The hope that his Siberian husky, missing since Thanksgiving, would return one day used to motivate Mark Boehler to stick with his chemotherapy treatments.
Thursday morning, he had a bad feeling, so he canceled his appointment with his oncologist. About an hour later, he received a call from Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey, who told him that the woman charged with stealing his dog hired a veterinarian to euthanize it in her home last month.
"I can't believe it. I'm numb. I'm really numb right now," Mr. Boehler, 54, said Thursday morning.
Mr. Boehler said his 8-year-old dog, Thor, had some health problems but none was terminal, and he was working with a veterinarian to schedule all of the treatments when the dog was taken from him while he lived in Spring Hill-Cityview.
An attorney for Gisele Paris, the 57-year-old woman charged with taking the dog, said the husky was in "horrible health" and during court proceedings it will become clear that Ms. Paris did not steal the animal.
"There's more to this than is out there," said attorney Robert Mielnicki. "This is sad all the way around."
Mr. Boehler told Pittsburgh police Thor was stolen from his backyard Nov. 28. The next day, Officer Luffey wrote in the complaint, Ms. Paris took a husky to the Animal Rescue League. She returned Dec. 11 to claim ownership, police said.
When she took the dog to a veterinarian the next month, a doctor there recognized the dog as Mr. Boehler's and contacted police, who charged Ms. Paris and said she tried to assault them during her arrest, according to a criminal complaint.
Mr. Boehler said Thursday that Thor had some health problems. A tumor on his neck was removed in June. Mr. Boehler said he was consulting with his veterinarian, who told him to make sure the dog passed a six-month checkup before they removed a second tumor near his buttocks.
He said that would have happened shortly after the date the dog disappeared.
"If everything went well, he was going to have the operation," Mr. Boehler said.
While they coordinated Thor's plans, Mr. Boehler, who has stage III esophageal cancer, made plans to leave the dog with a friend should he not be able to care for it.
But he never saw the dog again.
"He was all I had. I never had no kids. I was single. It was just me, him and the one cat."
Officer Luffey said she confirmed late Wednesday night "that a licensed veterinarian euthanized Thor in the home of Gisele Paris on Feb. 10, 2014."
Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office, said officials plan to charge her with one count of animal cruelty "because we believe that the euthanization of the dog was done maliciously."
Ms. Paris has not commented on the incident. Her cousin, Barry Paris, said he has spoken with Ms. Paris extensively and believes much of the police account is inaccurate.
Mr. Paris, a freelance writer whose work appears in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said his cousin found the dog in mid-November while walking in a cemetery and it appeared "horribly malnourished" and "horribly sick." He said Ms. Paris took the dog to the Animal Rescue League and called back in December to check on it.
Mr. Paris said shelter workers told his cousin that the dog's health problems made it unadoptable and it was scheduled to be euthanized. Mr. Paris said she begged the shelter not to do anything until she came there, paid $55 to rescue it and took it home.
Ms. Paris' attorney, Mr. Mielnicki, said, "I believe she was justified in everything she did."
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published March 20, 2014 12:33 PM