This is a story about dogs. Specifically, one dog--a boxer named Shaq, 50 pounds of nose, jowl and torso with a tan-and-white coat.
And it's a story about people who love dogs--in this case, John Lindberg, a 52-year-old emergency-room physician. He's Shaq's owner.
It's also about two prominent animal activists: former TV news anchor Kim Singer and Paige Powell, who for many years was a confidante of Andy Warhol.
And it's a story about a mystery. The dog is missing. Someone took him.
Lindberg believes it was Singer and Powell, and he's suing them in court.
Ultimately, this story is about the role domesticated beasts have come to play in Portland--which at times feels like Dog City--and much of urban America, a world where dogs (and cats) are often as important to the human realm as human beings themselves.
"We have evolved to where some people in this society attribute human characteristics to our dogs," says Gary Hendel, director of Multnomah County's Animal Control Division. "We don't call them Fido anymore. We give them names like Willy and treat them far better today than we ever have."
The facts are these:
On May 9, Lindberg's nephew, Tom Richardson; his girlfriend, Carrie Bryant; and Lindberg's son Tristan walked Shaq from the Lindberg home to Strohecker's Market on Southwest Patton Road. Richardson, a third-year resident at Oregon Health & Science University who lives with Lindberg, clipped the dog's leash to a rail along a wheelchair ramp. The three went inside for a breakfast of crêpes and coffee. It was 10 am.
When they emerged 30 minutes later, Shaq was gone, and so was his leash. Richardson figured that the dog was afoot in the neighborhood and that eventually a neighbor would see Shaq squatting on her turf, pick up the phone and call Lindberg. On Shaq's collar was a tag with his home address and phone number and another bearing his Multnomah County Animal Control license number.
Nevertheless, just to be sure, the three prowled the leafy streets of Portland Heights on foot and by car. After an hour, they regrouped at home. No phone messages. No Shaq.
"It was then that I knew something fishy was going on," says Tristan Lindberg.
Kim Singer and Paige Powell aren't the kind of animal activists who steal into mink farms on dark nights to free the animals. Nor do they march in front of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center calling for an end to experimentation on rhesus monkeys.
Both 51 years old, they are less extreme.
"Kim and Paige are really gung-ho, but not over the top," says Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis, who has worked with both of them. "They aren't the 'you can't wear leather if you want to come into my house' crowd."
A Portland native and daughter of the late, prominent investment banker Ed Singer, Kim Singer grew up in Raleigh Hills and went to Beaverton High School.
She began in the news business as a reporter and anchor at KATU Channel 2 in the late 1970s. There she met her then husband Charles Rowe, also a reporter (the two are now divorced). Singer worked in Los Angeles as an anchorwoman at one of the city's largest independent stations. She and Rowe returned to Oregon in the early 1980s and started a radio station, KCRF-FM, in Lincoln City. Soon after, she was hired by KPTV Channel 12 as an anchorwoman, a position she left in 2000.
Even as a journalist, Singer demonstrated an interest in animal welfare. She reported on animal issues with the intensity most reporters reserve for politicians and police. And whenever the Oregon Humane Society or Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital needed a celebrity face at a fundraiser, Singer was there, all blonde and hair-sprayed and effusive.
"She always wore her heart on her sleeve," says Lars Larson, her former co-anchor.
Powell, also a Portland native, grew up near Singer. After college at the University of Oregon and stints in marketing at the Oregon Zoo and Nike, she spent many years in New York City, where she was an art consultant, an associate publisher of Interview--and a close friend of the late pop artist Andy Warhol. So tight were she and the white-haired arbiter of style that they went to church together; Powell was one of the last people to speak with Warhol before his sudden death in 1987. She was so linked to the openly gay artist that she was referred to in some quarters as the "widow Warhol."
She returned to Portland in 1994 and has been a fixture at artsy social gatherings. The thin, straw-haired Powell is still deeply connected to the New York art world; local developer Homer Williams hired her as director of the Pearl Arts Foundation. Her charge is to bring fancy outdoor art to the Pearl District. Powell is responsible for bringing Kenny Scharf's "Tiki Totems" to the streets surrounding Jamison Square.
Her real passion, like Singer's, is dogs.
During the infamous mid-1990s Vikki Kittles case in Clatsop County (one woman, one bus, 117 dogs), it was Powell who spent $9,000 in an effort to get the dogs into new homes. Powell also shelled out for an animal-welfare website called arkonline.com (the site apparently has not been updated recently). She's even the prime mover behind a dog fountain in the Pearl District designed by artist and photographer William Wegman (specialty: Weimaraner art).
It's not clear how close Singer and Powell's friendship is; neither would agree to comment for this story. But a number of people who spoke to WW say they are friends and likely ideological cousins who believe that dogs are as important as people.
Singer and Powell declined repeated requests to discuss the allegations against them, but John Lindberg is convinced they took his dog.
"The evidence led to those people, and we're not giving up," he says.
The primary piece of evidence is that on the evening of May 9--the same day Shaq disappeared--Singer called Patti Webb and left her a message. On it, she told Webb that she had in her possession a boxer. She asked that Webb return her phone call. She also said that Webb could contact Paige Powell, who lives near Strohecker's and often shops there.
For 10 years, Webb, who lives in Tualatin, has run an organization called PDQ Boxer Rescue, which helps place unwanted boxers with new owners. She says she'd never had any contact with Singer before.
That evening, Webb left Singer a return message, and she also left a message with Powell.
Singer and Webb connected later that evening. During the phone conversation (which Webb later recounted to Portland police and in a sworn affidavit), Singer told Webb she had "picked up" a boxer that was loose in traffic.
Earlier that day, Webb had received a call from the Lindberg household about Shaq, but she didn't tell Singer about the conversation.
Webb did ask Singer, "Was it in the West Hills?"
"I can't say," said Singer. When pressed by Webb as to what the dog looked like, Singer wouldn't provide details.
Webb says she told Singer to call Multnomah County Animal Control, in accordance with county ordinances.
According to Webb, however, Singer said she wouldn't give the dog to Animal Control. She said she didn't appreciate the agency's policies and didn't want to work with them. Webb says Singer went on to say that she knew who the boxer's owners were and that the owners didn't deserve to have the dog back.
Webb says she told Singer that if in five days she hadn't given the dog to Animal Control, she would contact the agency herself.
Six days later, Webb called Animal Control director Hendel. She wanted to know if Singer or Powell had reported that they had a dog. He said they hadn't.
Webb says she then told Hendel about her phone call with Singer and called the Portland Police Bureau.
Then she called Richardson, Lindberg's nephew, who five days earlier had filed a stolen dog report with police. Webb told him about her conversation with Singer.
On May 17, Richardson spoke with Powell, who'd returned a message he left for her.
"I told her I heard she and Kim Singer had seen our boxer," Richardson says. He says her answer was elliptical.
"She said that she had been at Kim Singer's house and seen the boxer in question, and she said that it was her understanding that the boxer had been abused and mistreated and she'd found a new owner for it," he says. "She was starting to get a little apprehensive. I remember feeling like I wanted to say, 'How could you take our dog?' From the story she told me, I had the feeling she'd taken Shaq."
Across the United States, there are thousands of dog rescue groups.
Many are like Webb's: They try to find new homes for dogs whose owners either cannot handle them or are moving. Rescue groups also work with animal-control agencies, which operate under severe space constraints, to adopt healthy dogs who are scheduled for euthanasia.
Some rescue groups, however, provide a crucial link in an informal underground railroad, literally laundering stolen dogs. These dogs are not snatched by thieves to be sold at a profit, but liberated by a ragtag army of animal activists who feel duty-bound to free dogs from what they see as bad owners. Styling themselves as latter-day John Browns, these activists equate mistreatment of dogs with everything from the obvious example of dogs being locked in a crate in a basement to dogs that have merely escaped their owners' backyards.
"I get calls about these things quite a bit," says Webb. "I've been asked to go on little midnight raids for people who think their neighbors are mistreating their dog." Webb refuses to participate in such acts.
"Those things happen all the time," says Kate Pullen, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States.
Hendel is troubled by freelance rescues, no matter how well-intentioned. "I don't want citizens to become vigilantes," he says.
According to Animal Control, an estimated 200 dogs are "stolen" each year in Portland. How many are taken by animal activists is unclear.
But it's clear that canine liberations do take place. In a recent interview, Gina Micciulla, a former DJ at the now-defunct KBBT-FM, conceded that she knew of a recent "rescue" of a Rottweiler/Doberman pinscher mix. Micciulla, who now runs Unleash Yourself, a dog daycare business, says similar acts of liberation go on all the time and amount to a form of civil disobedience.
Two days after Webb called Portland police, Sgt. E.J. Carneau spoke with Kim Singer by phone. Singer acknowledged finding a dog wandering in the street near Strohecker's, but claimed that it was not the Lindberg dog, according to police records. "She stated that she had located the owner of the dog she found and has returned the dog to the owner."
Carneau also spoke with Paige Powell the same day. Powell said that she had "heard of Ms. Singer's finding a dog wandering in traffic but had no direct involvement," according to Carneau's report.
In July, Sgt. Jim Powell, who'd taken over the investigation, concluded that there was no credible evidence that Singer took Shaq, and he closed the investigation.
As far as John Lindberg was concerned, nothing was settled.
On May 22, he'd emailed lawyer Jeff Mutnick, asking him to take all legal steps necessary to ensure Shaq's return. Nine days later, Mutnick wrote Singer, alleging that she'd taken Shaq and given him to someone else.
Nick Fish, one of Singer's attorneys, replied June 12. "Kim has no knowledge about the Lindberg's dog," his letter reads in part. He contended that Singer was helping an unidentified third party who'd contacted her about a different dog. He added that the dog had been returned to its home with Tim and Melissa Mace.
Willamette Week contacted Tim Mace, who has lived in Aloha since 1998. Mace does own two boxers, but says that neither of them has ever been missing. He adds that he's never spoken with Kim Singer. "I'd like to know how she got my name," he says. "It's just the weirdest thing."
Mace did say that around the time of Shaq's disappearance, he was asked to adopt a boxer by a neighbor named Samantha Miller. Mace told her he didn't want another boxer.
Miller runs All-Terrier Hunters Crossing, which is located in Aloha. She told WW that she knows Kim Singer and had done "a few rescues" in the past for her, but would offer no details.
Miller says that, in this case, the boxer she offered the Maces did not come from Singer; instead it was released to her by either Multnomah County Animal Control, the Oregon Humane Society or the Humane Society of the Willamette Valley in Salem; she could not remember which.
Miller told WW she eventually placed the boxer she'd approached the Maces about with a new owner in Seattle. She declined to identify the new owner.
WW contacted officials at each of the agencies Miller mentioned; all say at no time did they give Miller a boxer.
On Sept. 21, John Lindberg filed a civil lawsuit against Singer and Powell in Multnomah County Circuit Court. In his suit, Lindberg sought Shaq's return. Failing that, he asked for $400 (a rough estimate of Shaq's cost) plus legal fees.
Three days later, on Sept. 24, lawyers for Singer and Powell filed a document called a "consent to enter judgment/confession of judgment." In it, Singer and Powell agreed to pay Lindberg $400 plus legal costs.
Also on Sept. 24, Lindberg amended his claim to include a $250,000 lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
On Nov. 5, lawyers for Singer and Powell contended in court that the emotional-distress suit should be thrown out on a complex legal technicality. Lindberg's attorney countered that Singer and Powell's confession-of-judgment filing should be thrown out on a separate legal technicality.
On Nov. 6, Circuit Court Judge Nellie Johnson tossed out both Lindberg's emotional-distress claim and the confession of judgment.
That means the case is back to where it began in September--a lawsuit for the return of a dog--and John Lindberg is not backing down.
"We want our dog back," he says. "We're going to get our dog back." He says that he's prepared to spend $3,000 on legal fees and expects the case to take a year.
He plans to sue once again for emotional distress. Why sue for emotional distress over what amounts to property theft in the eyes of the law?
"Emotional distress is about people not respecting other people in this world," he says. "It's just one more fanatical group infringing on your rights and making the world less safe, less beautiful."
Precisely where Shaq is--he's still missing seven months later--and what responsibility Singer and Powell bear for his disappearance will play out in a high-ceilinged, marble-columned courtroom on the sixth floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse.
One question that ought to be easy to resolve, however, is whether Shaq was abused.
"This dog had a nice home and was well fed," says Janet Kreft, a lawyer who lives two houses away from Lindberg. "I don't get it. I recognize saving abused animals is important, but this isn't one of them."
What's abundantly clear is that the passions around the Shaq case and dog rescue are very hot and will burn long after the case is concluded.
Last week, WW received a phone message from Gail O'Connell-Babcock; her husband, Robert Babcock, is Singer's defense attorney in the Shaq case. In the message, O'Connell-Babcock, who is a well-known animal activist, said that Patti Webb from PDQ Boxer Rescue could not be believed, that she was in fact part of a "lunatic fringe group" called the National Animal Interest Alliance.
In her message, O'Connell-Babcock also accused this reporter with trying "to get even" with animal rightists.
In a Nov. 20 follow-up interview, O'Connell-Babcock said she understands the motivation for someone not to bring a dog to Animal Control. "People don't bring dogs to [Animal Control] because they don't trust the shelter," she said.
She called agency director Gary Hendel "a sociopath."
She said the agency euthanizes many adoptable dogs each year, and falsifies its records so that the animals appear to be more vicious, unhealthy or unadoptable than they really are, though she offered no proof.
Asked about the dog-rescue underground railroad, she said, "When slaves escaped from the plantation, did you take them back to the owner because they'd escaped?"
Hendel, who's run the agency for 18 months, disputed O'Connell-Babcock's complaints and said he has reduced euthanasia of adoptable dogs at his agency to four dogs in the last five months, a substantial drop from prior years. Between July 1, 1998, and June 30, 1999, 644 adoptable dogs were euthanized by Animal Control, according to the agency. Hendel says he has received two death threats, apparently by persons who believe the agency should never euthanize any dogs.
Seen Shaq? If you know the whereabouts of this boxer, email John Lindberg firstname.lastname@example.org or call 243-2122, ext. 380. We accept insider trading!