Court goes to the dogs

Government by gut feeling has spread from the Town Council dais to the District Court bench.

Last week Lunsford Long, the newest District Court judge in North Carolina’s District 15-B, covering Orange and Chatham counties, presided over a case in which a pet owner sued Orange County to exempt her dog from a state-mandated six-month quarantine while he (the dog) was observed for rabies. The dog was several months overdue for a rabies shot and was found in close proximity to a rabid raccoon. The dog was sent to a veterinary clinic where he was housed while being observed for signs of rabies. The pet owner was liable for the $4,000 veterinary bill.

But after four of the six months, the pet owner missed her dog and projected her feelings onto her pet, saying the dog missed her and thus was being harmed by the state law designed to protect people and other animals from the spread of rabies. Long heard the case and, presumably finding no legal precedent to exempt the dog from state law, adjourned the case until July 25, when Orange County’s health director could weigh in. “Dogs are people, too,” Long said.

The prospect of a lonely dog receiving good care in an air-conditioned clinic tugged at Long’s heartstrings, and the next day he called the pet owner’s lawyer and said, despite state law and the safety of the public, he would order the dog to be released before it had been cleared of being a rabies threat.

The irony is that for decades Long was a divorce lawyer in town with a reputation for delaying and dragging out custody cases and fomenting rancor among parents, despite the harm that came to children in limbo or being used as pawns. In Long’s eyes, apparently dogs are people, but children aren’t.

Long was appointed by Gov. Perdue to fill the unexpired term of Alonzo Coleman, after previous unsuccessful attempts to gain a seat on the bench and against the better judgment of his peers. Coleman was elected in 2008 but had to step down six months later after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72. Long will be up for election in 2012.

Any bets on whether the pet owner will return to court to sue for relief of the vet bill?
– Nancy Oates

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  1. LollyW

     /  July 18, 2011

    WOW. You sound so sad, bitter and angry. Why would you take the time to write such a vitriolic diatribe about a sad woman reuniting with her increasingly anxious and ill pet? The vet said her dog had probably built up immunity with all of its prior rabies vaccines, and it was 43 days late for being current – how is that months?
    Why don’t you channel some of that bad energy toward something a little less mean-spirited? Or get a puppy and learn how to be kind.

  2. Nancy Oates

     /  July 18, 2011

    What I hope would make all readers sad, bitter and angry is that Long treated a dog with more kindness and compassion than he showed to any of the children whose lives he affected over the decades.

  3. John Kramer

     /  July 19, 2011

    Well said, Nancy. Dog lovers get so carried away sometimes.

  4. LollyW

     /  July 19, 2011

    Sorry, but I am still unclear how his (reportedly) poor record with children has some direct relationship with your misaligned anger toward Garret and her dog?

    Your unprofessional (actually snarky) tone, culminating in the completely gratuitis, “Any bets on whether the pet owner will return to court to sue for relief of the vet bill?” Marks the end of my reading your column.
    It’s a shame really – our political views are probably somewhat compatible – but I really hope that I don’t sound like you when I express them.

  5. Robin Cutson

     /  July 19, 2011

    Nancy, Nancy, Nancy,

    Please try to get your facts straight when you post an article— and avoid hearsay. First, the state only requires a quarantine for a dog that has been injured by a rabid animal or who has an open wound and has had contact with rabid animal or who has had contact with fluids of rabid animal. The vet and animal control stated there were NO injuries or open wounds on the dog and both owners said the dog was just barking at the animal but didn’t go near it. You don’t have to quarantine a pet for looking at a rabid animal.

    Second, the dog had had all required rabies shots for years and was only a little over a month overdue on current shot and the vet stated this was enough to confer immunity.

    Third, you state the judge when working as a divorce attorney had a “reputation” of ” delaying and dragging out custody cases and fomenting rancor among parents, despite the harm that came to children in limbo or being used as pawns. ” Do you have any proof of this? Was he ever sanctioned as a judge for any actions? Because otherwise Nancy, you have just engaged in public libel. The fact is parents in divorce cases can be very vindictive and hostile towards each other and it is not uncommon for them to blame the judge for custody outcomes they don’t like—although it may be best for the children.
    And some might say instead of “dragging out” custody cases, the judge was being very responsible in gathering information to make the best decision for the children involved instead of making a hasty decision with no facts or info.

    So Nancy, maybe it is you who just don’t care about the welfare of children and would prefer judges to rush through custody cases. . .

    In any case, it is clear from your post that you don’t have any compassion for pets and their owners—and the bond between pets and their owners.

  6. Don Evans

     /  July 19, 2011

    Robin, Robin, Robin —

    Why was the case before a judge if everything was perfectly fine with the dog?

    You seem to have access to a lot of “details” about the case. Care to share your sources? Without providing information here about where details come from, you are indulging in, I would say, hearsay. Do practice what you preach, please!

    I have sat in on court proceedings involving Long in his role as lawyer and have seen him in action, and I concluded the man has no regard for fact or truth. And yeah, Long dragged out cases, but not out of compassion or a quest for the truth. While he was a lawyer, Long helped contribute to custody cases in Orange County being dragged out 10 times longer than those in Durham County. Orange County leads the state in length of time it takes to resolve a custody case. And that ain’t because litigants like spending money.

    I, like Nancy, reserve my compassion for people first, then pets. And I would expect the same from any rational person, pet-owner or not.

  7. Robin Cutson

     /  July 20, 2011

    Okay Mr. Evans, here’s the bottom line. . .

    You don’t understand why this case ended up before a judge? The case was before a judge because citizens turn to the court system to get justice—-the judge was ruling on a decision made by a government agency (i.e. The Orange County Shelter).

    As to the details of the case that I cited—they were all reported in the local papers. Did you even bother to read any of the articles about the case before you posted?

    As to your statement that you have “sat in” on court procedures involving Long when he was a divorce attorney and in YOUR opinion he has no regard for facts or the truth and dragged out custody cases not out of concern for making the right decision for the welfare of the children—-I will again state this—was the judge ever sanctioned for any this? Did any of the parents ever file a complaint against him for improper judicial conduct? No? Well, then it really is just your opinion. . .and considering you don’t understand why the case about the dog had to be decided by a judge, and considering you obviously didn’t read any of the articles about the dog case before posting, and considering you seem to have no compassion for people who love their pets. . . .I guess people can come to their own conclusions about what your opinion is worth.

    And now just one more point. . .you stated you “reserve your compassion for people first and then pets.” To this I can only say I agree with LollyW—“Sorry, but I am still unclear how his (reportedly) poor record with children has some direct relationship with your misaligned anger toward Garret and her dog?”

    It would seem that you and Ms. Oates have really, really stretched to try to use this dog case to engage in a political attack against a judge who is up for re-election in 2012 under the guise of “you care about people more than pets.”

  8. Terri Buckner

     /  July 20, 2011

    It’s such a shame that every time someone disagrees with Nancy or Don or one of the posters, the comments devolve into accusations/name calling. It’s not impossible to strongly argue a point without accusing the other person of some nefarious purpose or ignorance, but clearly it is an art that we all need to practice. I’m not saying I don’t do the same thing, but I do try.

  9. Laura

     /  July 23, 2011

    The bottom line is that the pet owner did not keep up with the dog’s vaccination requirements. It was her responsiblity and she blew it. Lesson from this? Keep you pets up to date on vaccines.