Dog debacle stirs drama
A pair of Newberg-based volunteer animal rescuers are alleging malfeasance by the Newberg-Dundee Police Department in the wake of a dramatic dog recovery effort that occurred in July. The owners of the dog – who live in Hillsboro – accused the rescuers of committing theft and enlisted the help of NDPD officers, who obtained a search warrant from the Yamhill County district attorney and removed the dog from one of the rescuer's homes.
The dog, a German Shepherd-mix named Maggie, is now back in the possession of Hillsboro residents Sara Steele and Steven Zimmerman after a back-and-forth ordeal.
Maggie originally went missing on July 9 near Zimmerman's place of employment on Cornelius Pass Road in Hillsboro; she was discovered at the nearby Transmissions Unlimited auto repair shop. After failed attempts to reach the phone number on the pet's dog tag, the receptionist at the business posted a photo of the dog on the Lost & Found Pets of Washington County Facebook page.
Cynthia Klein, one of the Newberg-based rescuers, said she saw the post and messaged the receptionist about possibly scanning the dog for a microchip to find its legal owner. Oddly, the name came up on the microchip as Klein's friend and Newberg-based dog rescuer Sarah Clarke.
Back when Maggie was just a puppy, Clarke said she rescued her from a shelter in Merced, Calif., and later adopted her out to a McMinnville woman named Kari Baker. When Clarke found out about the dog's whereabouts in early July, she was surprised to learn that Maggie was found in Hillsboro.
Clarke contacted Baker, who explained that she and her boyfriend broke up and he took the dog with him to Hillsboro. The boyfriend, Troy Wilkendorf, was thought by Clarke and Klein to be the phone number on Maggie's dog tag. It actually belonged to Steele, who later admitted she adopted Maggie from Wilkendorf for free off of Craigslist and never legally registered or licensed the dog in her name.
Four days after Maggie was found, Steele began sending what Klein called "harassing text messages" to the Transmissions Unlimited receptionist who originally found the dog. This was after the receptionist's repeated attempts to contact Steele regarding the canine.
"The text messages demanded that Maggie be handed over or they would show up at her home at 3 p.m. that day," Klein said. "The texts said that Maggie was microchipped in their name and that they tracked her, which isn't true because microchips don't have GPS. They said they background checked her and knew where she lived."
With the dog staying at Clarke's home in Newberg for the time being, Clarke and Klein decided to call Steele and explain that Maggie was not microchipped in her name, that the dog was malnourished – in their view – and was not up to date on its vaccinations.
This "infuriated" Steele, Klein said, and Zimmerman got on the phone and demanded to know Maggie's whereabouts. Fearing for their safety and worried about the well-being of the dog, Klein said she and Clarke "calmly requested" for proof of ownership from Steele and Zimmerman to resolve the issue. They asked the Hillsboro couple to retrieve a letter from Wilkendorf stating that he had surrendered ownership to them.
Theft claims spark NDPD involvement
A full week went by with no contact between Steele and the rescuers in possession of the dog. On July 21, Steele posted to various Facebook groups claiming Maggie was stolen by Clarke. Klein later received a text message from Steele that said: "I have documentation to provide to whom it may concern and I'm ready to take legal action if I do not get response, as I was told I would once I was able to obtain documentation."
Steele sent the letter to Clarke and Klein, but the pair of rescuers believe they still had the legal right to keep the dog from people they perceived to be mistreating it. This decision led down a legal path that started with Steele's boyfriend calling the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
On July 23, Zimmerman reported to Sheriff's Deputy Nick Schreiber that Clarke was refusing to surrender the dog and he believed that constituted theft. Schreiber investigated the situation and concluded in his report that, because Zimmerman and Steele never took the proper steps to get the dog legally registered in their name, Clarke was in fact the legal owner of Maggie. He recommended Steele and Zimmerman file a claim in civil court if they wanted to get the dog back.
Steele said she then contacted the NDPD and spoke to Sergeant Cameron Ferguson about the situation. Based on the story she told him, Steele said Ferguson believed that it was clearly a situation of criminal theft and that he "wouldn't let (Clarke) get away with it." A few days later, Ferguson called Steele back and said they obtained a search warrant from a Yamhill County Circuit Court judge.
On July 31, Ferguson showed up at Clarke's home with another officer and Clarke said they demanded she surrender Maggie to them. She claims Ferguson said he "wasn't going to cuff her today" in front of her 5-year-old son and spoke to her in a harassing tone. NDPD denies these claims. Clarke said she refused to surrender the dog and asked to be interviewed. Ferguson agreed to schedule an interview for Aug. 2 at the police station.
The interview never happened. Ferguson, flanked by four other officers, showed up on Aug. 1 and read a search warrant aloud to Clarke before seizing Maggie from the Newberg home. The dog was returned to Steele and Zimmerman and transported to Hillsboro. Clarke is currently being investigated for felony theft by NDPD, according to the documents provided to her by police during the seizure.
The case, NDPD claims, is still open. No charges have been filed yet.
After Clarke was told by the Washington County Sheriffs Office that she was the legal owner of the dog, she was "shocked" to have the pet taken from her home by the NDPD and to be investigated for a felony. She and Klein believe the Newberg police officers are acting improperly in this case and don't have evidence for their assertions. Clarke and Klein contacted Deputy Schreiber at WCSO and received no response. Their attempt to retrieve records from the NDPD was also unsuccessful because Ferguson claimed the case was still open, Klein said.
"It doesn't make sense that the case would still be open nearly two weeks after Maggie was given back to Sara Steele," Klein said. "This situation also makes us wonder, how did they obtain a search warrant to retrieve Maggie if they didn't have evidence that Sara Steele was the legal owner?"
Rescuers concerned, confused
Klein said she contacted the Yamhill County district attorney's office to try and make sense of the situation, even as she and Clarke remained confused and upset by the results of the case.
A receptionist at the office said, Klein claimed, that there was "nothing" on file with the NDPD relating to the specific case number and Klein was told to seek the help of an advocate if she wanted to pursue further legal recourse.
Clarke said she repeatedly tried to obtain a copy of the search warrant used by NDPD to take the dog from her. She claims she only received a portion of the warrant and that it was issued based on something that wasn't true. Page 7 of the warrant cites a "missing flier created by victim (Steele) on July 9th," but no such flier exists and for that to be used as evidence for the dog being stolen is "suspicious," Klein said.
NDPD Capt. Jeff Kosmicki said Ferguson "was not unprofessional during this contact" and followed the law in his investigation. He said it was "regrettable" that NDPD could not make both sides of this case happy, but that the department followed the law in its conduct.
"Officers of the NDPD often find themselves mediating between two parties that are convinced they are right," Kosmicki said in an email. "If communications break down and a favorable outcome is not able to be had, we have fewer options. Sgt. Ferguson gathered the information, put it into an affidavit and obtained a search warrant to get the property – in this case it was a dog – back to the lawful owner."
Clarke and Klein are still concerned for the well-being of Maggie now that she is back in Steele and Zimmerman's possession. Klein, who spoke on behalf of herself and Clarke for this story, said the dog was found loose again in Hillsboro on Aug. 30 – with no dog tag or identification – and had a laceration on her paw. Clarke's name popped up on the microchip again and she drove to Hillsboro and took Maggie back to Newberg.
But NDPD told her that she had to return Maggie to Steele again, so she surrendered Maggie to the police for a second time.
Maggie is back, once again, with Steele and Zimmerman. Steele, who said she is "extremely happy" to have Maggie back, said that Maggie was with her parents when she got out on Aug. 30. She claimed she hasn't had a chance – after more than four weeks – to change the information on Maggie's microchip to indicate that she is the legal owner.
Steele theorized that the information on Maggie's microchip has been falsified and that Clarke "must have stolen" Maggie back when she was a puppy, but she provided no evidence for the assertion.
"I honestly thought we weren't going to be getting Maggie back," Steele said. "If it got taken out any further, we would have had to take it to civil claims court. But the officer we worked with said he didn't want us to pay money to get back something that was stolen from us."
Maggie continues to change hands while this dramatic conflict unfolds, and Klein said it has caused the dog unnecessary stress and potential injury. Klein and Clarke believe Maggie had major behavioral problems and provided documentation from a local veterinarian stating that she still didn't have all of her vaccinations.
The dog, in their view, is in desperate need of proper nutrition and "significant" training, along with medical care. Clarke claims that Maggie attacked and nearly killed her three-pound Chihuahua back in July, resulting in more than $600 in medical bills, but she doesn't blame the dog – she blames Steele and Zimmerman for not properly caring for and training the animal.
Clarke and Klein's reputation, they say, has also taken significant damage. Klein said they have been labeled by the community as the kind of people who steal dogs, when they believe they acted properly and had Maggie's best interests in mind.
"My integrity and character have been questioned as an active volunteer pet advocate," Klein said. "Sarah Clarke has had her life turned upside down by Sara Steele's harassing, manipulating, lies, threats and her relentless Facebook attacks. Sarah's Chihuahua suffered a devastating injury. Both of us have given hours, days, weeks of our lives to Maggie's cause, only to have NDPD step in under questionable means and make a decision without considering the facts."
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