City workers in Germany have seized a family's pedigreed pet pug and sold the animal on eBay to cover the debts of its owners, including an unpaid dog tax.
Frank Merschhaus, spokesman for the city of Ahlen, told NPR in an email that the seizure of "the valuable pet" was "legally permissible" because of open claims by the city's treasury office.
However, he acknowledged that the method used to sell the dog might be open to criticism. "Obtaining the proceeds of the sale through a private eBay account was a very questionable decision by the enforcement officer," Merschhaus said in the email translated from German. He added that the city is undertaking an internal investigation.
"It cannot be ruled out that in some cases a staff member can sometimes make a misjudgment," he said.
The dog was seized in November but allowed to remain for a few days in the family home, located in the Muenster region, until a new owner was found.
The story only recently gained media attention after the buyer complained that the dog, advertised as healthy and pedigreed, was in fact suffering from "a massive eye injury" requiring several surgeries exceeding $2,000, reports German newspaper Ahlener Tageblatt. The new owner, a policewoman, is now demanding reimbursement from the city for the procedures as well as the $850 purchase price of the pug.
She told the newspaper that when she first saw the advertisement for the one-year-old, unspayed female pug named Edda, she was skeptical about the low price, believing comparable animals could fetch more than $2,000.
But she said a city worker reassured her that the animal was healthy and would go to the first buyer who could pay, so she took the dog home. She told the newspaper that she learned the dog was unwell one week later.
Ahlener Tageblatt interviewed Edda's original family as well and reports that three children, ages 5, 7 and 9, are still not over the loss.
Edda's old owner told the newspaper that while she recognizes the legality of the seizure, "how it all ended, that was absolutely not OK."
Merschhaus denied reports that city workers had considered seizing the wheelchair of a disabled member of the household as another potentially valuable item for resale. "Aids to ensure the mobility of people with disabilities are absolutely exempt - unlike pets," he said.
Merschhaus noted that it was the first time the city had resorted to taking a family's pet over outstanding debts.
"Owners who pay their dog tax properly do not need to fear enforcement," he said. "Only if multiple requests for payment go ignored or agreements for installment payments are not adhered to," are steps taken. "It is a very long way to seizure."