A Dog Named HopeMarch 24th, 2003
(Gautier, Miss.) Just a few months ago, things looked bleak for Mercedes, a 4-year-old Doberman pinscher in Gautier, Miss. Her human guardian kept her locked up in a backyard kennel with only dirt in her food and water bowls. She was starving. She had heartworms. And she had only one companion — the decomposing body of another Doberman.
Fortunately, neighbors reported the smell of the corpse to the police, and Mercedes was rescued before starvation could take her, as well. Soon afterward, she had a new life, a new name and — thanks to some timely assistance from ALDF — a new shot at justice.
Kim Capella-Gowland, director of Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue, agreed to take Mercedes in after the dog was seized by the police. She was shocked by what she saw: an animal so starved and sick it was a wonder she was alive at all.
“I gave her a new name — Hope,” says Capella-Gowland. “I thought that’s all she really had.”
Under Capella-Gowland’s care, the newly christened Hope slowly but steadily regained her health. But despite the recovery, Capella-Gowland remained outraged by the way the dog had been treated. And she was even more outraged when she learned that local prosecutors didn’t plan to pursue the case vigorously.
“They weren’t even going to ask for the maximum penalty,” she says. “They just wanted to fine [the woman who’d kept Hope locked up] $500.”
Capella-Gowland contacted local lawyer (and ALDF member-attorney) Marilyn H. David, who thought ALDF needed to get involved — and fast. The trial of Hope’s former guardian, Tremena Miskel, was just days away.
Soon, David and Capella-Gowland were strategizing with ALDF Staff Attorney Dana Campbell and Cruelty Case Coordinator Bradley Woodall. After researching Mississippi’s anti-cruelty laws, Campbell prepared a lengthy memo for the prosecutor handling the case, alerting him to the other sentencing options he could request: a $1,000 fine, restitution for Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue and a permanent ban on custody of animals.
“Dana suggested that I personally meet with the prosecutor before the trial to discuss the strategies she was advocating, and I think that influenced the way he prosecuted the case,” David says. “Bradley also helped coordinate news coverage of the case, which was very important in educating the community about the case and animal cruelty.”
A few days later, when Judge Gary Roberts made his ruling, it was clear that everyone’s efforts had paid off. Roberts sentenced Miskel to 10 days in jail, fined her $1,000, ordered her to pay $1,355 in restitution to Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue and permanently barred her from acquiring more animals as long as she lives in Gautier. Although Roberts suspended the jail time and $500 of the fine, he also placed Miskel on one year’s probation. If she purchases another animal or doesn’t come through with the money she owes Capella-Gowland’s organization, she’ll have to cough up the additional $500 — and she’ll go to jail.
“It was a real miracle,” says David of the judge’s verdict. “If Dana and Bradley hadn’t responded so quickly, we wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Capella-Gowland says there’s another miracle in this story: Hope’s recovery.
“I’ve never seen a dog treated so badly. I expected severe emotional trauma,” she says. “But it’s just amazing. She loves other dogs. She loves people, especially kids. She just loves the world. She’s one heck of a survivor.”