LAND O'LAKES — Tucked beside the operating room in the back of Pasco Animal Services is a row of stainless-steel cubbies. Behind the bars, a tail wags so hard its owner can barely stand on her stubby legs.
Piper, a 4-month-old dachshund, was taken there about a week ago, after authorities say her owner beat her with a broom handle — hard enough to leave a fracture in her snout and a 5-centimeter crack in her skull.
Now she's one of the dogs at the shelter who has become an indefinite resident. Usually, they're the victims of alleged abuse whose owners have pleaded not guilty in court and still have custody of the animals, said Animal Services director John Malley.
In most cases, pet owners who are facing charges sign the release papers allowing their animals to go to a new home. But for a few, like Piper, the release papers go unsigned. They can't be put up for adoption. They can't go home. They remain at the shelter in limbo, waiting for a jury's verdict. Usually, it takes six months for a case to be processed.
A mix of 140 cats and dogs are cycling through the shelter at any given time. About 10,000 are taken in every year. The shelter keeps strays for three days, six if they have an identification tag. Animals that have bitten or scratched people are held for 10 days for observation.
"This is a waystation," Malley said, "and we want animals to spend as little time here as possible before we send them to a better home."
About 60 percent find homes. The rest have to be put down. Piper isn't in danger of that because her case is waiting in the courts. They'll keep her as long as it takes. She'll be given toys and taken on walks "to continue the contact with people," Malley said.
Now, Piper is under the close watch of staff members, standard for animals with head injuries. Staff members expect she will make a full recovery. She's on pain medication and antibiotics for an eye that filled with blood after the alleged beating. When she's released from the medical unit, maybe in two weeks, Malley estimates, she'll move into his office during the day. He'll have a bed for her by his desk. He smiles at the thought of it.
"Yeah, I like that dog," he said.
Most of the staff members know her. Thanks to all the media attention around the case, they call her "our little movie star."
Karen Kurry, a veterinary technician at the shelter, took a special liking to Piper.
"It's just love, love, love," she said while holding Piper, who was scrambling to cover her face in licks. "She's all love."
Alex Orlando can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.