The family could not pay its debts, so their German town council went looking for assets to seize.
Officials, armed with a search warrant, found a laptop, a coffee machine and the wheelchair of one family member, according to reporting from the German publication Die Glocke.
Most valuable of all, though, was the family’s beloved pet — Edda the pug.
The 1-year-old female dog was valuable to the family, of course, because she had provided comfort in trying times, they told local media. But she was valuable to town officials, too, because Edda was a purebred. So authorities from Ahlen, a town 25 miles southwest of Munster, seized the pug and assessed her value at $850.
Then they listed her for sale on eBay.
More than 100 miles away, a police officer saw the listing, and though she was skeptical about how the city had come to possess the dog, decided to make Edda her new pet.
Ahlen town treasurer Dirk Schlebes told German wire service dpa that Edda sold for a “slightly lower price” than listed. “The money went into the town coffers,” Schlebes said. Edda’s original owners had failed to pay money they owed the town, including a so-called dog tax, reported the Associated Press.
But now, more than two months since the sale, nobody seems happy.
The original owners are still mourning the loss of their pet. The new owner is considering legal action against the town after Edda experienced a severe eye infection that required surgery and racked up a hefty medical bill. And the town is facing pressure to explain how all the dog drama came to be.
Frank Merschhaus, spokesman for the city of Ahlen, told NPR in an email that the seizure of Edda the pug was “legally permissible” but that the criticism of the tactics may be warranted.
“Obtaining the proceeds of the sale through a private eBay account was a very questionable decision by the enforcement officer,” Merschhaus told NPR, adding that the city is conducting an internal investigation.
The pug’s new owner, Michaela Jordan, told local media she feels misled by the city’s eBay advertisement for Edda. She was initially skeptical of the way the city seized the pug from her original owners, but was reassured the process was legal. The low price surprised her, too, because a purebred pug can go for as high as $2,000, German newspaper Ahlener Tageblatt reported.
But she took Edda home, and soon the dog became sick and had to undergo eye surgery. The dog has had four surgeries and is to have a fifth, the new owner told the German tabloid Bild. The police officer is demanding a reimbursement from the city for the original cost of the pug and more than $2,000 in veterinary bills.
Though the ordeal has drawn national and international attention, and brought public scorn upon the policy, town officials reassured their community in a statement to NPR that seizing family pets is not a common solution.
“Owners who pay their dog tax properly do not need to fear enforcement,” Merschhaus, the town spokesman, told NPR. “Only if multiple requests for payment go ignored or agreements for installment payments are not adhered to” does the city resort to taking pets. “It is a very long way to seizure.”
Edda’s original family — which includes three young children — said they are still trying to cope with the loss. But they are glad the pug has found a good home, they said in an interview with one of the many German news organizations covering the saga.
Even months later, they’ve kept tokens of Edda: her leash, her dog bowl, a bright painted portrait of her smooshed pug face.