Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Cliffs Notes Version - Or Why I Need Help With My Legal Fees

Thanks to Bri Hokanson for taking this photo -
for a gal who is afraid of dogs, you sure did great with my "mop"
Several people just tuning in have asked for a synopsis and all the links in one spot and whatnot. This is my attempt.

June 10: I took Nano out for a bathroom break around 9am - a little later than usual since we had both slept in. We saw our temporary postal carrier on the sidewalk south of our condo building, I wanted to introduce Nano to her and ask about a package I was expecting. I noticed he was getting excited to meet a new friend, so I crouched down to hold his leash closer to his collar. As I did that the leash clip came detached from his collar. I have no earthly idea how this happened, but it did and it's ultimately my responsibility. Nano dashed about 3-4 feet over to the carrier (with me in immediate pursuit). He stood on his hind legs and made a digging motion with his front paws. Per the animal behaviorist who has assessed Nano for MACC, this behavior is a sign of affection in the Coton breed (and some other breeds). His tail was wagging, his two or three barks were friendly in tone - like an invitation to play. He has had quite a few mail carrier friends over the years, so he associates the uniform/bag with happy, friendly things.

By this point, I had grabbed him, reattached his leash, apologized for the leash coming off and explained I had no clue what had just happened with it (the leash). I asked if the carrier was okay. She said 'yeah' and then kept on walking north on Chicago Ave to deliver mail at the next house. A few minutes later, as she was about to enter our building, Nano and I returned. I was carrying him under my arm (he is only 11 lbs after all). I offered to let her into the building, then asked about a package - she removed one of her earbuds so she could hear me and then checked her bag. She said if any packages came that needed signature, she would leave a peach slip in my mailbox. That was pretty much it. I carried Nano upstairs to our apartment, I looked over the leash clip to see if it was broken or loose - didn't find anything wrong with it and then continued on with my life.

June 11: Animal Control gets involved and, without any notice or warning, the USPS shuts down mail service to all 10 households in the condo building where we live.

June 11 - 19: Every day, the building tenants and I called various USPS employees and officials to try and understand the procedures and what we could do to accommodate those procedures. We found information online about what should be happening. Our situation, however, wasn't being handled according to the processes and procedures we found. Nobody would call us back but we occasionally got lucky and caught someone at their desk but would get confusing and contradictory information. The best explanation I heard is that there are federal guidelines but the local postal stations are free to have their own policies and procedures. From what other tenants were told, Powderhorn Station didn't have any policies or procedures written down for situations like we were experiencing.

June 19: I finally reached a supervisor and she asked me to write up my list of suggestions to resolve this issue. The goal being to keep Nano away from any mail carrier delivering mail to the condo building. I immediately wrote and hand-delivered to Powderhorn the same day (6/19). If you read my letter, you'll see my suggestions were things that could be implemented immediately and would cost nothing AND, most importantly, would address a main USPS policy goal, which is to "obtain a safe environment in which carriers can do their work". I really believed the ideas in my letter would be accepted by the USPS. Instead, I got no response.

June 23: the Powderhorn manager told the condo association president that a "final decision had been made by the Postmaster" and proceeded to share it with him. At this point, I hadn't been contacted or notified about anything - I thought I was still waiting for someone to call and discuss the suggestions in my letter.

June 24: I went in to pick up my mail, I was told (verbally) that the USPS had made a "final decision", which was that Nano had "to go".  I was stunned and terrified. Nobody had even spoken to me once about the letter I hand-delivered on June 19. And now, I was in a position where I had three horrible options:
  1. Re-home Nano and break the law Animal Control was requiring me to follow (the training). (Also, the mere idea of giving Nano away was enough to send me into hours of hysterics).
  2. Try to find a new place to live in less than 10 days and then break my lease, which would put me in breach of contract. 
  3. Murder Nano, my beloved family member. (I could barely look him in the face without having visions of him being put down. The emotional trauma was acute, to say the least).
Feeling trapped, terrified and desperate, I went to the press for help - reaching out to Jon Tevlin at the Star Tribune through a mutual friend.

June 25-26: A Star Tribune article broke, which I shared on my Facebook page and it took off like wildfire. I also wrote a few posts here to help fill in some details and share my point of view. The only real way to describe those days is that I felt like I was surfing down the face of an 87-foot wave. Now, I've never actually done any big wave surfing, but it felt like barely controlled chaos, amidst some of the most intense emotional trauma I've experienced in my adult life.

June 26: A calling campaign to the Minneapolis Postmaster and Powderhorn Station grew exponentially. I heard people called from Minneapolis/St. Paul (of course), Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington DC, Florida, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and all points in between. A friend asked a USPS employee how many calls they had received on the issue and was told 3,500. I called and left a voice mail for USPS media relations asking for assistance and to let them know that I sincerely wanted the next story to have a good ending for both of us, but I didn't hear back.

June 27: The word spread, my Facebook posts were reaching almost 5,000 people. The calling campaign continued and I can only guess at the number of calls received on Friday - I'd guess it was at least as many as the day before, if not more. KARE 11 wanted to do an interview for the 6pm news, which I agreed to, but also I called the USPS again to let them know I wanted to be able to share some good news with the press that showed the issue would be resolved. But, again, I got no response

However, KARE 11 did get a response about 30 minutes before they went on the air for the 6pm news with a breaking story. The USPS released an official statement at approximately 5:30pm on Friday, June 27. Apparently, later that same evening, the BBC World News also ran the story!

June 28: A reporter forwarded me the complete, official statement the USPS released to the media on Friday (6/27), which very clearly stated that they would resume mail service after I was in compliance with my MACC hearing requirements. We all thought that was a pretty big win and there was rejoicing in the hallways of the condo. I wrote a lot of thank you notes and emails and even thanked the USPS for taking a more reasonable approach to resolution.

June 29: I realized I better open the mail that had been sitting on my desk since Tuesday, June 24. I found a Letter of Claim from a local law firm, which is the first step toward a civil suit. There are many more steps that need to happen before a suit is officially brought - but Step One has been taken and I can only assume things will progress.

June 30: My attorney asked opposing counsel to share the medical records and photographs with us so we could have a forensic analysis done. This request was denied, which is their right. Down the road, if the suit progress, that information would be handed over during discovery. But for now, nothing compels them to turn it over.

The Fundraising Effort
On June 30, I launched a fundraising campaign for my legal fees, which are already well beyond my means. I wrote a post about my current financial situation and how this couldn't have come at a worse time. I've been unemployed since September 2013 and have been looking for a job. I finally started taking freelance work, which isn't exactly steady. But those projects has been getting more regular and it looked like I would have broken even or the first time in June. Plus I had been scraping together birthday money and anything extra I could find to fund a trip to England to visit my mother and stepfather (they live in England). Since they live so far away, I only get to see them once a year at the most. But, I had to use my "airfare fund" to hire an attorney and pay for the MACC-required dog behaviorist. That was it for my savings. Now, I'm tapped out. No savings. No credit card. Nothing.

I selected a site called CrowdTilt because they take the lowest percentage of any of the other crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter and Indie Gogo. Crowdtilt only takes 2.5%, plus 2.5% is added to your donation amount to cover credit card processing fees.

So, if you are able to give a donation - even a couple dollars WILL make a difference. It all adds up and you can't imagine how grateful I would be. Nano too, although his financial skills are a little shaky. He's much better at naps and snuggling - but those don't pay the bills. If you're uncomfortable with online contributions, feel free to email me at and I'll share my mailing address.

Here's the link to the campaign page - it's 2 steps to make a contribution and then there are some options to share with friends if you want, but you can easily skip that part if you want. In return, I can tell you that any funds received will be used for my/Nano's legal fees and other costs related to the legal process (court filings, expert analysis, etc.). I have set up a separate savings account at my bank to keep donations separate from my personal funds.

Sincere thanks from Alicia and Nano for your generosity and support.

Ongoing Updates

July 3: We heard from the USPS and they said they would be resuming mail service on July 5. In reality, they made an initial delivery on July 3. We don't know why they changed their minds, but apparently they did. I still have my MACC hearing on July 9 - that's a separate issue. I assume the civil suit will also be moving forward - because that, too, is separate from the mail delivery issue.

July 9: The scheduled hearing at MACC didn't go as planned because the mail carrier attended (this is her right) with her two civil suit attorneys (this is highly unusual), which extended our timeline by several weeks as various meetings needed to happen.

July 20: The waiting game continues while various officials and organizations review the case and decide how best to handle it. In the meantime, I'm complying with some additional requests from MACC - just finished yesterday (7/19), actually.

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