At first it seems like another horrible case of animal abuse – a man posted photos and a story on a Facebook page about a dog he said he found tied to railroad tracks behind Tifft Nature Preserve on Monday morning.
But as details emerged over the next two days, posters’ anger about what happened to the dog eventually turned into attacks on both the dog’s owner, a woman with physical challenges, and the SPCA Serving Erie County, which reunited her with her service dog.
Events began at 8:22 a.m. Monday, when a Facebook poster named Eddie Travis and calling himself “Travis Ej” posted four photos of a medium-sized spotted dog to a local lost pets page on Facebook. Travis wrote: “Too the sick person or persons who tied this poor dog to the railroad tracks behind tifft farms in so buffalo early today your plan failed. I hope you rot in hell for your treatment of this poor animal. If anyone knows this dog he is safe at the SPCA. Hopefully someone will take this dog and give it a good home.”
The photos showed the dog, wearing a harness and leash, standing at the tracks. The end of the leash can be seen next to the metal rail, but how it is attached is not visible.
Travis did bring the dog to the SPCA, and shortly after the dog was turned in, the shelter got a call from the dog’s owner, said Gina Browning, director of public relations for the SPCA.
The physically challenged woman, who was visiting from out of town, was out with her service dog when she fell, dropping the dog’s leash and cutting her head. The dog ran away, and the woman told the SPCA she was sure that the animal went to seek assistance for her.
After being treated in a hospital for her injury, the woman called the SPCA and came into the shelter, where she was interviewed and reunited with her dog. The dog “went crazy” with joy when it saw its owner, Browning said, adding, “The dog is a trained, bona fide service dog, and she relies on this dog.”
Early comments on Travis’ post thanked him for rescuing the dog and condemned the person who tied the dog there. “They were probably nearby waiting to watch a train hit him,” one person said.
A TV journalist who had been contacted about the story messaged one of the group’s members to say that the dog “is actually a service dog that got away and got stuck on the tracks. It was retrieved quickly and wasn’t tied to the tracks.”
Travis replied, “As for the people out there that are now saying that it wasn’t tied to the tracks or false information need to bite their tongues cause believe me as one of five people on the scene will stand by what we found. There is absolutely NO way the dog accidentally got stuck I know what I seen and how we freed him. It’s impossible! I hope to hear from the SPCA or the owner to give them a piece of my mind ... I stand by my post.”
Browning said that SPCA personnel had been told both that the dog was tied to the tracks but also that the leash was snagged on the tracks. “The way they explained it to us is that they thought they saw the dog snagged in the railroad tracks, but then the dog got loose and they caught the dog after it had broken free,” she said. “We have heard a couple different versions of this story, and we don’t know which story is right.”
After the post about the dog being a service dog, some commenters questioned that, too. “Where is his vest or whatever they wear saying they’re a service dog?” one woman wrote, while a second opined, “A reliable service dog shouldn’t take off like that.”
But the strongest reaction came from people who were angry that the dog had been returned to its owner. One woman posted, “Now the owner has him back and I’m sickened to think of what he could possibly do to him next!” Another woman wrote, “Do you know if the SPCA released that poor baby to the owner who is obviously lying? I’m sickened to think of what these people will do if they were the ones that tied that poor sweetie in the first place!”
Browning said, “I think there is something about social media that makes people want to assume the worst.”
Referring to the case of five Niagara County teenagers who were recorded torturing a snapping turtle, she said, “The turtle case didn’t help things, because anybody assuming the worst in that case isn’t even assuming bad enough. Things like that on social media do further the case of people thinking the worst first, before they think, ‘Could this have been an accident?’ ”
In any case, Browning is satisfied that the dog is safe and in good hands with its owner, and she is grateful that Travis brought the dog to the SPCA. “People who take the time to do the right thing, which this man did – we rely on people doing that,” she said. “So I can’t criticize the person who is saying it; maybe he did think the dog was tied to the tracks. Maybe that’s what he believes. We don’t know. The whole story that makes sense is the story that was given to us by the owner,” that the dog ran away when she fell.
But about the social media furor, Browning said, “People are getting so out of control, thinking the worst. These stories take on a life of their own, and we didn’t see the dog tied to the tracks. This was legitimate, from what we could see and tell, and our officers have good instincts. We don’t just return pets to people because they say it’s theirs. We need to see proof.”
The dog showed no sign of neglect or abuse, Browning said. “Oh, no, she never would have gotten the dog back then if there was any indication of cruelty,” she said. “This was a bright, alert dog, still wearing the leash.”
The original poster did not respond to several requests for an interview, including one forwarded through a friend. On Wednesday afternoon, one of the page’s moderators ended the discussion, posting, “Alright everyone stop commenting on this post, it keeps bumping it to the top. It’s done with, move along, any more comments past this one will be removed and you will also be removed from the group for not reading before acting.”