SARA VANDEN BERGE

Sometimes I ask myself: How did we get so stupid? Then something happens that jiggles my memory and I say, “Oh, yeah.”

Such was my reaction Monday when I began catching up on the e-mail I had missed after a relaxing week off from work.

Greeting me from my inbox was a jewel of a message shouting, “Urgent Plea Letter to the Editor.”

I opened it and sighed.

“Dear Ms. Vanden Berge:

Stephenville and the surrounding area prides itself on being a good, go to church on every Sunday, fair minded, GOD fearing, caring town.

I would ask then, why is the Empire-Tribune railroading a homeless man?”

The e-mail went on to say plenty more that I cannot bear repeating.

By now you’ve probably guessed that the letter had to do with the dispute-that-shouldn’t-be involving Thomas Genova, a local homeless man, and his canine companion Brandy that has bitten two people in a matter of months.

In January, Brandy bit an off-duty employee at Whataburger. What followed was a dizzying display of public outrage that blamed the victim.

The rallying cry to save Brandy and decimate the victim (she shouldn’t have gotten so close!) had my hair standing on end. I couldn’t help but think that if the victim had been an “upstanding” and well-known member of this community, there wouldn’t have been so many people willing to jump to Brandy and Genova’s defense.

The hard-to-watch spectacle ended by giving the duo a second chance. Genova was allowed to keep his pet, but was ordered to have it muzzled in public places.

Fast forward six months and Brandy’s at it again. This time the pooch was tethered in front of Wal-Mart a couple of weeks ago, without his muzzle, when he bit a customer entering the store.

By now, the moral dilemma concerning the rights of the homeless vs. the rights of those with a roof over their heads has been sufficiently hashed and rehashed. Trouble is, the argument is senseless.

No matter what a person’s living conditions are, no one has the right to bring an animal to public places where it can hurt people.

Period.

Keeping this dog off the streets seemed like a good idea in January. Now it’s crystal clear.

I’d like to add that if Brandy had bitten one of my kids while I was entering a store to buy a gallon of milk, he would have been euthanized on the spot.

Likewise, I strongly suspect that if I brought my dog - a big, sloppy mutt named Harley - along with me to run errands, and he took a chunk out of someone’s leg, the victim would rightfully expect me to pay for their medical costs and would probably sue me.

But since Genova doesn’t have a job, the chance of that happening is slim to non-existent.

Indeed, the angry woman who thinks the E-T is trying to railroad a poor guy down on his luck is right about one thing. We are a caring community, which is why we need to keep our citizens safe. Brandy has shown that he is a danger to the public, and as a caring community, we must ensure that he doesn’t get a third chance to bite an innocent person.

A hearing to determine Brandy’s fate has yet to be scheduled.

SARA VANDEN BERGE is managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.