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‘We are both just over the moon’

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Kerri Thomas gets knocked over by her dog Cassius while being reunited at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Kerri Thomas gets kisses from her dog Cassius when they were reunited at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Phoenix.
Tearful reunion spotlights legal entanglements of pets held as evidence

PHOENIX — An emotional reunion Jackson County Animal Shelter recently involved copious amounts of happy tears, tail wags and bear hugs with a large brindle pup named Cassius.

Housed at the Phoenix shelter since January, the big, lovable Catahoula-mastiff mix had a long, lonely wait for his return to the life he knew before everything flipped upside down.

And a long wait for receiving some much-needed snuggles from his favorite human mama.

Faced with a domestic violence situation and unexpected life changes, Cassius’s owner, Kerri Thomas, entrusted someone she believed to be a dog-lover with her 3-year-old pup last year.

The man had vowed to care for Cassius until Thomas could figure things out and reclaim the dog. Regular visits and check-ins went well until the man stopped responding to calls and texts.

“I was in a really unhealthy situation and had dogs and kids involved. I was forced to choose between my kids and dogs … so I had to rehome all of my dogs. I had three dogs. Two of them were given to permanent homes, but Cassius was supposed to just be a foster situation. I always planned to take him back,” she said.

“He was my first baby. I’ve had him since he was 3 months old. I love him so much. I was trying to figure out a better situation for us all, but then things got bad pretty quickly and I had 24 hours to find a place for him to go. He’s not an easy dog to place because of his breed and how big he is and his energy level.”

Going through the paces of rebuilding her life, Thomas panicked when the man caring for Cassius virtually disappeared.

Her closest companion for over three years, Cassius once saved her and her family from a cougar attack, Thomas says, and was known for being a giant lap dog with a zest for life — and for wandering off to take a swim. Thomas said rebuilding her life was impossible with Cassius still missing from it.

“I was a mess having to rehome my dogs. I never, ever, ever, ever thought I’d find myself in that position, and it just killed me. This person had told me all the right things. He ‘had big dogs before.’ He, ‘ran them twice a day.’

“He didn’t even ask for money and said Cassius reminded him of a dog he used to have. It felt like a good situation, and I needed help,” Thomas recalled.

When contact ceased — she later found out because the man had been arrested on a slew of charges including animal abuse and child pornography — Thomas feared she would no longer see Cassius before finally leaving Southern Oregon.

Jackson County Animal Control shelter manager Kim Casey said it’s a little known fact that the shelter deals with a number of animals seized as evidence each year.

Because the dogs are not officially surrendered to the shelter — and in some instances the owners cannot be contacted — the shelter enforces special rules. The dogs cannot be fostered or adopted or even walked by volunteers.

When Thomas’s unlikely dogsitter was arrested, Cassius and another dog were seized and had to wait for the case to be played out in court. After months of searching, Thomas figured out that Cassius was at the shelter and set about the process to eventually reclaim him.

Casey said it was hard to watch an owner fight so hard to reclaim their dog, but be stuck in the legal system.

“We had to keep him as evidence until the case was resolved. It was a very sensitive case, and knowing that the dog could have been a victim, we had to keep him until it was all resolved,” Casey said.

“Ultimately there was no evidence indicating that the dog had been abused, but he and another dog were caught in legal limbo for a very long time.”

Casey added, “Average people wouldn’t realize how complicated it is when animals become evidence. We have had 26 of them this year alone. Some of the cases are pretty creepy, some are just neglect and some are intentional abuse or cases involving homeless people observed hurting their animals.”

Thomas wasn’t permitted to visit Cassius until the case was resolved. After it finally was, she didn’t want to visit and upset Cassius until it was time to take him home.

“He’s a big ol’ baby. Sensitive big guy, and he’s been through more than any dog should have to go through. When I left him ... I hoped it would be short term. The first time I dropped him off, he broke out of the house and ran after me, which was the hardest part, because then I had to catch him and take him back,” she said.

“When I was finally allowed to go see him, I didn’t want to show up and have him see me and then leave him again before I was allowed to take him.”

Finally wading through the red tape, and with her own life back together, Thomas said the tears flowed when she was reunited with her gentle giant.

“It was just amazing to be back with my boy. The reunion was really amazing. I think it took him a second to realize who I was,” Thomas said.

“Once he realized it was me and I’d come back for him, he didn’t calm down for over an hour and a half. He hasn’t let me out of his sight, and we are both just over the moon.”

Thomas added, “I still can’t believe it’s real. I thought I’d never get him back and I just love him so much. I’ll never let him be away from me again.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.