This Lawyer Managed to Save a Woman with 29 Rescue Dogs from Eviction—but Now There’s a Bigger Problem

Defense attorney (and dog rescuer) Andy Carpenter is back in our latest select Editions volume. In this comic thriller, his sarcastic bark is as sharp as his bite.

Mark Ulriksen for Reader's Digest

My client’s name is Martha Boyer.

I first heard about her 20 years ago, and we’ve been sort of friends for 15. But I learned her real name only a few weeks ago. She never uses that name, and very few people know it.

Like everyone else, I’ve always thought of her as the Puppy Lady, and when I talk to her, I call her by her chosen nickname, Pups. (Did you know these unbelievable facts about dogs?)

Pups is 68 years old, another fact I learned only when I took on her case. Her husband died in a drive-by shooting about a year ago. Pups has continued to live in their house on 41st Street in Paterson, New Jersey.

I’d say about half the people who know Pups consider her cantankerous and difficult; the other half think she’s a complete pain. I’m somewhere in the middle, but I can’t help liking her. I think the fact that I like her pisses her off.

She doesn’t much care for social niceties; it’s unlikely that she spends time at fancy cocktail parties. If she has any income, I don’t know what the source is. But she seems to get by, and it never came up in our discussions about my taking on the case. I have no interest in being paid for it. I have plenty of money, and this is a worthwhile cause.

The animal shelters in Passaic County leave quite a bit to be desired. They’re overcrowded, and animals that aren’t adopted can get put down. Puppies create a particular problem. They need to stay until they are old enough to adopt, so that uses up scant space and resources.

That’s where Pups steps in. She takes the puppies from the shelter, along with their mothers, and cares for them until they’re ready to be placed in homes. Join the cause–these 50 dogs need a home.

FEA_SE-BookExcerpt_US171104Mark Ulriksen for Reader's Digest
She never turns puppies away, so her house rarely has fewer than 25 dogs in it. I’ve been there, and she keeps it amazingly clean. It’s an excellent way for these dogs to come into what might otherwise have been a cold and uncaring world. As you might have guessed by now, I am a big fan of Pups. (Adopting a puppy? Here’s what you need to buy for it.)

Unfortunately, not everyone shares my devotion. Someone recently filed an anonymous complaint against her, claiming that the zoning law for the area in which she lives limits the number of pets per household to three. At the time the complaint was filed, Pups was 26 dogs above the legal limit.

The zoning board contacted her about the issue, and with characteristic delicacy, she suggested they “shove the complaint where the sun don’t shine.” The board didn’t take that well. They sent Pups a notice declaring that she’d have to reduce her population to three dogs or fewer or, failing that, move out. She had 30 days to make the choice.

That’s when Pups called, asking me to represent her.

My first call was to Stanley Wade, the head of the zoning board. Stanley was no help at all. He basically said that the law is the law and that he simply was not empowered to change it.

My next move was to file suit at the county courthouse, demanding that the law be overturned or, at the very least, ignored in this case. This particular law dates back to 1881, so it has already demonstrated an excellent capacity to survive. Of course, it’s never had to go up against a team as formidable as Andy Carpenter and Pups Boyer.

Today is the day I’m going to see Stanley in court.

The suit was shuttled to Judge Irene Hough, and she is not pleased. I can tell by the way she sneers at me when she takes her seat on the bench. She seems to believe this case is beneath the dignity of her courtroom.

The courtroom is packed, as the case has captured the attention of the community. There’s even an overflow crowd outside, many carry­ing “Save the Puppies” signs.

It turns out people like puppies. Who could have figured that? (Did you know you could stay on an island filled with puppies?)

Pups is waiting for me when I get to court. She’s dressed in a nice blouse and skirt, as I instructed. She doesn’t look particularly comfortable in the outfit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her wearing anything other than a Mets sweatshirt or jersey.

At the table across the way, I recognize the lead counsel, Jonathon Witkins, who I’m sure would rather spend the morning being waterboarded. He’s a good guy and a talented lawyer but, at barely 30, is still ambitious. I can’t imagine he wants to be labeled antipuppy.

Because we are the plaintiffs, we present our case first. It’s the part I’m most worried about because our only witness is Pups. She can be a loose cannon; she speaks her mind frankly, even when she shouldn’t. I’ve tried to coach her, but taking coaching does not seem to be her specialty.

FEA_SE-BookExcerpt_US171104Mark Ulriksen for Reader's Digest
Judge Hough tells me to call my first witness. I call Martha Boyer to the stand, which is likely the first time most people have heard Pups’s real name.

She half strides, half struts to the witness stand, which is not a good sign. I want her low-key and understated, but her walk doesn’t make me confident that she can pull it off.

“Ms. Boyer, do people call you by your given name or a nickname?”

“They call me Pups.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I rescue and take care of puppies.”

“How many dogs have you saved, if you know?” I ask.

“Of course I know. You told me to look it up.”

The gallery laughs at the fact that she’s sassing me, which is OK. It makes her human and more sympathetic.

“So I did,” I say. “What number did you come up with?”

“Nine thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight.”

“Has anyone ever complained about what you’re doing?”

“Just once. Three weeks ago. I got a notice telling me I needed to stop within 30 days. It said I was breaking the law.”

“Did the notice tell you the source of the complaint?” I ask, getting nervous. Here’s where Pups might go off the reservation.

“No. They said it was made anonymously.”

“OK, then—” I start, but she interrupts me.

“But I know who complained. It was that jerk, Hennessey.”

This is what I was afraid of. Pups has a new neighbor, Randy Hennessey, and she’s sure he’s the one who complained. I told her not to mention his name, but she didn’t take my advice. If she has to go through this, she at least wants him publicly humiliated.

I ignore the reference and move on. I have her describe the way that she places the dogs in homes once they are old enough.

She is very careful and rejects potential adopters if they don’t live up to her view of what makes a good home for a dog.

FEA_SE-BookExcerpt_US171104Mark Ulriksen for Reader's Digest
I end the examination. I called her only to demonstrate her character and commitment and to get on the record what she does for these dogs. That much has been accomplished.

Jonathon must sense the reason for my nervousness because on cross-examination, he goes in for the kill. “Ms. Boyer, did you speak to Mr. Hennessey about your suspicion that he made the complaint?”

“You’d better believe it,” she says as I cringe.

“Did he confirm that he did so?”

“No,” she says. “The little weasel denied it, but my other neighbors told me it was him.”

“So you didn’t believe him?”

“No way.”

“Did you threaten him?”

She thinks for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That if he caused any more problems, I’d cut his heart out and shove it down his throat.”

For some reason, the gallery roars with laughter at this. Jonathon lets her off the stand, probably because he won that round and is afraid of what else she might say. (Check out these serious court cases with funny names.)

Pups struts off the stand and takes her seat next to me. It’s clear that she thinks she did well, and, all in all, it could have been worse.

Jonathon calls Stanley Wade to the stand. Unlike Pups, who went up there as if she were spiking a football, Stanley looks like he’s walking the plank.

Jonathon establishes Stanley’s credentials, then asks him why the zoning board has taken the position that it has in this case.

“The law is clear,” Stanley says. “No one in Paterson is allowed to house more than three dogs unless they have a kennel license. That area is not zoned for business.”

“Thank you. No further questions.”

I stand up and walk toward Stanley.

“Mr. Wade, do you like chocolate?” I ask.

He seems surprised and wary but says, “Sure. Who doesn’t?”

I produce a small bag. “Your Honor, I’d like to introduce these chocolates into evidence.”

“I’m sure you’ll explain why,” the judge says.

I smile. “Imminently.” Then I turn to Stanley and say, “These are chocolates made by a company called Candies of Hope.

Have you heard of them?”

“Yes.”

“They’re made by Diane Feller, the wife of Mayor Feller, right here in Paterson. Did you know that?”

“Yes.”

“Amazingly, she makes them right in the house where they live. But where they live is not zoned for business, and New Jersey defines making and selling chocolates as a business. Isn’t that right?”

“She donates the proceeds to charity,” Stanley says.

“What a worthy thing to do. Some would say that making chocolate for charity ranks right up there with saving puppies. But the mayor’s wife is breaking the law, is she not?”

“Technically.”

I take two pieces of paper and submit them into evidence. I show the first one to Stanley and ask whether he’s ever seen it. He admits that he has, and I ask him to tell the court his understanding of it.

“It’s an e-mail complaint about the mayor’s wife having a chocolate business in her house.”

“Who made the complaint?” I ask.

He reads the name. “Andrea Carper.”

“If it pleases the court,” I say, “Andrea Carper is really me, Andy Carpenter. I was deep undercover, so I used my secret identity.”

The gallery laughs, increasing Stanley’s discomfort.

I hand Stanley the second piece of paper. “Mr. Wade, is this an e-mail from you responding to Andrea Carper and saying that you would look into the matter?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Did you then threaten the mayor with eviction for breaking the zoning law, in the same manner that you threatened Ms. Boyer?”

“No.”

“I’m surprised,” I say. “Can we assume you will threaten the mayor with eviction when court adjourns? Or would you like to do so right now?” I take out my cell phone. “You can even use my phone.”

Jonathon objects, so I put the phone away and move on.

I ask whether Stanley knows when the kennel-license law was passed.

“No, I don’t,” he says.

“In 1881. Are you familiar with the wording?”

“Not entirely.”

“Do you know that it refers only to household pets and excludes livestock and farm animals? That area was farmland back then.”

“I wasn’t aware …”

“Is it your position that Ms. Boyer can’t care for these puppies, but she can have a houseful of pigs and cows and goats?”

“I—”

I interrupt, though I don’t think he even knows how he was going to finish the sentence. “Ms. Boyer has been saving puppies in that house for many years. Have you ever had a complaint before?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Do you think you can come up with some waivers that prevent the mayor from being homeless and lets poor abandoned puppies live and find good homes?”

Stanley has been defeated. “Perhaps we can revisit this and—”

Judge Hough: “Revisiting this is an excellent idea. The court will wait to hear the results of your revisitation by the close of business today.” She slams down her gavel. “This hearing is adjourned.”

I turn to Pups and say, “This one’s in the bag.”

She’s not exactly beaming with relief. “I can’t believe that son of a bitch complained.”

“Hennessey?”

She nods. “The little twerp.”

“Pups, let it go.”

She looks at me like I’m out of my mind. “Yeah, right.”

After having dinner with my wife, Laurie, I got a call telling me that Stanley’s revisiting the issue has resulted in Pups’s getting a waiver to continue saving the dogs. I call Pups to tell her the news, but she isn’t home.

FEA_SE-BookExcerpt_US171104Mark Ulriksen for Reader's Digest

Half an hour later, the phone rings again. It’s my friend Willie, who helps run an animal rescue operation.

“I’m at Pups’s.” I knew that he was going there to drop off two puppies. “You’d better get down here. The police are here.

They’ve got her under arrest.”

This is not computing. “Why?”

“It sounds like the cops think she murdered someone.”

“Who was murdered?”

“They say she killed her neighbor, Randall Hennessey.”

FEA_SE-BookExcerpt_US171104Reader's Digest Select EditionsWant to find out what happens next? Get the Reader’s Digest Select Editions volume that contains this book—plus the hilarious My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, the thriller Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica, and the epic family drama Home Sweet Home by April Smith—for a limited-time offer of $10 (shipping is free). You’ll also get a free gift. To order, go here.

via amazon.com

To read the full book, The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Andy Carpenter, go here.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest