"She was a real good companion. She was there every night when I slept, reassuring during the night, you know I’d wake up and I’d put my hand on her and touch her fur and then she’d lick my hand and I’d go to sleep again. And I don’t have that now…"
Three Stars' is a story of when misconceived stereotypes are acted upon and heartbreaking damage is done. Sunny, Three Stars' dog, was taken from him after a call to animal control from a local construction crew who thought he was unfit to own a dog. I first met Three Stars in the Seattle Municipal Court for one of his hearings to get Sunny back, where he was supported by a group of friends and a lawyer who had agreed to represent him pro bono.
Sunny, a black lab, came into Three Stars' life through the Seattle-based organization Facing Homelessness. Rex Hohlbein, the director of the organization, knows Three Stars well and had spent a lot of time with Three Stars and his previous dog, Lulu, before she passed away after twelve years together. Wanting to help Three Stars recover that kind of companionship in his life, the Facing Homelessness community came together to support Three Stars in finding a new dog. He tells the story of how, soon after he got Sunny, Lulu had visited him and he understood that it was Lulu who made Sunny stand out to him when he was choosing from the litter.
Sunny and Three Stars became fast friends and companions, "Well you know she was always there to look over, to watch my back. She would let me know when somebody was coming up on me. Especially at night. When I sleep I want somebody there next to me and basically a dog’s perfect, you know, because there’s nothing expected and nothing demanded and the dog’s there because it wants to be there too. And she did sleep right next to me, you know. When she was little, tiny, you know, she was only about this big and I kept her up near my chest so she could hear my heart beat at night, you know, because that way she won’t whimper and cry missing her siblings and mama."
When I meet Three Stars again in the UW Arboretum, he takes me for a paddle in his canoe just like he used to do with Sunny, and Lulu before her. We pass the small boat that he sleeps on under the 520 bridge and, as we continue on, he points out the beaver dam nearby and tells me the names he's given to all of the beavers he shares the area with and has gotten to observe over his many nightly canoe outings. His mind is full with knowledge about animals and the environment, and as we continue to paddle I learn not only about his story with Sunny but all about the various other wildlife that he encounters in this area.
Three Stars has always had dogs since he was a child, and before Sunny he had had two dogs in the past 23 years, Lulu and Lucky before her. Each time he lost a dog to old age it was less than a month before he got a new companion, but now as we glide over the water he tells me that with all of the legal battles over getting Sunny back it's been eight months without a dog - the longest in his life. When I ask him what he feels like is missing from his life without a dog, he tells me, "No companionship. Nobody there that I can care for, feed, and cook for, you know do all that sort of thing for. I mean it’s just a pain in the ass. It’s a bummer." Three Stars has been going to the same veterinarian in West Seattle for twelve years, ever since he got Lulu as a puppy, and has always prioritized his dogs' care over his own - "I would always get my check and then take the money out of that check and pay the vet bill. If I have any issues with a dog, I take 'em to [the vet], I take the dog right over there and say 'Doc, what’s up?'"
The accusations made against Three Stars came from five construction workers who allege that they saw him beating Sunny and that they had repeatedly yelled down to him to say something about it. Understandably worked up, Three Stars tells me, "Look yeah, I might cuss a bit once in a while but I’m not gonna hurt the animal, I’m not gonna hit her. That’s just not what happened!" Anyone who knows Three Stars knows that there is no way he would hurt an animal, and he feels strongly that the construction workers collaborated to make up a story that matched each others' exactly. As for the yelling down to him, Three Stars tells me "They say that they were yelling at me on many occasions and I’m like, yeah right, I never heard anybody say a word to me. None of them ever said a word about it, none of them. I don’t care what they freakin’ say or what they write down. That’s a lie."
With sorrow in voice, he acknowledges that there's a very low likelihood of him ever getting Sunny back. "But because of this damning falsity that these people have put down on paper my lawyer doesn’t think I can win. You gotta know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. And this is one of those times that I’m just gonna have to fold them, I’m pretty sure."
All this time to think over the way things unfurled has given him a chance to really evaluate whether Sunny was the best dog for him and he was the best owner for Sunny, however. It's obvious that it hurts him deeply to admit, but in spite of his love for Sunny he is unsure if he could even keep up with her boundless energy as he gets older. "What I gather from animal control is that they don’t think we’re the right fit for each other. And the more I think about it, they might be right. They just might be right. I mean, I love the animal to death. I mean, she’s my baby girl. I hate to part with her, but I think after all the thought that I’ve had over it, I think this dog needs something other than I can provide for her. Sunny’s a good dog, she’s just got so much pent up energy. A little bit more than I should handle because of my age."
When all the court cases are finished, Three Stars says he'll think about getting a new puppy if he can't get Sunny back. "Whoever gets her is going to be a happy family I hope. I pretty much made my mind up on it."