Monday, August 21, 2006

Rogue animal activists stole Mike Costello's dog

Now Annex residents are trying to help the homeless man get Trouble back

Mike Costello shows a picture of Trouble, his dog, stolen from his last month. (Craig Robertson, Sun)

Detectives in 14 Division have launched a police investigation into a rogue animal rights group that stole a homeless man's dog and then wrote an anonymous and caustically worded letter bragging about its exploits.

The return address on that letter was bogus, of course. And arrogant, with its laughing-out-loud shorthand. "Stop Animal Neglect, 101 Dalmation (sic) Road, Rescue City," it read, followed by the fictitious thumb-your-nose postal code of "LOLBYE."

According to Staff-Sgt. Dave Woodley of 14 Division, the theft of the dog is being taken seriously.
There is, in fact, a seven-page occurrence report that has been assigned to Det.-Const. Graham Atkinson of 14 Division's criminal investigations bureau.


"We are on it," says Woodley.

Mike Costello, 56, is the homeless man. He came from the Galway region of Ireland in 1971, worked construction, fell on hard times and landed on the streets six years ago.

Trouble is -- or was -- the name of his dog, a shepherd-bull terrier cross that many dog-loving residents of the Annex have known for all the years that this man and his dog have staked out the corner of Dupont and Spadina -- and that includes Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford, who not only allows Costello to use her mailing address as if it were his but has given him access to her own veterinarian.

"I've always found Mike to be completely reliable, and a lot more reliable than a lot of people I know with homes," says Blatchford. "And he loves that dog. It is more important to him than anything else in his life.

"What these people did to him is wrong."

Trouble, who is eight, and who has been with Mike Costello for seven years, was snatched outside a storefront at Dupont and Spadina on Friday, July 21, while Costello was inside buying his morning coffee.

There are hundreds of homeless people in this city, and many with dogs. But it is rare for neighbours in the area where such homeless people live to rally around an individual who lives on the streets and actually put up posters to help him retrieve a dog that initially was thought to be the victim of an adolescent prank.

But that's what has happened here.

Charlene Eales, a communications consultant with a major insurance company, was one of those neighbours. Not only did she put up posters offering a reward for Trouble's return, using her home number as a contact, she got in touch with Michelle Nadon of the Toronto chapter of an animal welfare group called A Cause for Paws, asking for assistance.

And this is where it got strange.

Before Eales had contacted her, Nadon was informed of an anonymous call to the Toronto Humane Society and to an animal sanctuary in Ottawa, inquiring whether either organization would give refuge to a dog that was about to be seized off the streets of Toronto.

Both groups refused to be involved in such a plot.

Nadon immediately e-mailed all her contacts in the animal rescue game, advising them that Trouble had been illegally snatched and that his owner, while homeless, made sure that Trouble was "exceptionally loved and well cared for."

"His owner is heartbroken," Nadon wrote in her e-mail, asking any rescuer who came into contact with Trouble to immediately contact her or Charlene Eales.

The aforementioned letter from the thieves -- caustic, arrogant, and written with a sense of entitlement -- arrived in Charlene Eales' mailbox a few days later and is now in the hands of police.

It was also addressed to "Mitch."


It was addressed to Mitch because the letter also included a copy of the e-mail that Michelle Nadon had sent to all her animal rescue contacts, meaning someone inside one of those normally law-abiding groups was one of those involved in stealing Trouble.

Mitch, after all, is Michelle Nadon's nickname -- something only insiders or friends would know.
The letter called both Eales and Nadon "laughingstocks" for trying to secure Trouble's return.
The language was denigrating and mocking.

"We cannot say enough how disgusted we are with both of you for trying so hard to reunite Mike and Trouble," the letter says.

Then the letter goes on to libel Mike Costello, citing alleged mental health issues and public drunkenness, as well as their perception that he is guilty of animal neglect.

Rochelle Cantor is a lawyer, and it is along her front stoop at Dupont and Spadina that Mike Costello and Trouble could often be found sitting in the shade.

And she, too, is on Mike Costello's side.

"That dog is in better shape, and better cared for, than most of us," she says, indicating that Costello often used the hose at the side of her office to get water for Trouble.

"Everyone around here watches out for them. Whoever took Trouble is terribly misguided.

"If they are such humanitarians," she says, "why don't they 'rescue' Mike and take him into their care?"

No one, by the by, has ever seen Mike Costello drunk in public -- not Cantor, not Eales, not any retailer or pedestrian approached on his corner for comment -- although he can occasionally be found sipping from a can of beer.

"I don't drink very much," Costello says. "I used to, years ago, but not any more.

"Right now I just want Trouble back. What people think of me doesn't matter. But I'm a good person, I really am.

"And I love that dog. He's all that matters."


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