burglars let the boys escape.

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A good Samaritan driving in the area saw them and apparently took them to her office. She then called Animal Control, which picked up Huck and Walter.

When Pisarski returned home in the late afternoon and saw the door on the floor, he knew the boys would be gone. Couldn’t find their way back home? “No,” Pisarski said, “they aren’t that smart.”

After calling the police, Pisarski called the county’s Animal Control. Their phone response was fast and courteous, Pisarski said. Within half an hour, as Pisarski and his fiancee were still taking inventory, an Animal Control officer reported the dogs safe. An officer then delivered them to the condo.

Now, for his beef.

The officer, who Pisarski said was pleasant and understanding, said he had to charge Pisarski $60 for the dogs.

I’m sure animal control hears a million excuses about dogs running free, but wouldn’t you think a home burglary would exempt an owner from the service fee? Considering that Pisarski had just

been taken for hundreds if not thousands of dollars in stolen items, and considering that the burglars let the dogs out, couldn’t someone have just said, “Oh, don’t worry about the fee. You’ve had a rotten day. Glad you got your dogs back.”

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Pisarski thinks so. He wrote a half-serious, half-amusing letter to county officials, asking why, given the circumstances, he had to pay a “fine” for the dogs. As a frame of reference, he also noted that as a former crewman on the El Toro helicopter search and rescue team, he and others volunteered many hours to the county, never charging a cent.

I talked to Pisarski on Tuesday, four days after the break-in. It wouldn’t be accurate to say he’s seething. I’m not even sure he’s mad anymore. But he is disappointed that someone in the bureaucracy couldn’t have cut him some slack.

“I’m not out to pick on the county,” he said. “They’ve had enough abuse lately. It’s just mean. It’s a leadership thing. If an honest man or woman had a problem beyond their control and needed help, I would help them. Hands down, no questions asked, nothing expected in return. It’s no different with a government agency. The people who set policy have a lot of influence. I don’t think this is the message they want to get out to people.”

I have to go with Pisarski on this one, but Animal Control Director Judy Maitlen gave it her best shot. Pisarski wasn’t fined, she pointed out. He was paying the standard fee for the service he received.

“Do you really think the animal control officer should be out there deciding who should pay the fee and who shouldn’t?” she said. “I feel badly for him, this was an awful thing that happened, but from the perspective of the fee, it would be the same thing as if a kid or the gardener let the dogs out. Almost no one lets them out on purpose.

“For whatever reason a dog has gotten out, it’s not the neighbor’s fault, it’s not the taxpayer’s fault. People own animals, and sometimes things happen that are unfortunate. I’m sure he’s glad to get the animals back. If you want to be reasonable about this, public officials collect the fee that is adopted by the cities. We can’t be out there picking and choosing who should pay and who can’t.”

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She said the center takes in 30,000 animals a year. Any fees collected for impoundment are returned to the cities, she said.

All right. I don’t feel like stirring up needless trouble. Pisarski said $60 is not a pittance to him, but he went on to say, “You get past it. Life goes on.”

Perhaps Pisarski has the answer, anyway. In his letter to county officials, he wrote: “What do you suggest I do in the future so that I may be a more responsible citizen? On Saturday night, I tried to sit the boys down in front of me and explain the proper procedure the next time our door is kicked down and our house is gutted. The first rule is, Do Not Resist, Run Away. But that won’t work, will it? I tried to show them how to dial 911 but their feet are too big and they kept calling the information operator. . . . “

You get the idea. As Pisarski apparently knows, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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