After a year and a half in the isolation of death row, Nadas the horse-chasing dog did not immediately recognize his old master.
But soon, the collie-malamute mix offered his paw and began frantically licking the tears from Sean Roach's face in an emotional reunion recently at the Utah animal sanctuary where the dog has been sent to live out his days."It was a heart-wrenching situation," sanctuary spokesman Raphael de Payer said in a telephone interview. "The fact that these two are not together is just wrong."
The reunion was arranged by the tabloid TV show "Hard Copy," which aired a program about the case that unleashed a groundswell of outrage against laws that make it a capital crime for pets to harass livestock.
Deluged with calls and letters, authorities in Medford, Ore., last month lifted the dog's death sentence and shipped him off to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab.
Monday's meeting at the sanctuary was the first time Roach had been able to pet Nadas since September 1996, when a neighbor complained that the dog was chasing a horse. Nadas was immediately taken away by animal control officers, placed on death row and not allowed visitors.
The only glimpse Roach has had of the dog since then was on Halloween of that year, when he dressed in a clown costume and pushed past workers at an animal shelter in an aborted attempt to spring Nadas.
Roach, a 22-year-old warehouse manager, never forgot about the dog he raised as a pup. He spent thousands to keep him well fed while in captivity and appealed the case all the way to state Supreme Court, which declined to the hear arguments.
Finally, Roach was faced with an agonizing decision. Jackson County commissioners said they would lift the death sentence only if Roach agreed to drop plans to sue the county and sever all his ties with the dog. Roach signed the papers.
The reunion was an apparent violation of that agreement. But Roach said there were bigger issues at stake.
"He's not just a dog. He's a living being. He has a soul," Roach was quoted as saying on the sanctuary's Internet site.
Roach was traveling Tuesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
"It was important for him to see him, not just the footage on TV, but to actually see him and pet him and give him a hug," said Sharon Roach, Sean's mother. "Just Sean knowing that he is in a good place, a good home, and knows people there are going to take care of Nadas, I think that means a lot."