Remembering Sweet Pea

Judy Covington Crawley hopes the short life of a basset hound named Sweet Pea will lead to better lives for other dogs.

Crawley, a Weaverville animal welfare activist, bought the four-month-old puppy from roadside dealer Roger Moore last May 27. The next day, Sweet Pea started to vomit and suffer from diarrhea. Crawley took the puppy to a local veterinary hospital for intensive treatment. But a week later, the sad-eyed Sweet Pea was dead. Parvo, a canine virus, was a main cause, according to a necropsy performed on the animal. The puppy also had garbage in her digestive system, according to the necropsy report.

Last week, Crawley took Moore to court. She was suing the Asheville man for the price of the puppy ($150), veterinary care ($644) and court costs ($110). But what she really wanted was justice for the animal, whose limp form appears draped across Crawley in a series of photos taken just before the puppy died.

“The county needs to require breeders — and this is a prime example — to be licensed,” Crawley said in a hallway at the Buncombe County Courthouse, “so that people won’t be able to sell animals at flea markets, just litter after litter.”

Crawley wants the county’s Animal Advisory Board to recommend to the Buncombe County commissioners that they enact an ordinance requiring breeders to be licensed. She’d also like the advisory board to push for setting standards for doghouses.

Officially, the Jan. 30 trial was about the terms of Sweet Pea’s purchase. But it provided a telling look at the puppy’s last days.

Since neither Crawley nor Moore had a lawyer, Chief District Court Judge Earl J. Fowler Jr. asked most of the questions in the brief nonjury trial.

Crawley, the founder of the Tyson Act Committee, which advocates against animal cruelty and for laws to protect pets, told the judge she had received several phone calls about the plight of Sweet Pea and other puppies for sale along Patton Avenue in West Asheville.

“There was no food or water,” Crawley told Fowler. “They were in a chicken coop kind of contraption.”

When she stopped by to check on them May 19, she found that the water in the puppies’ water dish was hot. She went to a nearby motel for ice cubes, which she brought back and put in the dish, Crawley testified.

Crawley said later that she called Animal Control after she left the puppies May 19 and spoke to an officer who said he’d check on them over that weekend.

The next Saturday, Crawley and Moore settled on a price for Sweet Pea, and Crawley took the dog to All Pets Animal Hospital for an initial visit. The next day, Sweet Pea’s health had deteriorated to the point that she couldn’t even walk. The puppy was eventually placed on intravenous fluids, according to copies of the vet’s records.

“She died a slow, painful death,” Crawley emphasized.

But Moore insisted that he’d told Crawley the puppy was sick before she bought her and that he hadn’t really wanted to sell her. Crawley, on the other hand, maintained that Moore had merely mentioned that Sweet Pea wasn’t playing or otherwise acting healthy — and only after the purchase.

“I hate that that puppy died,” Moore told the judge.

Kathy Bailey-Garner informed Fowler that she had gone with Crawley to buy two puppies from Moore, but that Moore’s employee, Chris Robertson, brought out only one — Sweet Pea. Moore told them that one of his family members had become attached to the other puppy and didn’t want him to sell it, Bailey-Garner recalled.

“The dog looked all right at the time,” Bailey-Garner said of Sweet Pea. “She seemed a little lethargic.”

Moore asked Bailey-Garner if she remembered him saying that he wasn’t going to pay the puppy’s vet bill; she said she didn’t.

Tim Reed, another friend of Crawley’s, told the judge that Moore offered to refund the puppy’s purchase price (or provide a new puppy) if they brought back the body. But the lab that performed the necropsy didn’t release the body for fear of spreading parvo, Reed noted.

Moore questioned Robertson in the courtroom about the puppy sale, asking, “You told the lady that the dog was sick, right?”

“That’s what I remember,” Robertson replied.

In addressing Robertson, Crawley noted that Animal Control officers had instructed them to keep the puppies fed, watered, clean and out of the heat. Then she asked if he had told her the puppies were sick. “Yes,” he replied.

“That’s not true, but I don’t know what to say,” Crawley reflected.

In the end, Fowler ordered Moore to refund the purchase price and pay Crawley’s court costs.

The law provides for Animal Control to handle cases — not for Crawley to recoup payment for the animal’s care, the judge said.

“You were doing this because you were concerned about the puppy,” Fowler told Crawley.

There was no agreement that the seller would pay the vet bills, Fowler noted, adding: “If that’s the case, the law is ‘buyer beware.’ “

Fowler went on to say that if Crawley had wanted to remove the puppy from its circumstances, he felt she accomplished her goal. He added that Moore was right in not wanting to sell the puppy.

Fowler also noted that he thinks animal experts can look at a puppy and know it’s in bad shape.

“I really think everybody sort of knew what was going on,” Fowler suggested. “I’m going to say that it’s a deal that shouldn’t have happened.”

Outside the courthroom, Moore said that he had told the truth and that he didn’t think he should have had to pay the veterinary bill.

“I think the judge was pretty honest about it,” he commented.

Moore — who said he hasn’t been selling puppies lately — offered that he didn’t know Sweet Pea had parvo. He also said that he loves basset hounds but thinks they’re generally lazy. That’s the reason he suspected the puppy wasn’t playing, he said.

Robertson said later that the puppies had run out of food only one day — which Moore said didn’t really count as running out. Robertson also maintained that the puppies hadn’t run out of water, mentioning that he’d changed the water every three or four hours.

“I didn’t know they were that sick,” Robertson added.

Crawley said later she wasn’t sure the judge had ruled in her favor but that it wasn’t about the money, anyway. She’s on a payment plan for the amount due on the vet bill.

Currently, Animal Control can’t take action if a dog doesn’t have proper shelter, she complained. In this case, she said, the puppies were living in a wire chicken coop on an asphalt parking lot.

“We don’t have ordinances to say that’s not OK,” Crawley said. “We want to get these ordinances to where … if [Animal Control officers] go out there, they can save an animal’s life.”

Crawley said she still cries for Sweet Pea, adding “I hope that we can find justice for her.”

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