No Saving Grace
Highlights from Hair Balls
This is a story about a puppy who was needlessly euthanized by people who claim to be big animal rescuers in Houston, who appear to have perpetrated a lie and who were dumb enough to put the lie in writing.
At center stage, really, is the dog: Juno. A stray pittie, twenty-odd pounds when found, with an unknown skin condition — possibly allergies. Juno's found by Jeff Caldwell around June 1. He'll die on July 9, but we'll get to that later.
Battle of the Piney Woods: SFA vs. SHSU
TicketsSat., Oct. 1, 3:00pm
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane Football
TicketsSat., Oct. 15, 11:00am
Rice University Owls Football vs. UTSA Roadrunners Football
TicketsSat., Oct. 15, 6:00pm
Rice University Owls Football vs. Prairie View A&M University Football
TicketsSat., Oct. 22, 2:30pm
Caldwell and his wife Lydia are referred by a fellow animal rescuer to a woman named Amy Walther. A volunteer with Citizens for Animal Protection. The deal is, Walther will foster Juno, and the Caldwells get a chance to screen any potential adopters. But when Lydia Caldwell says she's ready to take Juno back in early July, Walther surrenders him to CAP and then tells her buddy Shelby Kibodeaux that Juno is lost.
Kibodeaux, who recently co-chaired a fund-raising gala for Citizens for Animal Protection, tells Caldwell the dog was adopted by a woman in New Mexico. Now, Kibodeaux's a big name in animal rescue. He's also a big self-promoter — the kind of dude you see a lot of in society pages and on Web sites. He spins a glorious yarn for the Caldwells about how Juno is living it up with Kibodeaux's in-laws in Santa Fe. Or wait, is it Albuquerque? Kibodeaux and Walther can't seem to nail it down. Lydia and Jeff Caldwell express dismay and try to get the dog back. Of course, the dog isn't in New Mexico. He's dead.
Now there's a lawsuit over alleged fraud, a string of e-mails so mind-blowingly disgraceful that show how at least two adults participated in a needless death, and a cover-up attempt whose stupidity ascends to the sublime.
Here's the nitty-gritty: The Caldwells are suing Walther, Kibodeaux, Kibodeaux's partner, Bruce Padilla, and Kibodeaux's relative, Natalie Bustillos, for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Walther et al would have gotten away with their plan, too, if it weren't for the fact that the Caldwells are not four years old and are also in possession of circulatory systems that allow the flow of blood in order to oxygenate fully functioning brains. And it was because of this absence of hypoxia that they came to realize that something was really, really wrong. They came to realize that Walther and Kibodeaux were totally and utterly full of shit.
For one thing, Kibodeaux already admitted to Hair Balls that he lied to the Caldwells when he told them Juno was in New Mexico. He had to admit it, because he knows he was dumb enough to leave an e-mail trail. But what he does when he admits it to Hair Balls is, he throws his pal Walther under the bus. He says she told him Juno was lost, and he had no reason to believe she was lying, so he makes up the New Mexico story to buy time. In the meantime, he says, he and Padilla scour Walther's neighborhood for more than a week, looking for Juno, figuring he'd turn up eventually.
Here's what Kibodeaux and Padilla don't do: They don't immediately use their vast network of concerned animal rescuers to distribute a photo and description of the dog. They don't post flyers. They don't visit shelters. Pretty much whatever it is people do when they lose a dog, they don't do it. See, they can't, because they've already spun this cockamamie story about New Mexico, and if the Caldwells find out it's a lie, Kibodeaux and Walther will have egg on their faces, and a yolk-covered mug don't look good in society pages. See, they've got airs to maintain, people. Airs that are more important than some dumb stray dog.
If you've made it this far, you can quit after reading a single e-mail, sent by Amy Walther to Lydia Caldwell — with Kibodeaux copied — 12 days after Juno was euthanized. It was sent because the Caldwells had desperately been trying to get pictures of Juno in his new home, and then trying to get Juno back after they realized something wasn't right.
"Juno has been adopted. THIS IS OVER All contact ends now. Please do not continue to harass Shelby, Bruce, or me.
"We are prepared jointly to take legal action against you for harassment and slander."
Now how 'bout that?
Okay, so now you know what kind of people we're dealing with. But the string of e-mails leading up to that apotheosis of asshole-ishness is an almost equally fascinating journey into mystifying human behavior.
Here's an e-mail from Kibodeaux to Lydia Caldwell (with Walther copied):
"I did a Vet check and their my in laws so I know their yard is secure and their are no other dogs in the home. I will see Juno for the rest of his life and will have them send pictures as soon as he acclimated into the new home.
Kibodeaux sent that e-mail on July 11, two days after Juno was put down.
On July 17, eight days after Juno was put down, Kibodeaux e-mailed Jeff Caldwell:
"Juno is in a fantastic place BUT with 1 phone call I can have him flown to Houston. I'll pay half to keep my Friendship with y'all. The cost of shipping a dog between ABQ and IAH for $385.00(with crate costs included) $192.50 is half......when shall I have the dog shipped back and y'all can pick him up in cargo port at IAH. Let me know how to move forward."
The signature line, as usual, includes "ANIMAL WARRIOR."
It seems that Kibodeaux expected the Caldwells to balk at the money, because after they agreed to pay it, Kibodeaux cut off contact.
But Kibodeaux was pretty chatty with us.
"I lied to Lydia and to her husband to buy time for us to see if we could find that dog," he tells Hair Balls. "That's all we did. That's all I did."
He adds that he truly believed Walther when she said Juno was lost.
"We couldn't find the dog, and then the next thing you know...we're getting sued for emotional distress and all kind of other bullshit," Kibodeaux says, overlooking several weeks' worth of desperate e-mails from the Caldwells begging for information about Juno.
He says of Lydia Caldwell, "She's asked me to help her get jobs over the last...five or six years in the animal community, and I've tried. I've tried to be nice to this chick, and now she's suing us."
He continues: "She's just doing this for money. And you know what else is pretty shitty? She tried to have us all served at the [CAP] gala...It's just ridiculous, and the only reason she's jacking with me is 'cause I'm somebody in the stupid animal rescue, you know? [sic]"
Kibodeaux stopped being chatty after a while when we started asking questions about why he didn't come clean with the Caldwells before he was contacted by their attorney. Instead of answering questions in an e-mail, he threatened legal action. Because that's what people do.
"I will say this and then my conversation with you is finished — whatever you print about me Or bruce better be factual and true because if not, you WILL hear from our Attorney. Feel free to say what you want but make sure you can factually prove it if you're gonna print it."
As for Walther, she said she was "instructed" not to talk, but she wouldn't say by whom. And then she said something that made us feel like we'd gone completely through the looking glass, like we'd been sucked into some forlorn corner of the world where logic and basic human decency go to die: She said she had no proof that Juno was dead.
"Everything in [the lawsuit] is without merit, and I haven't done anything wrong..." she said.
She urged us to do some fact-checking, because then we'd find out that the real story isn't reflected in the lawsuit. And, as is pretty much rote in these situations, she didn't indicate where these "facts" could be found.
And then she introduced the Shyamalan Twist: "I do not know if Juno was put down or not. I have never seen a document saying that. I have not spoken with anybody at CAP....According to the state, they can't release that kind of information. So I have not asked...that would be overstepping my boundaries....Hand to the Bible on that one."
But then how did she explain her July 21 e-mail — the one stating, "Juno has been adopted"?
Like this: "I knew he was in a place where adoption takes place. A shelter that I believe in...It was a reputable shelter." Spoiler alert: She wouldn't provide the shelter's name.
Strangely enough, Hair Balls was able to determine that Juno had, in fact, been euthanized — something that we thought all the defendants would have stipulated to, like the world being round. But we underestimated the depths Walther was willing to go to. Here's an e-mail from CAP's shelter director, Jessica Ellis Marks, to Lydia Caldwell, sent August 26:
"On July 8th, 2012, a member of the public surrendered a blue and white Pit bull mix named Juno. At the time of surrender, this person was informed that due to skin conditions which required treatment, we could not place the dog up for adoption and that by surrendering, he was at a high risk for euthanasia. The person completed all of our forms and stated that they would not be able to treat. At that time, we decided it would be best to house the dog overnight in hopes that they would redeem and treat the dog with our assistance. By the end of the day July 9th, we had not been contacted about treating the dog, so members of management made the unfortunate decision to humanely euthanize him."
Now how about that. The person who surrendered Juno was told that they were pretty much sentencing the dog to death, and they just dumped him there anyway. Now that's what we call a real animal lover.
As for Kibodeaux's assertion that the Caldwells filed the lawsuit as a money grab, the Caldwells' attorney, Christiana Dijkman, points out that suing over a dead dog in Texas might not be the surefire get-rich-quick scheme Kibodeaux apparently thinks it is. For one thing, she says, a dog's value in Texas is perhaps a few hundred bucks. And while there is now case law that allows plaintiffs to sue for emotional damage, the dollar amount, should it go to trial, is entirely up to the jury.
And what of Lydia Caldwell, who never actually met Amy Walther but spoke with her on the phone? (She says her husband is the one who met with Walther and checked out her home.)
"The reason I decided to trust her with Juno is because she told me she had been a volunteer for CAP for six years," Caldwell says. "She was retired from being a business owner for 20 years in the travel agency business. She lives in a good area...she said all the right things. She has dogs of her own. She had fostered before. She sounded completely normal and like someone who I could entrust a puppy to for a little while until I found him a home."
She also tells us, "The last thing I want, really, is to be sued for libel or slander, which is exactly and precisely why we are using the legal system so that we can legally expose these people." She adds that, in the event there is a significant monetary award, she would likely establish a trust in Juno's name to cover fostering or health-care costs for other pups in peril.
She's baffled as to why Kibodeaux didn't immediately get the word out about a lost dog (back when he first allegedly thought Juno was lost) or ultimately come clean after his "buying time" plan didn't work.
"He most certainly didn't think to be honest and just tell me, 'Hey, Lydia, I understand that Amy has been fostering for you. I have to tell you, we've been looking for this puppy for the last day or two, and I simply must share with you: It is lost, and we need your help.' Nobody ever came forth to say anything. Nobody."
She says, "We will forever mourn Juno. Because what happened to him [was] tragically unnecessary. We were there for him. We were his backup. I was telling Amy, 'I want to pick him up on the 11th.' She never got back to me with a time....She didn't respond to my calls, she didn't respond to my e-mails. But I told her several times, 'We intend to pick him up on the 11th.' And what does she do on the 8th? She turns him in to a kill shelter, signs off on a piece of paper that says, 'We can, and most likely will, euthanize this dog.'"
One last interesting point: Lydia Caldwell needlessly apologized for being "emotional" in her conversation with us. She explained that she is saddened by the loss of Juno.
We didn't get that from Kibodeaux or Walther. We got a lawsuit threat from one, and a suggestion that Juno might actually be alive from the other.
If dogs have friends like these, who needs enemies?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.