Update Friday Dec. 2: The dogs are now out, picked up by a friend of their owner.
Nov. 30: Two black dogs are back in a cage at the county animal shelter today, and the homeless guy who cares for them is in county jail, at a cost of roughly $84 a night.
He's accused of burglary: specifically, of hopping the fence at the shelter to spring his pets from dog jail.
He didn't break anything, says Humboldt County Sheriff's Sgt. Kim Thompson, (name corrected 12/2) who runs the shelter. He didn't let any other animals out. Even the door to the kennel he forced open was undamaged. And, Thompson says, the crowded shelter didn't really want to feed and house his dogs anyway, and was ready to work with him to reunite them.
Still, says Thompson, "I have to draw the line at we break into the sheriff's office and steal our dogs back. My compassion ends there. That's not the way you act in a civilized society."
So instead, a civilized society is spending tax money to keep Chad Macias in jail at least until he's arraigned, to pay the salary of the judge who hears his case, and to pay shelter staffers who are feeding Kemma and Tick, the German shepherd mix and kelpie mix who've been hanging with Macias.
How is this a good thing for Humboldt County taxpayers?
"Mine is not to get into that," says sheriff's spokesman Lt. Steve Knight. "The problem is, he committed a felony. You can't break into a building. We understand it was his dogs, but ... what he did qualifies for a burglary, a commercial burglary."
Knight used to run the shelter, and he sometimes loaned people money out of his own pocket to get their dogs back. Thompson says she waited all day yesterday for a friend of Macias' to show up and take the dogs after his burglary arrest, so he wouldn't have to pay. But the friend never showed. Now, it will cost Macias $180 in impound fees to get Kemma and Tick back, plus $15 per dog per day for boarding fees. And if he doesn't act by Monday, both animals could go up for adoption.
The dogs are both around 2 years old, female and relatively well-cared for, although not spayed, Thompson said. And she knows they've had their shots, because they've been in the shelter before -- the last time Macias tangled with authorities, back in June. It cost him $280 to reclaim his pets that time, because he had to pay for their shots.
Knight describes Macias as a transient who "hangs around the Arcata area quite a bit." Arcata police say their latest encounter with him was last weekend, when they were called to a disturbance and ended up arresting him on suspicion of a probation violation. He was taken into custody and his dogs to the shelter.
Macias was freed soon after, and surveillance cameras at the shelter show what happened next. During the night, Thompson says, Macias managed the scale a tall fence and open the kennel his dogs shared. Then he set each dog on top of the fence, climbed back over and called them down to him.
"Those dogs were warm and dry in this facility," Thompson says. "We had heat on. Had he waited seven more hours, he and his dogs would have been happily reunited and none of this would have happened."
And as for Humboldt County's bottom line, she says, well ... "as a taxpayer, now we've got the dogs and now we've got him."