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He lost his wife, his home, and then his dog

thomasTwenty years ago, Miles D. Thomas was a successful stockbroker, and president of the school board in Harrisburg, Pa.

In the past two years, life has been less kind.

He lost his wife to Alzheimer’s in late 2007. Then, unable to pay the bills that had mounted for her care, he lost his house and turned to living in a series of cheap motels, or sleeping in his car.

Last month, authorities seized his dog, a 7-year-old collie named Baron, when Thomas left him in his car while getting a bite to eat. Because he’s homeless, apparently, he hasn’t been able to get him back since.

Hearing of Thomas’ plight, an attorney filed a suit in federal court on behalf of the  73-year-old former Harrisburg School Board president, seeking to get the dog back from the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area Inc. The agency maintains that the dog is being held as part of a cruelty case but has declined to release details, and Thomas has not been charged with any offense.

“To me, he’s the greatest thing I have in the world,” Thomas said of his dog, the fourth in a line of collies the family has owned. “I love him so much, yet they try to keep me from him. I can’t understand that.”

Thomas says it was 76 degrees on the day he left Baron in the car, with the windows open, and that he was gone less than an hour.

When he returned, the dog was gone and an officer with the Humane Society  informed him his dog had been seized. 

Last week, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III issued a temporary restraining order barring the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area from destroying or transferring ownership of Baron. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 3.

“I couldn’t imagine letting this man go without his dog,” Attorney Andrew Ostrowski told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “He cares deeply for the dog, and he’s seriously affected by this. In my view, it’s a federal, constitutional civil rights issue, and I won’t shrink from it.”

Ostrowski said he’s also pursuing a civil suit that seeks damages.

Amy Kaunas, Humane Society of Harrisburg Area executive director, said  that Thomas’ dog was seized as part of a cruelty investigation initiated by a referral from the Middletown police.

She declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said animal-cruelty statutes require that animals be provided with adequate shelter and access to food, water and veterinary care.

Thomas fell more than $100,000 in debt after his wife spent three years in a nursing home, the Harrisburg newspaper reported. But he insisted he always took care of his dog. “I took better care of him than I did myself,” he said.

Since early August, Thomas has been living with Stephen Conklin, a friend of attonrey Ostrowski’s, who took Thomas in at his farm in York County.

Now that Thomas has a stable home situation, Conklin said the thinks the Humane Society should return the dog to him.

Ostrowski, contends that the animal agency pressured Thomas into signing over his rights to Baron two days after the dog was taken by the agency’s canine officer, threatening him with a $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail unless he turned over the dog. 

(Photo: CHRIS KNIGHT, The Patriot-News)


Comment from HOB
Time August 24, 2009 at 11:25 am

Thank you for putting this up.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time August 24, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I’m starting to wonder about the Humane Society. Who died and left them in charge of who gets to have a dog? Last month it was a young disabled girl. This month we have what seems to be a dedicated public servant who has fallen on terrible times. Who’s next?

Comment from Mary Haight
Time August 25, 2009 at 12:18 am

Thanks for reporting this, John. I get so annoyed by what happens to our elderly. It is shameful. Hooray for the lawyer helping Mr. Thomas, and I hope Thomas gets enough money award to secure a place to live.

Comment from KG
Time August 25, 2009 at 2:56 am

This story is outrageous. Give the dog back to the vet!!!!!

Comment from Rebecca
Time August 25, 2009 at 7:38 am

God Bless his attorney for taking on this battle – I hope they win. I can’t understand why the Humane Society would need to let it go this far – especially now that he has somewhere to live, give the poor man his dog back! You would think they would want to use their resources where they are needed!

Comment from Promises Promises
Time August 25, 2009 at 4:18 pm

So ‘saving’ a dog now involves cruelty to its owner? This is just sick…the dog is probably the *only* good thing left in this man’s life.

We had a case in my area recently where a bunch of hysterical posters on Craigslist were more worried about the plight of a homeless man’s dog than about the plight of the poor man himself. What is wrong with the world?

Comment from Mary
Time August 25, 2009 at 7:27 pm

This is an unbelievably sad commentary on the inhumane treatment handed out by ‘humane’ societies. Not good for the dog, not good for the owner, what the ???? This outright theft of pets has got to stop! Give that poor old man the most important thing in his life back! Utterly cruel doings…

Comment from Ruby
Time September 3, 2009 at 7:58 pm

A once homeless Dauphin County man was in Federal court Thursday, fighting to get his dog back. But the hearing never happened.

Instead , the attorneys met with the judge behind closed doors. The judge told both sides to try and resolve this out of court. If they can’t, they can come back in 30 days.

73-year-old Miles Thomas walked out of the Federal Courthouse with his attorney, Andrew Ostrowski. But no dog.

” I can’t get into the detail of how it’ll be worked out. I hope in the next 30 days, we can put this litigation behind us and move forward,” said Andrew Ostrowski, attorney for Miles Thomas.

A federal judge ordered Amy Kaunas, the executive director for the Harrisburg Area Humane Society, and Ostrowski to work it out, outside of court.

” I’m going to follow the judge’s orders and not comment on the case,” said Amy Kaunas, after CBS 21 News asked her where Baron will be living, while they continue negotiations.

Kaunas left the courthouse quickly and with security. The Humane Society told CBS 21 News, that they had to hire protection, after receiving a number of terroristic threats, because of this case.

” It’s been rough, it’s been rough. I miss Baron so much. He’s such a part of me,” said Miles Thomas.

CBS 21 News has learned that during the 30 day negotiation period, Miles Thomas could be allowed a few visitations with his buddy Baron.