Saturday’s mail had a letter from the City of Springfield, addressed to me using my full name, which caught my attention right away. When I opened it, it had a couple of green pieces of paper, one of which said
THE SPRINGFIELD MUNICIPAL COURT HAS ISSUED A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST. A COPY OF THE WARRANT IS ENCLOSED WITH THIS NOTICE. THE WARRANT WILL BE ENTERED INTO A COMPUTER SYSTEM AND YOU MAY BE ARRESTED ANYWHERE IN THE STATE. IN ORDER TO HAVE THE WARRANT CANCELLED, YOU MUST APPEAR, IN PERSON, AT THE MUNICIPAL COURT …
The copy of the warrant enclosed with the notice indicated that my charge was “Failure to appear in Municipal Court to answer the following charge: 18/52(A) - Dog not displaying rabies tag. FTA arraignment 04/17/09 @ 9:00 a.m.”
My bond had been set at $500.00.
Okay, see, here’s what happened -
Six weeks ago, our little old dog Amos got out of the yard. It remains a mystery as to exactly how the gate got left open, and interestingly enough no witnesses have yet come forward to offer testimony to this event. Regardless, Amos was picked up by a thoughtful neighbor some five to six blocks away from our house, and turned in to the animal shelter.
Amos did not have his tags on.
You see, we had removed the tags from Amos’s collar earlier because he has a skin condition that causes him to itch so that he chews on himself until he bleeds. (I know that is probably too much information, but nevertheless, it is the case.) In the middle of the night, this chewing on various parts of his body would cause his collar tags to jingle very annoyingly, waking us up even out of our deepest, most restful slumber.
So we took them off.
And then he got out of the yard.
And then someone picked him up and took him to the Springfield animal shelter.
We discovered him in the shelter by perusing the pictures of the various dogs they have there. These little canine mug shots are posted along with a description of the dog and the location and time they are picked up, so that families can come and get them. Click here to see what I'm talking about.
At this point I might note that we live on the southeast corner of Springfield. The Springfield Animal Shelter is on the northwest corner of Springfield.
It takes seven hours to get there from here.
Seeing Amos’s canine mug shot on the website, our daughter Cori and I jumped into the car and rushed off to rescue him. Eleven days later, when we arrived at the shelter, we discovered that it had closed five minutes prior to our arrival. Nonplussed, we journeyed the three week trek back home, resolving to spring Amos in the morning.
Arriving in what I thought was good time the next morning, I went into the shelter and verified that it was, indeed, Amos who was incarcerated there. We figured out how many nights he had been there, which determined the amount of the fine. Pulling out my checkbook to pay the agent, I was informed that he could not accept a check, the bail had to be posted in cash. “No problem,” I said through clenching teeth. “I’ll run to an ATM and be right back.”
“We close in ten minutes,” I was informed.
Apparently, the Springfield Animal Shelter is open for intermittently random hours at a time. Just kind of whenever they have enough income to pay their workers, perhaps.
Anyway, I sped to the nearest ATM, at a convenience store exactly four and a half minutes away from the shelter, got my cash, agreeing to pay the $1.50 fee for doing so, and sped the four and half minutes back to the shelter, arriving exactly one minute before they were scheduled to close.
At the counter, ready to pay the guy, get the dog, and go home, I was informed, “Oh, and then I’ll have to write you a ticket because he didn’t have rabies tags.”
There was a moment there, in the terse silence that followed, that I thought to myself, “Why not just leave him? You know, I could tell the kids that the trauma had just been too much for old Amos. His heart just couldn’t take it, and now he was playing up in doggie heaven.”
(They would never know!)
“A ticket?” I asked.
“Yep, we’ll just set you a court date here and you can just go in and pay the fine ... or you could plead not guilty and see what happens,” he said, oh so very helpfully.
So he wrote out the ticket, handing it to me with the receipt for Amos’s bail, and we went to the back to get the dog. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been to a dog pound before, but it is the most disgusting place I’ve ever been. The stench is palpable; my eyes were watering and I was struggling not to gag. A worker had Amos in his arms, so I clipped on his leash and took him to the car, loaded him in the back and drove the six month pilgrimage from the shelter back to our house.
(I should pause at this point to explain that it really isn’t all that far to the shelter, but driving in Springfield, Missouri is like entering into a rip in the space/time continuum and so everything seeems loonggerr thaaan iiit reeaaalllyyy iiiisssss.)
Well, here's where it gets a bit tricky. Amos was rescued, the gates were closed, the tags were reattached to the collar, and life moved on. In fact, life moved on so rapidly over the next few weeks that the hearing date for Amos’s rabies tags began to fade into the mist. I think I was always vaguely aware in the back of my mind that I had some nebulous obligation I needed to fill, but other thoughts so quickly crowded that one out that it really never had a chance to take hold.
The date of the hearing came and went without fanfare; in fact, we didn’t even notice at all. It was just another day of chasing toddlers, shuttling kids to school and other various and assorted activities, maintaining a household, working (Holy Week and Easter happened in there somewhere), and just generally living the busy-ness that is our life. To tell you the truth, the notice of my impending arrest was the first time I had thought about it at all in weeks!
So, from that fateful Saturday when I got notice of my arrest warrant until Monday morning, I was a wanted man.
I had visions of one of the police officers who are a part of the congregation walking down the aisle as I was preaching on Sunday morning ready to take me it. “Excuse me, Mr. Bryan. You’ll have to come with me. I’m placing you under arrest for failure to appear in court. You have the right to remain silent,…” And so forth. There would be gasps of surprise all around the room, and murmured conversations as people asked one another what, if anything, they knew of the drama unfolding before their eyes. Then someone would make a pithy quip like they always do on Law and Order. (*dun dun*)
It felt strangely exciting. I was dangerous. On the lam. An outlaw. I watched the world go by through desperado eyes, squinting suspiciously at anyone I came across. I trusted no one.
I made it through Saturday and Sunday without incident. The first thing Monday morning – actually the first thing right after I got the kids ready for the day and dropped the bigs off at elementary school and the smalls off at their day care – I headed to the City Court building. I entered the building, then had to be directed back out so that I could come in through the metal detector since I had entered through the exit side. (Outlaws do that kind of thing.)
Boldly I strode up to the counter where a clerk waited behind a plexiglass barrier, a suspiciously pleasant expression on his face. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked.
Taking my notification pages out of my pocket, I put them on the counter and said, “I’d like to take care of this, please.”
He very anticlimactically asked me for my name, went to the back room and came back with a file folder, which he opened and glanced over. “Do you want to just plead guilty?” he asked, “Because I can go ahead and recall this warrant right now if you do.”
“Yes please,” I replied, suddenly not feeling very desperado like.
“Okay,” said the clerk, “and do you have the $99.50 today?”
He said “Ninety-nine fifty” and so I thought he was talking about a form or some kind of official document. “I don’t know what that is,” I said.
“It’s the amount of the fine and your costs,” he said, with a rather puzzled look.
“Oh. Yes, I have it.” I wrote the check.
Taking it from me, he printed off a page and handed it to me, saying, “You should probably keep this with you for 60 to 90 days, in case you get pulled over or something like that. The warrant should be recalled in the computer, but just in case. And that’s it.” I sensed that I was being dismissed.
So I said, “Thank you, sir,” and left.
The paper says, “WARRANT RECALL NOTICE.” It has the ticket number on it, the date of the recall, and the signature of the Honorable Todd M. Thornhill, Municipal Court Judge.
So that’s my story. Having stood toe-to-toe with the Thirty First Circuit Court of Missouri, Springfield Municipal Division, and then humbly paying my debt to society, I have come out on the other side a better person for the experience. And now, after living life on the edge, a fugitive of the law, I may be a bit harder, a bit more flinty, but at least I can say with confidence that I am a free man.