Dog Days

"They shot my dog. They shouldn't have done that."

The voice on the phone is exasperated, anguished. I couldn't agree with it more. It's Sunday, and I'm talking to Michael Reed, the 48-year-old homeless man whose beloved pit bull, Topaz, was wounded in a hail of bullets during a controversial shooting by the Inglewood police (one of many) last August. That shooting left another homeless man dead and Topaz, who happened to be nearby tied to Michael's shopping cart, with a shattered knee. One of her hind legs had to amputated less than a week later. Since then, Michael's been forced to adjust his own peripatetic lifestyle to accommodate Topaz's new disability. He's also been trying to file a claim with the city of Inglewood that'll stick, or a claim that they'll take seriously. He filed for $50,000 in damages last year and was promptly rejected. He isn't entirely sure about what to do next. He's been visiting city hall regularly since December and calling just about everybody in the directory. So far, no luck.

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I want to help. I, too, believe that Michael is entitled to something, and quickly. After all, Topaz got caught in a high-profile shooting that cut down a man who the police wrongly assumed was carrying a weapon, a man they needlessly shot dozen of times--must an innocent dog who who had nothing to do with anything suffer too? But the whole notion of compensation is trickier than I thought. It's not like Michael is out of any money, because he doesn't have any. Topaz's surgery was performed by an Inglewood vet, Toya Jackson, who occasionally treated Topaz pro bono; she's gotten partially compensated for the surgery through donations to the cause, but she considers the matter closed. Dr. Jackson saw Topaz recently and reports that she's doing well, adjusting to life on three legs; she has some early arthritis, but that's fairly normal for a 7-year-old dog. Dr. Jackson sympathizes with Michael and wishes him luck with his claims, but she has no beef with the city herself and doesn't want to create the appearance of one by filing a claim of her own. Even though business has been slow and she wouldn't mind collecting the roughly $2,000 that's still outstanding, she won't go there.

The real problem, she says, is that in the eyes of the law, a dog is simply not worth anything. It's property, and not terribly valuable property at that. Certainly not a homeless pit. Michael would have been better off if the cops had shot the engine out of his car or put a hole in his antique vase.

But this is no laughing matter to Michael. And Topaz is no property, she is his sweet-tempered guardian and best friend. They're inseparable; Topaz has been and still is what no human has been for Michael so far. Michael even refused to stay at a Hollywood homeless shelter created specially for people with pets because of a requirement that animals be separated from their owners overnight. Michael wasn't having it.

The next step, according to the Inglewood city attorney, is for Michael to revise his claim to something the city would consider more reasonable. Because Topaz is priceless to him and so vital to his own peace of mind, Michael has no idea what "reasonable" means. I must confess, in many ways, neither do I.

Photo: Micheal Reed (kneeling, second from left) and Topaz, with Airport Cities Animal Hospital staff. Credit: Dr. Toya Jackson; Airport Cities Animal Hospital, 1120 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301; (310) 641-8800

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