Creative Writing – The Dark-side of Pet Adoption

THE DARK-SIDE OF PET ADOPTION

W. James Jonas III

November 2005

The message light on my phone was flashing.  It was going to be a good day.  When you are a solo practitioner, that does NOT provide the first consultation at no charge, the only calls you get are from paying, or soon to be paying, customers.

In fact, the message light assures it is a paying customer.  Technology and the credit card are my most valued business partners.  Before leaving a message, you are clearly warned in my welcome message “THANK YOU FOR CALLING DEFENSE FOR SPECIAL CRIMES.  THIS IS NOT A FREE SERVICE.  TO LEAVE A MESSAGE, PLEASE HAVE YOUR CREDIT CARD INFORMATION READY AND FOLLOW THE NEXT SET OF INSTRUCTIONS.”

It took a little while for word to get out, but San Antonio still functions like a small town legal community where:

1. Your best source of referrals is vicious gossip (where you are the target of course), and

2. Few lawyers, of any quality, want to represent a weirdo.

So, combining my (somewhat self-assessed) above average capabilities with a willingness to represent the odd duck allowed me to fill an obvious market niche.

Notwithstanding my predisposition for the odd client/duck, the job is stable, my rates are modest, and it takes a real strange set of facts to make the day interesting.  Happily, that has become a real comfort to the clients, as my automatic billing system invoices their credit card (we are sorry, but debit cards are not accepted) using my twice daily billing cycle.  As each new client searches my face for amazement as they unfold their incredible story of extraordinary proportions and unexpected parties, I am calmly gazing was as must interest as I can offer but assuring that my digital audio recording system and billing technology (I call it my client communication summary) are functioning.  Most clients love to see a written summary of their tale, and I am simply too bored to keep all details straight on the first listen.

After the client’s tale concludes, I stare at the alleged marketer of fake IPODS to the school for the deaf who was posing as a clairvoyant audiologist with prescription drug privileges and say, “the charges you face are numerous and involve civil and criminal penalties, but the approach to defending your case has a proven path that I have implemented for many client, just like you, in the past.”

The phone message was clear and concise.  ” This is Paul Douglas, they say I shot a dog.  I will be at your office in ten minutes.”  The message came in at 6am.

In another life, I would have been pleased in meet a client, in my office, at 6:10am, but these days, early mornings are filled with an array of good deeds.  Some mornings, I donate blood (every 56 days); other times it is platelets (24 times a year); there is always clean-up duty at the homeless shelter, and often, I take my children to school.  In every case, the first hours of the “business day” are filed with an activity that will assure the first lines of my obituary will read like that of a Carmelite Monk – “On the day he passed from this earth, he began his morning helping the poor, the sick, and the generally wretched.”  I put such a possibility at risk for carpool duty.  Given my continuing fatalistic expectations of being a mid-day traffic fatality, heart attack death, or being murdered by an angry client are neurotic (at best), it is still a comfort to know my obit could have such a saintly intro should this occur.

The time was 9:45am when I arrived at the office, and a quick click on the dollar sign icon on my computer  screen allowed me to view the client center where there was a man in his mid-twenties playing some type of game on his cell phone.  My billing records confirm he has been waiting for over three hours (a client is only charged 50% of full rates for waiting) and based on my established client scheduling protocol, he is the first client to be seen this morning (I only see clients on a first come first served basis; hence, there is value in paying to wait).

Without question, Paul Douglas looks more like a personal trainer than my normal confused, unlucky, and less than photogenic average client.  In fact, he was exclusively a personal trainer and a professional house sitter before his expansion into professional services that ultimately brought him to me.  In the following weeks, I would learn that Paul Douglas was perhaps the most successful pet assassin in North America.

“They say I shot a dog, but I can explain.  How much is this going to cost me?”  I take a breath and confirm that he generally recalled the rates, and our policy of recording all conversations and activities, being outlined before he left a phone message and before he gained entrance into the client center (it is always easier to collect bills from folks who acknowledge that the information was provided); then, I tell him it will be a pleasure to review that information again.  “No, he quickly states.  I meant to say how long.  I have a customer to meet at the Downtown Fitness Center at 10:30am.”  This guy is going to be a challenge; maybe he should just go back the to dorm, but I am still a capitalist.  “Well, I really do not know anything about you or your particular situation.”  His next question is a real laugh, “Don’t you read the papers?”  There is really no point in responding; this guy is a fool, and I am not going to explain to him that the local paper is a lousy source of information to include sports scores and otherwise a total insult to the literate world.  However, I do advertise in it quite heavily, and have been pleased with the proven results – limited coverage of my more public clients.  My silence seems to be all the response he needs; “well, you are the only S.O.B. in San Antonio that hasn’t read the paper today.  I have to go.  I need your help, and I will be back tomorrow morning.  Read the paper and tell me what to do.”

Some of my more unstable clients have sessions like this where they pay to leave a message, pay to wait in the client center, and then rush through their initial meeting with me, but this was a new record for brevity.

As I return to my desk, Paul’s invoice is ready for my editing and approval before being issued and electronically billed to his credit card before noon.

It is time for a Starbuck’s break, and I decide to pick up a paper in case Paul decides to show up again tomorrow.  Besides, I it is always nice to find a client service oriented way to bill that morning coffee break.

It took me the better part of my venti blackeye before I found the article Paul mentioned.  It was in the Food & Fitness section – “CLUB TRAINER CHARGED WITH CRIMINAL TRESPASS.”  Paul Douglas is a fitness trainer (I knew it) at the Alamo Country Club (if that is his only job, his credit card will be maxed out soon.) and was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.  The rest of the article reflected the business policy of the pitiful publication to allow high school interns (unsupervised by an editor) to write “news articles.”  The facts were random and gave me little reason to believe that this guy needed a professional of stature and rate structure.

From what I could gather, it was the typical story of the “towel boy” having an affair with a female patron of the club; my guess was that the “work-out sessions” re-located to the member’s residence and somehow the dog got wacked (although the news story did not mention a dog).  A little seedy, boring, and not my stuff; the kid might need to find a new club, but his tan was dark and his build made him the buff looking youth that would never find it hard to find a job where middle aged men and women were spending money to sweat under the instruction of young adults.

I was anxious to see if Paul would show-up the next morning, but my arrival time was no earlier than the day before as the crowd at the homeless shelter was unusually large making breakfast duty a bit longer task than was the norm.  My first come first served client scheduling protocol eliminated any economic reason to rush to the office, but the visual of my obituary reading “on the day he died, he skipped his scheduled time to help the homeless to be on time for a meeting with a home wrecking personal trainer that had senselessly killed an innocent dog” was too great a risk for me.

When I walked in, the message light was on, and Paul was waiting.  This time we had a much longer and productive visit.

“I started making money as a personal trainer in high school.  My size kept me from having a chance on the football team and other sports seemed to offer no great thrill.  Because I was still in high school, most of the clients I could service were early risers – folks that get up damn early and are ready to begin their work outs by 5am; most of these folks either go to sleep very early or sleep very little.  However, all of them seem to be very jealous of the hours of sleep they get and anything that gets in their way is a problem.  That is where I got my first opportunity.”

“Your opportunity as what?”

“I won’t tell you; you will have to figure that out, but the reason I need your help is to keep it quiet.  I do not want the world to know what I do.  So, will you help me?”

“I will represent you in the case you request.  Are there any other charges other than criminal trespass?”

“I’m not sure; can you please figure that out?  I have to go.”

The criminal charges were easy to assess.  The interesting piece was that there was a fairly clear understanding that a civil case would follow and the plaintiff was not the cuckold I had assumed – it was the wife.

Morning three finally brought a set of facts I could work with.  Paul’s client had been the man of the house, an independent businessman, that slept four hours every night with wife number two in a 5,000 square foot home they shared with a cat came with the second wife and was nearly killed in a recent accident that lead to Paul’s current problems.

Two years earlier, the dog of the house had died when he wandered on to the range of the local gun club.

Look, people tell me their problems, and that includes what bugs them in their own house.  The theme of “that darn dog kept me awake” kept coming up during Mr. Walker’s early morning sessions.  When I asked him (or any other person like him) if their spouse understood how the animal was a nuisance or if they would consider beginning such a discussion, I noticed a pattern.  Rich people will not confront each other on the topic of pets; it is simply not done.  It is my opinion that part of it is that the animals place in the relationship is the more certain than the annoyed spouse.  This did not mean tolerance and understanding; it merely meant there was a need for a service.  That is where my new business came to be.

While still being vague, it was clear that if you had a desire to advance the timetable for your spouses pet to go to that great, backyard, tank, or cage in the sky, Paul was your guy.

I started with referrals from the old guys at the club.  A decent number of them had younger wives with obnoxious pets; the guys wanted to be rid of the pets.  Local “business” had pretty much dropped off until the new Mayor began promoting pet adoption.

Our Mayor had recognized a real city problem and source of waste in the fact that countless numbers of stray animals populated the community and were subsequently rounded up and killed by animal control.  Part of his comprehensive solution was to promote pet adoption at every possible opportunity.  The city council meetings began with a pet adoption report; all of the Mayor’s public events included an opportunity to adopt a pet, and it was not only stylish, and community spirited, but a political necessity in some circles to add a little furry beast to your house.  The trend was a great catalyst for finding thousands of caring loving owners for homeless pets.  But, every happy trend has its darker side.

More than a few pet agnostic spouses were coming home to the unexpected patter of four little feet (and did not care for the change).  Local business for Paul had a resulting spike.

Satisfied clients tend to talk, especially in the company of their own gender after a couple of drinks at the hunting lodge or some other setting for the corporate elite with more money than problems.

No one questions Personal Trainers making house calls.  No one expects them to stay long.  All it took was a key to the house, code to the security system, a time when the loving pet owner was gone, a selected method of demise, and pre-payment of a fee (expenses included but not itemized – I knew there would be something I liked about this guy) for the project to be accomplished.

What brought Paul to the attention of the authorities was a simultaneous violation of his two “Business Principles:”

1. No repeat customers

2. Dogs only

These were two standards that Paul maintained until a banker in Connecticut tripled his fee to “take the cat out too.”  After that, Paul was open to projects involving other animals but did believe it was very risky to take a “cat job.”

When Mr. Walker (his first customer and most discreet but consistent source of referrals) to get rid of the new cat at his house (a by-product of his wife attending the Mayor’s luncheon on youth literacy), he felt obliged to say of course.

The Walker assignment seemed simple.  Mrs. Walker was traveling for several days.  The vast Walker home was not matched with a vast garage; like many homes in the area, the garage was designed in a day where only one car per family was the norm.  So, the two Walker Silver Mercedes (one sedan – one coupe) fit snugly in the garage.

With both Walkers out of town and both cars left at home, the garage could become an temporary gas chamber with no modification.  The maid left at 4pm on Saturday.  Paul starts both cars leaving them in the garage with Fluffy (the very obnoxious cat).  The plan was for Paul to return in two hours and use the remote to open the garage doors so the fumes could clear, the cars could be shut down, and poor Fluffy would be discovered later having died peacefully.

When Paul returned, there was little use for the garage door remote.  The cat had managed to shred all the leather areas in the coupe convertible to include the leather ball on the stick shift.  As part of this perhaps panicked perhaps merely evil play, the feline had managed to get the car in reverse where it pushed through the closed garage door and headed toward the neighbor’s.

One neighbor took a very sick Fluffy to the local pet boarding facility and called the police about the mysterious car.  In a small elite community, urban legends are a staple.  A cat driving a Mercedes was the ideal topic of local amusement while the otherwise unoccupied police force conducted the necessary interviews to develop a more accurate set of facts.

By the time Mr. Walker returned on Monday from his hunting trip, Mrs. Walker had instigated a criminal investigation that had rarely been experienced by this San Antonio suburb.  Mrs. Walker was quite certain that her Fluffy had kept Paul Douglas from stealing their cars.  The process of arresting Paul was to take place that afternoon.

Silly of him to think, Mr. Walker immediately believed he could bring a logical conclusion to this horrific series of events by explaining the embarrassing but true reason for Paul being in their home.  Mrs. Walker’s reaction was not even close to the hoped for result.  She demanded immediate police action for Paul coming into her home (she failed to tell the police Paul had been granted permission to enter from her husband) and hired a family lawyer to explore a civil action against Paul for the death of her beloved dog.

So you see counselor (Paul’s tone had become quite business like; the jock act was gone.), I really do not give a rats ass if this particular case against me results in a large fine or probation or even prison.  I just don’t want the world to find out about my business model right now,

When I asked him to explain the qualification of his statement (why it might be okay to disclose at a later date) the sophistication of my client’s business mind and marketing skills were clear.  Depending on the facts and circumstances, terminating the life of a pet is not a crime.  Further, as Paul had already proven, it can be a desired service with a significant price point for select customers.  With that in mind, a franchising agreement was about to be completed with a major chain of retail pet stores as well as a national real estate broker specializing in residential properties.

The pet stores were more delicate in their proposed packaging of this services calling it a companionship modification option that included veterinary services, obedience schools, special skill training for hunting and sports, and the owner separation option.

The real estate company was less subtle and merely sought to include these franchised services as part of its pest control program.

Negotiations for consulting and design of the national concept were due to complete before the end of the year and until, this story, all parties were convinced and willing to pay handsomely for the fact that this program was capable of functioning with little detection or public attention (the criminal liability was merely a cost factor).  Paul was absolutely dedicated to keeping this incident confined.

Now that I knew a plea on the criminal charges was possible, the client desired outcome was exactly what I sought to deliver (quite prompt resolution of a problem), it was time to learn about the business and enjoy the tale my client had to share.

It is weird man.  These rich people spend lots of money on tons of things, but when it comes to pets, they just do not check it out with each other.  I have had wives come to me to take out dogs that were given to them as gifts as often as I’ve had a spouse want “that infernal mongrel” gone that was an impulse adoption when they were away.  It is always the same story, my fee is a lot easier to find than the courage to talk to the spouse about why the dog or bird or fish (again never a cat) has to go.

I asked why not cats and his response was instinctual – not a product of reflective research or target analysis.  His reasons were:

1.  The first twelve months of the business did not include a cat request,

2. Cats are smart,

3. Cats can be hard to kill (no mention of nine lives specifically, but his conclusion could have been simplified to that conclusion too), and

4.  It might be bad luck.

By the second year, he was convinced “no cats” was as important as “no repeat customers.”  He credited the prohibition on repeat business as a catalyst for maximum word of mouth advertising; people are most likely to talk about things they will never do again.  The cat prohibition seemed to confirm that this was a specialized business where the options for killing animals (other than cats) seemed more plentiful.

Paul still sounded amazed as he reviewed the varied requests of the last several months.  The obvious noisy dog or bird were the norm, but requests that were directed toward mollusks, fish, snakes, insects, and one tiger were all part his recent satisfied client portfolio.  Happily (his own assessment), he had avoided requests to take out a primate; monkeys (he seemed to think) were too much like people or cats.

Fish were a more regular request than he initially expected and almost always the targeted fish or group of fish were in an aquarium located in the master bedroom.

Thanksgiving this year was a great break from the office, although my pace hardly justified a break at all.

The Friday after Thanksgiving (not an office day for me) who always include, at least, one person who would access the client room and wait patiently for a few hours.  This fact did not bother me in the least.  Posting a notice that I would not be available for the four days of Thanksgiving would not give me the desired professional freedom.  First, I might decide to come in.  Second, my representations to clients are most purposeful.  I no more want to assure them I will be closed than I want to assure them I will be open.  My perspective is that any specific representation to a client creates multi-tiered obligations.  “Closed for Thursday and Friday” creates the impression that I am open for business at other specific times.  In fact, I seek clients to know that my availability is based on two simple things (providing certain ethical hurdles have been met).  The two factors are equally important:

1.  Have they established ability to pay, and

2. Are they the next in-line.

Uncharacteristically,  my time poolside on Friday (it may be Thanksgiving, but it is still South Texas) gave me time to reflect on some of the more bizarre facets of Paul Douglas’ business that had been revealed to me.

Mr. Douglas had developed a compendium of facts and tips regarding his particular business that rivaled the Physicians Desk Reference in its comprehensiveness and utility for the pet assassin in need of a bit  of  guidance.  From a brief study of this Pet Relationship Termination Manual (PRTM), I now know which household liquids can make a fish tank toxic without clouding the water, microwave friendly bird cages, and how to select or make a flavored chew toy with a hollow center for a less tasty substance.  References for specific geography were included.  This allowed quick determination if a nearby gun club, zoo, or high school football stadium might provide the necessary pretext for the pets departure.

Paul sought a level of poetic closure in his work.  Hunting dogs should appear to have perished at the local gun club.  Pets with heroic names might die on the anniversary date of their namesakes death.  This “poetry” resulted in numerous clients providing generous bonuses above the agreed fee.  These bonuses, while voluntary, came with the assurance that the venue or historic date would not be used for another similar job for the next five years.

Filing a live mouse with sufficient cocaine to kill a boa constrictor (it takes less than a quarter gram) was the only reference I noticed that included the use of illegal substances.

But as with any legal case, the most interesting facts rarely dictate the outcome.

The criminal case was simple – a guilty plea and a fine.  The District Attorney lacked the time of the resources to follow this case beyond the sure win I was offering.  However, the civil case was another matter, and we had to move fast.

The plaintiff wanted satisfaction and had demanded all possible types of discovery to accomplish that goal.  Fighting over the terms of such discovery seemed likely to bring unnecessary attention to the facts Paul did not want to disclose.  With that in mind, I began trying to come up with an offer that would satisfy her anger and grief over a lost dog and a lying husband.

By Saturday morning, the mental model of the proposed pet center supported with an internship program at the local community college and Paul’s willingness to agree to a long term stint of community service and an employment agreement keeping him out of the Central Texas region but reporting to her regularly on his work at a Dallas animal shelter might be a starting point.  This proposal would have to be presented to Mrs. Walker on behalf of a contrite young man who had temporarily lost sight of all boundaries as he choose (on his own) to please a powerful member of the club that employed him.  His bad judgment was combined when he made mention of his unilateral act to Mr. Walker who then requested he get rid of the pesky cat.

It was 10:45am before he got to the office on the Monday after Thanksgiving.  The crowds at the blood bank were unusually large, and he was quite anxious to get to work.  Still, the need to establish those saintly acts at the beginning of each work day  controlled his actions.  “He forgot his appointment to give blood on the day he died …” No way.  Besides, how much could change in the needs of a client hoping to contain his fortune by limiting his fame.

Paul was not waiting, but the message light for the phone was on.  This is Paul, please look at 6B of today’s newspaper.  I have an appointment but will try to be by this afternoon.  I quickly decided to settle my curiosity and bill for the trip to get a newspaper and a coffee.

6B listed deaths and a typical late night return trip from the Walker’s Ranch turned tragic when Mrs. Walker’s SUV (the coupe was in the upholstery shop for repairs) veered off the road, and she was killed as the only passenger in a one car accident.

By afternoon, my work for Paul Douglas seemed rather complete.  I had proposed to the prosecutor a deal that would count as a big win including a large fine, community service, and probation.  Mr. Walker, after an appropriate period, would be approached to withdraw the civil action his wife had filed.  Once again, this matter looked predictable and without uniqueness.

Paul changed my perspective with his request after thanking me.  I need you to represent me in the publishing and franchising part of my business.  It is time to get a lawyer involved, and I want you.

What are you doing tomorrow?  We have a 7am flight to Chicago…

Advertisements

About this entry