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Lynn Jones: Treated like a dog for trying to help a dog

December 9, 2011 |  1:17 pm

Lynn Jones
The infrequent flier about to get on the plane at Reno-Tahoe International Airport had sores all over him, and he looked like he was starving.

Lynn Jones didn't think he should be getting on the plane to Texas. And when she said so to her bosses, she got fired.

If that "customer" had been a neglected little kid or an elderly person, Jones would have been given a gold star in her employee file.

But because the "customer" was a hunting dog -- a pointer -- crated for a flight where Jones was working as a baggage handler, she was canned instantly by her supervisors. "You're done. Go home," Jones' boss was reported to have told her.

"Everyone who saw it, the TSA people, the airport police officers, the girls at the ticket counter, was concerned," Jones told RGJ.com.

"The dog was so weak and torn up. It didn't look like it could survive the flight." Everyone saw it, yet Jones was the one who tried to do something about it,  and she was the one who was punished for it.

The public outcry reached the president of Airport Terminal Services Inc. in St. Louis. Sally Leible offered to rehire Jones with back pay. Adam Goldfarb, the director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, told me the baggage handling company is making donations –- no dollar figure specified –- to the Nevada Humane Society.

The ruckus brought the airport police, and the Washoe County animal services stepped in and took the dog.

Now everyone wants to know, what about the dog? Is there a happy ending?

Well, no. There's no ending yet. At first, news reports said the emaciated pointer was nursed back to health in Nevada, then returned to his Texas owner. But Corpus Christi animal authorities are saying the dog is missing and are asking for the public’s help to find him.

And back in Nevada, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that this dog is a kind of migrant-worker hunting dog, shipped hither and thither for hire to hunters.

The paper also says this case is prompting authorities to reconsider a law, only 2 months old, that makes animal abuse cases secret from the public -– perhaps unwittingly.

It's called "Cooney’s Law," after the appalling case of a dog whose owner eviscerated her with a box cutter in a bathtub at a Reno motel. Such abuse was then a misdemeanor; the legislature has made it a felony.

But the confidentiality element, say the bill's sponsors, were supposed to protect those who reported animal abuse from retaliation -– not to protect the abuser. Now the sponsor says she wants to clarify that part of the law.

I should hope so. None of that, though, does anything to help find and heal the scrawny liver-and-white male pointer Lynn Jones tried to protect.

Leible, the president of the baggage handling company, said ATS would be using this as a teachable moment to "recognize and report animal abuse of any form."

What I want to know is, why did it have to go down this way in the first place?

We're always supposed to be on the qui vive for things that don't look right -- suspicious packages, mistreated children, potential crimes from the mall to middle school. From the churches to Congress, we're told we should be part of a community, looking out for one another.

That is exactly what Jones did. She spoke up when she saw something that shouldn't have been happening. When she tried to stop it, she lost her job. Even with a potentially happy ending, it shouldn't have taken a tsunami of news coverage and public outrage to fix this -– although the outrage may help this dog, if he is ever found, and others like him.

It’s shameful that Jones was fired in the first place. And punishing people for doing the right thing only makes everyone else clam up and avert their eyes. Why should they risk their necks? Nobody's going to punish them for not speaking up, but they might get in trouble if they do.

With all the lip service that public servants and leaders pay to community spirit, this is not how to get it, and it would be to the great credit of some elected public official to make Jones an example of the right thing to do -– even on behalf of a four-legged constituent that can't vote.

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-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Lynn Jones, with her rescued pets. Credit: Marilyn Newton / Reno Gazette-Journal

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