By Cindy Wolff
July 23, 2002
Anyone who loves their pets can relate to the panic Christina Walker must have felt last week when she found her car was stolen with her cocker spaniel inside.
She told police officers her 5-year-old daughter Samantha was inside the car, resulting in a frenzied search involving 45 law enforcement officers.
She knew the police would give it a top priority if they believed the kidnap victim was a child and not a canine.
Once Walker's father told the officers Samantha was a dog and not a child, Walker found herself facing a felony charge of filing a false police report.
And if facing a possible sentence of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000 wasn't bad enough, it turns out Walker's fabrication was for naught.
Samantha was found dead after apparently being hit by a car near where Walker's abandoned car was found.
It's hard for some people to understand the bond that drove this 24-year-old woman to risk her freedom and cause so much panic in a city already flinching from the of children caught in the crossfire of drug deals gone bad.
Walker's lie also came on the same day a 5-year-old girl was kidnapped and later found murdered in California.
The situation of children in danger awakens a primal panic in all human beings desperate to save the innocent ones.
But like it or not, in Walker's eyes, her dog was an innocent too: a defenseless creature she loves caught in a dangerous situation.
After her lie unraveled, many animal lovers responded with empathy because they know how far society has to go in recognizing the importance of companion animals in our lives. While pets are considered a part of the family, society still regards them as unimportant as the spare tire that gets stolen with the car.
Co-workers don't make fun of you if you talk about how much you love your children. But tell them how crazy you are about your pet, and some of them roll their eyes. Tell them you would risk your life to save your pet's, and they shake their heads.
There's no comparison, they argue. A child, a human being - an offspring of man - has far more value and importance in the universe than that of some dog or cat, they say.
To give an animal value is to belittle our own existence. If we give them worth anywhere close to our own, then we not only elevate an animal to our exalted status, we lower ourselves, they believe.
But what they are overlooking is that some people have enough room in their heart to love more than just their own species. They find joy, comfort, companionship and, most of all, unconditional love in the face of a dog or cat. Animals bring us a peculiar connection with the Earth and sense of acceptance you usually have to earn with most humans.
Companion animals don't place conditions on their love. They don't go through a midlife crisis and leave you, they don't lie and cheat and get into drugs or the wrong crowd. They don't have "teenage years." They don't think they are better than you because they live in a bigger house or drive a better car. Their affection isn't measured by status. It simply is.
They put on a wagging, furried fireworks show every day when you return home, a greeting most humans rarely show each other.
For however long they live they love you. They accept all your bad-hair days, your mood swings, your imperfect figure, your out-of-style clothes, torn sofa and dirty house.
They rarely let you down and will exhaust their last breath if it means they get to be by your side one more day.
They even exhibit forgiveness, something humans like to claim as their own special talent. But after you see an abused or tortured dog or cat still wag its tail or rub its face against a human, even the one who inflicted the pain, you understand the true magnitude of the word.
So, it's understandable Walker cried out and lied and called the dog her child. She probably loved her, tended to her and fed her like it was her child.
Maternal instincts don't always respect the lines between species. Just because her dog isn't her own flesh and blood, it doesn't mean she didn't shower it with the same love and affection she would gladly give a child of her own.
And she was worried something would happen to her dog. This wasn't a purse or a compact disc collection or a bag of newly purchased clothes. Samantha was a sentient being that feels happiness and pain. Walker obviously loved her very much.
Maybe if society recognized the valuable role companion animals play in our lives and that our love for them is much deeper than it is for anything else we "own," then Walker wouldn't have felt like she needed to lie to get law enforcement to look for her pet. She could have told them her dog was in the car, and maybe the police officers would have included that on a bulletin about the car theft so patrol officers could keep an eye out for the frightened spaniel. Television news stations may have included the information. They've responded before when pets have been lost in a car wreck or in other circumstances.
But Walker didn't give the police or the media a chance. In what must have been a panic, she told a lie that sent helicopters into the sky and officers frantically searching the streets, certain a child was imperiled.
So does Walker deserve to be punished? Samantha, her friend and companion, died because she foolishly left her in the car while she went into a store. Maybe that heartache is punishment enough.
Does she deserve to go to prison because she loved her pet enough to lie to try to save it? Probably not. If a police officer had been injured or someone else hurt as a result of her actions, then maybe.
Some, including law enforcement, will argue that an example needs to be set. Wanton filing of false police reports could ensue. But is that really likely?
Maybe society could show her the same compassion our animals show us when we do wrong and forgive her.
Staff reporter Cindy Wolff writes the Pet Scoop column in Sunday Appeal. She is at 529-5220, or E-mail wolff @gomemphis.com.