The Bureaucrat’s Om

For all of our talk on this blog and elsewhere about the larger themes of government and public policy, there’s not a lot of space devoted to government on the micro-level.

Here’s one. It begins with a pit bull attack on a friend of mine, Claire Ward, in her own driveway. Her dog, a Corgi named Barney, is killed and she is injured trying to thwart the attack.

This is the sort of story that the press loves — and both the RTD and the local television stations have jumped at the chance to cover it.

But how are Richmond officials responding? That’s where things get weird.

The local precinct captain appeared on Claire’s doorstep to personally apologize for the delay in responding to her 911 call. She was told her case was a “top priority.” They are trying to build as solid a case as possible, and may believe that this attack will lead them to uncovering a dog fighting ring (it also seems that South Richmond is a haven for dog fighting…and heroin trafficking, the two appear to go hand-in-hand).

Meanwhile, Richmond animal control has issued nuisance warrants for the owners of the dog, but say they can’t be served because they do not know where the owners are. Richmond police, on the other hand, have issued no warrants for the attack, but know exactly where the owners are.


Meanwhile, a call to the Assistant Commonwealth’s attorney investigating the case results in what can only be described as a bad bit from the Howard Stern Show. Claire calls, identifies herself and asks where things stand. The response? The ACA thinks it’s a friend prank calling him and just laughs out loud.

Not good.

There are a lot of other threads to this — like old courts orders that were ignored, non-responses from the health department regarding rabies treatments and such — that lead me to believe that while portions of Richmond government may have changed for the better, it’s guts haven’t changed at all. If anything, the city has elevated bureaucratic plodding to an almost Zen-like state.

The good news is that Claire has the resources, determination and contacts to overcome many of these obstacles (at least so far). But most Richmonders don’t. Not even close. We can write about transportation crises and taxation until our fingers bleed, but it’s at the micro-level, where government and citizens meet every day, that really matters. And in Richmond, and in this case, the results so far are truly depressing.

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4 responses to “The Bureaucrat’s Om”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    While this may sound weird, I suggest that Claire get in touch with local pit bull rescue groups.

    They are staffed by compassionate, tough folks who know how to keep the heat on and cut through bureaucratic b.s. Its in their interest to go after the perp.

    I will be writing to Mike Herring myself as a pit dog owner to make sure he understands that this case is important to all dog owners.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Norm, This is a fascinating study in local governance. It is the level where most citizens interact with their government. Keep us posted on Claire’s efforts to overcome the bureaucratic lethargy of Richmond city government.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    When I was in college lived in a very small and close-knit community. It was a boat yard where many people lived aboard, and several also worked in the marina/shipyard. While I was there I helped construct several good-sized yachts.

    Being in southern North Carolina it was a haven for northern yacht owners in the winter and Southern yacht owners in the summer. The place was famous for its repair work, and I recall one yacht visitng there named Bolero. Bolero was famous for having survived being rolled over three times during a hurricane.

    The marina was a kind of early nautical version of new urbanism, in its own way.

    One of the yard workers had an ill-tempered, yet likeable dog. On a bad day, the dog bit one of the children of the owner of the yard, but not seriously.

    The yard owner and the community made it clear that this would not be tolerated. (A number of boat owners had cats as pets.)

    One of the yard inhabitants was a remarkable guy. A smallish fellow, and a mathemetician by training, he was a killer in the evening chess matches. He was one of the strongest people for his size I ever met, and utterly fearless.

    I once watched him climb a mast hand over hand as if he was walking down a sidewalk in order to clear a fouled spinnaker halyard – during a thunderstorm.

    The story goes that he was once attacked on the street. His assailant struck him with a tire iron and broke his forearm in three places. John subdued his assailant with his other arm and pinned him against the building until the police came.

    When the trial came, the judge asked John what he thought he should do. John’s answer was to leave the assailant alone in a room with him for five minutes.

    The dog made the mistake of attacking John.

    I wasn’t there, but the story goes that John rammed his arm down the dog’s throat above his elbow. The dog was never the same again. He and the owner left the boatyard shortly after.

    I can’t recommend or condone John’s actions, but it was a fascinating study in local governance.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ray, the N.C. boat yard sounds like the setting for a John Steinbeck novel — an East Coast Cannery Row.

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