HOPE — Bartholomew County Sheriff deputies are collecting harassment reports from a rural Hope family and animal neglect reports from animal rights activists posting on social media over an Australian Shepherd named Buddy in the 10000 block of East County Road 450N.
The sheriff’s department received 11 complaints about the dog being outside in the recent heat wave over the past three days and sent a deputy out each time, who determined the dog has shade, plenty of water and food and that Buddy was healthy and well-fed.
In the meantime, the owners of the dog, Donald Burton and Linda Ziegler, have told sheriff deputies that for months, people have been harassing them about the dog being outside, which has escalated to trespassing and theft on their property.
The sheriff’s department took a report on April 19 from the dog owners that the dog had been stolen at 6:46 p.m. that day, Sheriff Matt Myers said. A camera system at the farm recorded an older white female coming on to the farm property, which is labeled with a sign as private property, taking the dog and leaving.
The woman was driving a four-door white passenger car with Florida license plates and the theft was recorded on camera footage, Myers said.
The owners said the theft occurred after multiple complaints on social media by unknown individuals about the dog being a “farm dog” and sleeping outside. The owners said they suspect someone in the group or affiliated with someone in the group stole Buddy, but Myers cautioned that there is no proof or verification of that at this time.
Bartholomew County Animal Control, all the area humane societies and law enforcement were notified about the dog theft, and the next day, Buddy was dropped off at the Bartholomew County Humane Society by a woman who is believed to have provided fictitious information as far as a name, saying she was from Denver, Colorado.
Humane Society staff said the woman was acting odd in her actions in dropping off the dog. They notified investigators about the recovery of Buddy, who was returned to his owners.
During the recent heat wave, social media activity about Buddy intensified over the past several days, and Buddy’s owners requested additional patrols beginning June 13 in the area due to the number of drive-bys and harassment from individuals, including attempts to videotape Buddy on the property.
There were threats that someone would take the dog “again,” on social media, investigators said. Buddy’s owners also had concerns about trespassing on their property.
Sheriff department records show that on June 14, deputies were sent to the address about a lady in the roadway with an Edinburgh address who told investigators she was “checking” on the dog. Since she had not gone on the property, deputies did not detain her.
When repeated calls began coming in on June 15, Myers told deputies to refer them to animal control, who again went out to check on the welfare of the dog and reported the dog was well-fed, had plenty of water, was in the shade and was fine. If animal control asked for law enforcement assistance, a deputy would be sent, he said.
In 11 calls for assistance to check on the dog over those days, each time the dog was found to be in good health, with water and food, Myers said.
On Thursday night, deputies responded again on an extra patrol due to reports of an “abandoned and neglected dog” at the Hope farm address. Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz and Animal Control Officer Mark Case also went to the farm, and along with the deputy, checked the situation and determined the dog was healthy, had plenty of water and food and was not malnourished.
Earlier that afternoon, Sandra Bush of Columbus told The Republic that she was trying to advocate for Buddy and had been contacting local officials throughout the week, including Case. She was distressed and feared that the dog might die without intervention.
“We’ve got to be better people than this,” she said.
Bush said that when Case told her there were other, similar situations, she asked for information about those dogs as well, which he declined to give. She also stated that she had told Case that she would willingly pay for the Burton’s dog as long as he was never allowed to own another.
Myers emphasized that animal control was checking on dogs throughout the county during the heat wave and said he believes owners have a responsibility to take care of their pets and take precautions. However, county officials, animal control and deputies found no issues with Buddy or his living conditions.
“This is not a sheriff department issue until it becomes a criminal issue,” Myers said of the continuing complaints about the dog. “But I want to be clear, if people are going on private property and taking dogs, it is a criminal issue and we will build a case and turn it over to the prosecutor’s office. You cannot go on private property and take other people’s dogs. Call animal control — there is a process and you need to go through the process. Do not take the law into your own hands.”
Myers said an investigation will continue, looking at the taped theft of Buddy back in April which includes a view of the older woman taking the dog, and the vehicle involved.