Back in 2016, when a dog in Iowa was locked up over a run-in with a cat, Diann Helmers vowed to fight for her release.
Call it a Pinky swear.
Helmers hadn’t even met the dog when she made that promise. But as an animal welfare activist and founder of Agape Fosters, she simply couldn't turn away.
The mixed-breed dog named Pinky had been taken from her family by the Animal Rescue League (ARL) — the company licensed to handle the City of Des Moines' animal control operations. There allegedly had been a fight involving Pinky and a cat. But Pinky, whose description vaguely matched that of a pit bull, was levied a harsh sentence. The city of Des Moines deemed her a dangerous dog. The sentence was death.
But somehow it managed to be even worse than that. While Helmers, alongside lawyer Jamie Hunter, waged what seemed an unending battle to save her life, Pinky lived in a kind of bureaucratic purgatory.
While the court case was ongoing, animal control workers from ARL simply boxed her away.
Helmers got vague, second-hand descriptions of the dog’s surroundings.
"As far as I am aware," she tells MNN. "It is a back room under lock and key and a cement area."
"It is my understanding, she spent 23 and-a-half to 24 hours a day back there for two years," Helmers adds. "And I heard they turned the radio up to drown out the barking."
Pinky would howl against her cold confines. Meanwhile Helmers, with an army of supporters from across the country at her back, fought a machine that seemed to have a single-minded agenda.
Back and forth, and back again
It wasn’t just Pinky who suffered the Kafkaesque consequences for the crime of being born a certain kind of dog. His owner, a teen named Quinton, was devastated when the dog he raised as a puppy — a dog who he says never had a violent episode in their eight years together — was carted off to a city kennel.
"I told Quinton two years ago … that I would do everything I could to save her life. He, at times, thought that the day would never come."
Without the emotional reserves and resources to fight the City of Des Moines, Quinton's father agreed to let Helmers officially take ownership of the dog.
But on a day in February, freedom suddenly seemed to loom large for Pinky. A Des Moines court decided that the city ordinance was too vague and that she had been seized illegally.
Helmers was elated.
But the city immediately appealed the decision.
"It was always in the back of my mind they would always try to fight it, and they did exactly what I thought they would do."
Pinky would stay in custody for another three weeks. But then, on Monday, Helmers and her lawyer worked out a deal with the City that would allow her to keep Pinky at her private shelter — even as the City continued to challenge the court decision.
"We are persuaded by Helmers' argument that a dangerous animal declaration based on injuries to another animal leaves too much discretion in the hands of city officials," Appeals Court Judge Mary Tabor wrote in the court's majority opinion.
"The city of Des Moines has been unwavering in its mission to kill Pinky," Judge Richard Doyle added in the ruling.
For the first time in two years, Pinky was poised to taste the fresh air of freedom.
A confused dog emerges
City officials agreed to a quiet handover in a closed garage. As Helmers waited inside, a confused, unsteady dog appeared.
"They brought her out and she didn’t know me," Helmers says. "I bent down to say 'Hi,' and it was like she couldn't hear me. And she was just looking around."
But Pinky, resplendent in a color-coordinated new leash and collar provided by Helmers, found her footing at a nearby park. That’s where Quentin was waiting for her.
"She got to see Quinton and then, at first, she didn't remember her family. She was so overwhelmed to be outside in the wide open spaces," Helmers says. "Then all of a sudden she got it and was like, 'Oh my God, it's him!' and jumped on him and kissed him."
Those unsteady legs will have plenty of time to find some traction on her new life. Pinky will need help adjusting to life on the outside. She has some hearing loss. And she’s lost her bark — the result, Helmers suggests, of howling herself hoarse for years.
For now, Pinky will stay with Helmers, in a much cozier kennel with plenty of grass and sunshine.
But the city of Des Moines still haunts Pinky. There are rumblings that her case will be taken to the state’s Supreme Court.
"If they prevail at the Supreme Court level, I have to give her back to the ARL," Helmers says. "I certainly hope it doesn't.
"So she's not 100 percent safe, and that of course stays in the back of my mind. But I slept better last night than I did in a long time."
And so did a dog named Pinky.