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Guess

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Stacey Champion testified during a hearing where she was trying to get her puppy back after she tried to ship it through the U.S. mail to her son in Atlanta. In the background are Postal Inspector Jesse Swanson and Minneapolis animal care and control manager Dan Niziolek.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Owner cannot reclaim puppy she put in mail

  • Article by: MATT McKINNEY and PAUL WALSH
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • February 7, 2011 - 9:14 PM

The puppy that almost ended up in the U.S. mail will stay at an animal shelter for at least another week after an administrative hearing officer ruled Monday that it should not be returned to its owner.

On Monday, city administrative hearing officer Fabian Hoffner ruled against returning the dog to owner Stacey Champion, 39, of Minneapolis, calling what she did "disgraceful."

The 4-month-old Schnauzer-poodle mix was nearly sent in a cardboard box to Georgia last month before it was intercepted by alarmed postal workers. Postal authorities said it almost certainly would have suffocated or died of exposure in the unpressurized belly of a cargo plane.

Champion admitted at the hearing that she put Guess in a box without food on Jan. 25, saying it was supposed to be a birthday gift for her son in Atlanta.

Because delivery was halted, Champion said, "I was deprived of my son not receiving his gift for his birthday. I felt really, really bad as a mom."

The case was so unusual that Postal Service employees weren't sure at first if the shipment was illegal, according to Postal Inspector Jesse Swanson. He said at Monday's hearing that on the day the dog was discovered, he got a call from the Loring Post Office station manager asking if Postal Service rules prohibited the mailing of puppies. He had to check the rules himself before learning that it was not permissible.

"This was somewhat uncharted territory for us," he said.

Suspicions about the shipment first arose when employees at the Loring Station post office in downtown Minneapolis saw the box move on its own and heard breathing inside. Champion had told clerks that the box contained a toy robot, according to Swanson.

Postal clerks then called Swanson and held a phone up to the box. "I could hear panting," he recalled. Concerned that the panting was getting "slower and less frequent," Swanson allowed the box to be opened.

The Postal Service will ship some live animals such as bees, certain small and harmless cold-blooded animals, chicks and ducklings. But sending live dogs and cats through the mail is not allowed.

During Monday's hearing, Champion told Hoffner, "I did my best with the procedures and everything," adding that she didn't see any signs at the post office indicating what could or could not be shipped. She said the box had air holes and held water bottles.

Postal officials said that the box's air holes were covered by packing tape and that it did not contain water bottles.

At the end of Monday's hearing, Hoffner zeroed in on Champion as she gave halting, partial answers to his questions.

"Why did you say it was a toy robot?" he asked.

"Because the lady, she just kept throwing the box around, kept throwing the box around, so I just told her it was a toy robot," Champion said.

"The fact that you didn't tell her the truth must have meant that you didn't want her to know," Hoffner said.

"Yes, I didn't want her to know," Champion said.

Many want to adopt puppy

Surrounded by news cameras and reporters, Champion left City Hall and declined to comment on her defeat.

The dog, which has been housed at the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control shelter since its discovery, is still owned by Champion but now moves closer to adoption, perhaps as soon as next week.

Animal control manager Daniel Niziolek said Champion will be asked to post a bond to pay for Guess' care at the shelter from now until Feb. 28, the date of Champion's Hennepin County District Court hearing on two misdemeanor animal cruelty charges the city filed against her for her attempt to mail Guess.

If she doesn't post the bond within five days of it being requested, she'll lose ownership of the puppy, making it available for adoption.

If she posts the bond, Guess' ultimate ownership will hinge on the result of the animal cruelty charges.

In the meantime, "Guess is doing well," Sgt. Angela Dodge, who has been handling the case for the Police Department, said Monday afternoon. "Despite the trauma he endured, he appears to be a healthy and happy puppy who likes to play and receive attention from staff."

Dodge said the city has been receiving "several inquiries each day" from citizens interested in adopting the puppy.

Anyone wishing to adopt from the city shelter must appear there in person. If more than one person wants an animal, shelter staff hold a lottery. If Guess does go up for adoption, Niziolek said, he will notify the media first to give interested people time to plan accordingly.

mmckinney@startribune.com • 612-217-1747 pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482

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