An interesting drama that played out last week in a courtroom in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, evidently captured the attention and sympathies of the Tahitians. A magistrate agreed with the pleas of two homeless Tahitian people that they had the right to keep their dogs with them, despite the fact that they had no permanent addresses.

A police officer in Papeete writing out a ticket
A police officer in Papeete writing out a ticket (Photo by John Abel on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

One of the major Tahitian news sources reported that Ms. Angeline Tevaria and another person named Urarii Tautu witnessed Papeete municipal police officers capturing their five dogs during the night of June 19. A local radio station provided supporting details. The attorney for the town, Robin Quinquis, told the court that the justification for seizing the dogs was that they represented potential risks to public safety, hygiene, and health. The dogs were taken to the public pound and would have been euthanized after eight days, according to municipal policies, if no one claimed them. Ms. Tevaria decided to appeal.

She engaged an attorney, Annick Allain-Sacault, to represent her in the court hearing. Ms. Allain-Sacault denied the claim by the town that the dogs represented a health risk. They are in good health, she told the court, showing medical certificates to support her argument. So far as being potentially dangerous, she denied that too. They were in the public accommodation with their owners when they were seized. She argued that they were taken solely because their owners are homeless. The authorities believed that they could deny people their rights because of their homelessness.

A dog on Moorea, French Polynesia
A dog on Moorea, French Polynesia (Photo by pablo-marx on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The attorney for the municipality argued that the decision by the mayor, Michel Buillard, was not made on whim but for a real cause. Urarii Tautu, the other homeless person, had allegedly encouraged his two dogs to attack a sheriff back in January. The Deputy Chief of the Municipal Police also spoke at the hearing, claiming to have witnessed “aggressive begging” by the two homeless people with their dogs.

Another news service in French Polynesia added that Angeline Tevaria is 31 years old and she has been homeless for five years. She lives in a shelter in Papeete and is 50 percent physically disabled. Her dogs thus serve as essential companions for her.

The judge heard the case Tuesday morning, June 26, and by 3:00 in the afternoon had reached a decision: the court agreed with the arguments of the two homeless people, finding that the town had not shown any evidence that their dogs were wandering or dangerous. Furthermore, there was no evidence that traders in Papeete were complaining about the five dogs, contrary to the allegations of the mayor. Also, there was no proof that the dogs were sick or abused. The judge ordered the authorities in Papeete to return the dogs to their two owners or to one of the animal welfare associations in town within 24 hours. The news reports indicated that the Tahitian people were fascinated by the drama.