Take it from U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Williams: Three topics people should never sue over are politics, churches and pets.
Williams offered that advice from the federal bench in Alexandria in a "dognaping" case in which a Falls Church couple is suing the Humane Society of Fairfax County.
Plaintiffs George and Jane Tsui of Falls Church charge that humane society officers violated their constitutional right against illegal search and seizure when Happy, their white German shepherd, was removed from their home last year.
Agents of the society respond that they rescued Happy from neglect and mistreatment.
"No one ever gets really excited about dog cases except the people that litigate them," the folksy-but-forthright Williams said at a recent hearing.
"There are three classes of cases, and when you get some gray hair you will realize this," Williams told Robert S. Corish, the Tsuis' attorney, "that there are no future in: political lawsuits, dog lawsuits and church-congregation lawsuits. And you haven't learned that lesson."
"Well, I defer to your honor's experience in that matter," Corish replied.
"You're going to get a leg up on it, I believe, on this case," Williams shot back to laughter from spectators.
The controversy began last year when Victoria Kirby, a humane society officer, said she received a call from Susan Schoegler, a neighbor of the Tsuis, complaining about alleged mistreatment of Happy.
Kirby said in an interview that she went to the Tsui home and found Happy barking nonstop. She said the animal was in an unheated garage on a short chain, without food and water and surrounded by his own excrement.
An affidavit filed by Schoegler says she saw Happy "beaten . . . tied up in the Tsui yard and forced to remain in its own excrement for days on end, matted and dirty, kept for several days without being fed or given water . . . ."
George Tsui, who with his family owns the Peking Gourmet Inn at Baileys Crossroads, was not available for an interview, but Corish said the Tsuis deny mistreating Happy.
Kirby said that after the Tsuis did not respond to her knocks on the door nor to two notes she left, she asked two society workers, Edith von Stuemer and Linda Szyszka , to check on Happy.
Kirby said her co-workers reported that Jane Tsui allowed them in and showed them Happy. She said they determined Happy was "in a life-threatening situation" and got permission from her to take Happy .
But Corish said Tsui "did not give any consent for them to enter the house . . . she didn't know what to do. She was in a state of emotional upset." He said Tsui, who speaks Chinese, is not fluent in English.
The society filed a petition in Fairfax County District Court to keep the dog, charging the Tsuis are unfit owners.
Tsui "moved to suppress the evidence of the Commonwealth" -- Happy -- "on the basis that the German shepherd had been taken in an illegal search and seizure," and District Court Judge William G. Hammer agreed. He dismissed the charges and Happy went home.
After that victory, the Tsuis filed suit in federal court in January, naming Schoegler, the society and its directors as defendants and asking $100,000 in punitive damages and $50,000 in compensation.
Williams has dismissed the charges against Schoegler and the punitive damages claim, and Corish said his clients have agreed to drop the society and its directors as defendants, leaving only Kirby, von Stuemer and Szyszka. On Friday, Williams is expected to rule on the request of the remaining defendants to dismiss the entire suit.