Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Tragedy

On July 4th I was driving alone with my service dog of almost 8 years of age, Dunkin’, in the rear seat towards the middle. I was pulled over on I-17 after being tailed for about one mile. The cop was very close to the rental car I was driving which was a gray Toyota corolla. The vehicle was due back on Sunday and I had planned on returning it, then utilizing the airport shuttle to catch my early flight back to New York’s La Guardia airport with Dunkin as my travel companion.

I pulled over to a safe spot on the shoulder of the road and the cop opened the door and drew out a shot gun. He actually AIMED it at me. I could see his eye aiming and it made no sense. I was shouted at and told to keep my hands where he can see them. This seemed very strange and not at all common for being pulled over. I could hear shot gun cocked and I realized that something was not right. I obeyed his shouts to keep my hands up and I allowed Dunkin to continue sleeping in order to keep us both calm. I was ordered to get out of the car, walk backwards without looking, and was very confused… I was going further and further away from Dunkin’.

I was shouted at to kneel, yelled at and then immediately cuffed and put in the back seat of a cop car. I immediately told him that my service animal is in the back of the car and to please be careful with him as he is license in NY state and is official for my Multiple Sclerosis. The car was overwhelmingly hot and my MS symptoms began as I tried breathing for fresh air. It was getting hotter and now he was drawing a weapon to the vehicle. I was very frightened that they would kill Dunkin’ as they looked like they would do so with the weapons drawn so intently.

The cop opened the rental car door which was nearest the I-17 traffic. Dunkin’ rested soundly on that side of the vehicle. When the door was opened, the cop let him get out of the car onto oncoming traffic. Dunkin’ got out of the vehicle confused. He ran into oncoming traffic, looking for me. His mission is to look for me, wherever I may be. As cars swerved and missed him… I screamed. I prayed and screamed at the top of my lungs for my companion’s safety. The cop S.D Soto (who was the one who aimed at me through his shotgun, also cuffed me) walked to the front of the car passenger area. He pulled out Dunkin’s fluorescent orange service vest and read the insert in his pocket which states that he is a service animal and he is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. S.D Soto Read the facts, read my rental agreement (which was located on the passenger seat area) and continued to ignore my pleas for help and air conditioning.

At this point a red headed cop was on the scene too, along with a thicker sized blonde-red headed cop. I will never forget their faces. One wore shades, the other had glasses and piercing blue eyes. They completely ignored my existence and did not check on me. Someone chased Dunkin’ and I told them that he would ONLY come to me. I begged and pleaded to allow them to let me call for him. S.D Soto told me to shut up and I was annoying him. He said that he would gag me next, if I said another word and did not cooperate.

I noticed my wrists were really in a lot of pain and my body temperature was rising in the back of the car. Dunkin was nowhere to be seen, he ran off into the area where desert grows. At this point, I hoped coyotes would not get him. I was screaming for them to listen to my pleas and my proof that it was a rental and I do indeed have MS and need my service animal for my well-being. Again, I was shouted at while they walked around calmly with no care for Dunkin or my safety. My safety was compromised the moment they ignored me and Dunkin’. They never read me any rights, and continued to walk around, ignoring how hot I was in that car. It felt like a fish out of water and I was gasping for air.

Dunkin’ came back through the desert area to about 10 yards north of the vehicle which obtained me. I screamed again, and begged them to keep him safe. They again chased him, frightened him, and he ran northbound. I never saw my Dunkin’ again.

At this point the sergeant… Robert Hardt, was called to the scene. I was let out of the vehicle, still cuffed very tightly. I am 5 feet tall and weigh 110 lb’s. I whistled in vain to call Dunkin’.. I was not allowed to walk towards the area he has run towards. I was not allowed to move. I was on the gravel on the side of the road waiting for the cops to do something. I begged the sergeant to lead me, with the cuffs, or however he seemed fit, in order for me to be able to get to Dunkin’ to whistle for him. He told me not to worry and “the dog will come back.”

A cop car came back with Dunkin’s destroyed body in it. I asked an officer… is there anything left… the red headed one with the glasses and blue eyes shook his nod, indicating that there was nothing left to see. At that point, I began to mourn. I screamed and I screamed in shock. My hands were still cuffed. I was thirsty, the srgt gave me water from a water bottle he had in his car. Around that point, I was uncuffed. I called my friends and family in NY and AZ and no one answered for what seemed an eternity. I finally reached a friend in NYC and I screamed in agony at the trauma I had just undergone.

The srgt called ambulance to see about my MS. They said to me, “you cannot scream and cry in my ambulance.” I refused treatment since I could not help my emotions of having lost my dearest best friend in this earth. They wanted to sedate me and start and IV on me. I refused this as I did not think I would wake up if I allowed them to stick a needle in me. Already they had violated me.

A sheriff’s chaplain was then called to the scene. My phone died, and I was able to speak to my brother, who was in Hawaii vacationing, through the srgt’s cell phone. My brother was extremely concerned about my MS as he understands the close bond that Dunkin and I have shared for almost 8 years. I was in no condition to drive, I do not know who drove the rental back to the rental location. My belongings were put in a bag, I was put in a car with the chaplain and I continued to document my bruising by photographing my wrists with the time on the dash board.

I grieved the entire way to the hospital asking the chaplain for words of consolation and he was speechless. The bruising on my legs from kneeling on the tar/gravel started to emerge when I got back to NYC. I have attached those pictures in a previous email. I was never cited for anything, I was never read any rights, I was not arrested. I ended up in the hospital and was given a sedative. I had x-rays taken of my wrists as the pain was excruciating to the slightest touch.

My friend Andrea took Dunkin’s remains to the animal crematory where Dunkin’ was cremated. His remains arrive in New York in a few days.

I have already felt the symptoms of MS which has been in full remission for 4 years. My left hand buzzes and tingles, my capacity to concentrate has diminished and my job is in jeopardy. I am a Master’s degree student at NYU and begin a new class tomorrow. I have received 2 A’s and 3 B’s in the coursework I have achieved and I hold a position of Learning Specialist at the College of Dentistry. I am my sole provider and feel the stresses of this trauma impeding my rest, my work, my concentration, my spirit (which feels broken). I experience nightmares nightly and sever bouts of mourning. My life is not the same.

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  1. I am absolutely heartbroken about this. May I post your entry on my blog as a guest blogger with a link back to this blog?? I cannot imagine what you are going through! Bucky is my service dog and I adore him. What a horrible nightmare.

  2. I am so sorry for you and Dunkin. To lose a family member like that is truely heartbreaking. Especially more when needlessly.

    PLEASE tell me you are pursuing this in court.

  3. Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible. I'm so sorry this happened. Are all police officers so heartless, merciless and cruel?! I see so much of this police brutality on TV and now to read your story...makes me terrified of them...and I'm as law abiding a citizen as you'll find.

    May I also post this in it's entirety on my blog?

  4. This is so, so terrible. I hope you find someone to represent you and sue those bastards. I know it won't bring your baby back, but somebody needs to teach them a lesson.

  5. Please post this to your blogs and send the link via email to anyone who rents a car, has a pet, is alive, has a disability, knows of someone with a disability, has a service animal, drives, breathes, etc. My point is, if I don't get this out this way, how will anyone every know? It is up to us, people who care and have a heart to share my story with you. Dunkin' would want nothing more than to inspire others to love and care. He was perfection and it's the least I can do for him, and for my own healing. Thank you,

  6. Have you sent this to any media out where the accident happened? That would be a good way to get the word out as well as maybe get some heat on the police department for their actions.

  7. I am going to go as far as the people who read this blog want me to go. Only with your support in sending this link to everyone will someone with power do something about it.

    I have 180 days from the day of the incident, july 4th 2009 to file a law suit. i have already lost almost 60 days in trying to find a lawer. 120 more days to go. Time is running out. I do hope that this will see its day in court. with your help, I know we can make it happen. Dunkin' did deserve my love for many more years. I deserved his as well.

  8. Rosamaria, I have sent a letter/email to the First Lady and the President. I don't believe in fooling around. This type of this is appalling and should be addressed nation-wide. And not just because you have MS. Because you are a human being that needs a service dog. I have also posted this on the Care 2 Network, which I hope will get a lot of folks to write their legislators. You see, I too have MS, I just have cats and not dogs. I would be lost without them, and I know you are deeply lost without your Dunkin. Bless you, and keep fighting.

  9. I just heard you on the radio and I was heartbroken. I have a dog that's near and dear to me and the thought of losing him grieves me. I can't imagine how you feel but please know that I am praying for you and for your overall healing. Justice will be served. They can't do people wrong like that and not expect to reap what was sown. Stay strong sister.

  10. I"m so glad finally after over one year Dunkin is finally getting some justice. Also contact Andrew Breitbart and Drudge Report. God Bless, I lost my puppy too, and I know how you feel.