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His dog died after he forgot her in his SUV. Tragic accident or animal cruelty?

Haeger and Jennifer Long with their dogs Autumn and Annie Oakley at their Keller home. Haeger Long, holding a picture of their dog, Lola, says he being bullied by Keller police and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office over a tragic accident.
Haeger and Jennifer Long with their dogs Autumn and Annie Oakley at their Keller home. Haeger Long, holding a picture of their dog, Lola, says he being bullied by Keller police and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office over a tragic accident. jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

Looking around Haeger and Jennifer Long’s Keller home, it’s easy to see how much they love their dogs.

Pictures of the six Labrador retrievers that they have called pets through the years decorate their walls. A portrait, painted by a neighbor of one of their former dogs, Shiner, sits prominently on the home’s fireplace mantle.

Every Saturday, Long takes his dogs to Home Depot to stroll the aisles. Inside the garage hang the pooches’ orange Home Depot aprons given to them by store employees to wear during their weekly visits.

So the Longs say their hearts were broken in February when, after a quick run to a fast-food drive-through to pick up lunch, Long returned home and forgot that the couple’s 6-year-old black lab, Lola, was still inside his SUV.

Long, 57, said he was still recovering from a serious bike crash 10 months earlier that left him with numerous broken bones and injuries, including a concussion that has impaired his memory.

When Lola was discovered some three hours later, the Long’s adult son called 911, asking for an emergency veterinarian. Long soon took the phone from his son, telling the dispatcher that the dog had died and that there was no need to send anyone.

But a Keller animal control officer did come and days later, Long was interviewed by a Keller police detective. In May, he was arrested for animal cruelty — a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Long, who admits that he has a “pretty strong personality,” is fighting mad. He has hired and since fired a defense attorney and now says he wants to represent himself in court.

He won’t even consider a plea deal — not that he’s been offered one — and accuses Keller police, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office and the judicial system of bullying him and wasting taxpayer money.

He says no punishment can be worse than losing Lola.

“I had to go to a psychiatrist. When that dog died, the hole in my heart was 15-feet wide,” Long said. “No matter what these [expletives] do to me, it is nothing compared to what happened, because my dog died. They can’t hurt me. They can’t do anything to me. They’re bullies.”

A spokeswoman with the DA’s office said they can’t comment on a pending case.

Judge Cheril Hardy, who will preside over his case, said she plans to appoint a new attorney to assist Long.

“I need to make sure both sides have a fair trial,” Hardy said. “The law does not prevent him from representing himself but it frowns up it because he’d be at such a distinct disadvantage. I have to hold him to the same standard as I would a licensed attorney.”

Keller police Capt. Tommy Simmons said once facts were gathered, investigators consulted with the DA’s office to determine if the case merited proceeding with an arrest.

“They agreed that it did,” Simmons said. “After we got confirmation of that, we went ahead and wrote the warrant for Mr. Long.”

Regarding Long’s claim that he’s being bullied, Simmons points out that Keller police have had two other animal cruelty cases this year, one involving a tethered dog that was dragged after falling from a speeding truck and the other, a hoarding case.

He said charges have been filed in those two cases as well.

Long points out that in April, a Burleson mother left her 1-year-old son in a car for five hours. The boy’s death was ruled accidental and no one has been arrested.

‘I left her in the car’

Lola had been just a pup when Long gave the black lab to his wife for Mother’s Day.

On the morning of Feb. 18, Long took Lola and the family’s latest lab, Annie Oakley, to Home Depot as was their Saturday routine.

The trio had returned from the store when his wife mentioned the family had a birthday party to attend that afternoon. She asked him to run up to Taco Bueno and grab some tacos for lunch, so he and Lola headed back out.

Lola had the run of Long’s Hyundai Sante Fe and, on this afternoon, settled into the vehicle’s back cargo area.

Long went to the drive-through, bought the tacos and headed home.

“Lola was all the way in the back,” Long said. “We came home and I forgot her. I left her in the car.”

Long said he ate lunch and washed up for the birthday party. He even ran outside to the SUV to grab his sunglasses but never saw or heard Lola.

“Lola didn’t bark, didn’t move, didn’t jump into that seat at all which was very unlike her,” Long said.

The family went to the party in Jennifer Long’s car. When they returned home a couple of hours later, only Annie met them at the door.

“Where’s Lola? I’m calling and calling, getting frantic. I can’t find her,” Long recalls.

‘I was absolutely sick’

Long said it soon dawned on him that he had last seen the dog when they went on their taco run.

“I go, ‘Oh God.’ I opened the [vehicle] door and there she is,” Long recalls. “I was absolutely sick. She was in the back seat. She was still alive.”

Long said he doused Lola with the water hose to try to bring her core temperature down but knew she was dying.

In a panic, the couple’s 30-year-old son called 911.

According to the affidavit, Long later took the phone from his son, informed the call taker that the dog had passed away and that they did not need any assistance. When informed that animal control was already on their way, Long responded not to send anyone because he did not want them at his house.

When the animal control officer came anyway, Long acknowledges that he was blunt in telling her to leave.

“I told her to get the hell off my property,” Long said. “I think that’s what this is all about. I really do.”

Long took Lola’s body to his veterinarian to be placed in a freezer until he could return on Monday to have her cremated. Her remains are now stored in a cedar box and kept in a glass cabinet in the family’s dining room.

A few days after Lola’s death, Long agreed to meet with Todd, the Keller police detective. He said he was taken to an interrogation room, where the interview was recorded on video, and was told the interview was just a formality.

Three months later, after returning home from a vacation in Mexico, he said he was informed that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. When he turned himself in at the Keller jail, he was held in a cell until his $1,500 bond could be processed.

Keller police accuse Long of recklessly and unreasonably failing to provide necessary food, water, care or shelter to an animal in his custody by leaving Lola unattended in a vehicle for three hours.

According to the affidavit, research done by the detective found that the outside temperature during the three hours that Lola was in the SUV that February afternoon ranged from 72 to 79 degrees.

Using data compiled from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and San Francisco State University, she estimated the SUV’s interior would have been around 108 degrees when Long retrieved his sunglasses.

After an hour of being trapped in the SUV, the interior temperature would have been at least 115 degrees, the detective estimates in her affidavit.

Mayor calls it ‘an honest mistake’

Dr. James Scheifley, the Longs’ vet, told police that although he did not perform a full exam of Lola, he believed that the dog’s death was heat-related.

He said he didn’t notice any other obvious injuries on the dog and that he had cared for many pets belonging to the Long family over the years and had never seen any signs of animal abuse, the affidavit states.

Long said since no autopsy was performed on Lola, no one can say for sure what killed his dog.

He said his arrest has had an emotional toll on him and his family. He says at the time of his arrest, he’d been looking for a new job in the securities field, where he had worked for some 30 years. Now, he’s selling trucks.

“In the securities industry, there’s a question on every application — have you ever been arrested?” Long said. “It’s destroyed my career. I am unhireable in the securities industry because that question is on every application.”

Even Keller Mayor Pat McGrail, a long-time neighbor of the Longs, has written Long a character reference, calling what happened to Lola “a tragic accident” which was the result of an “honest mistake.”

“I can assure you Haeger would be the last person in the world to cause harm to any animal, let alone his own dog!,” McGrail wrote. “Hopefully you will agree with me that Haeger and his family have already suffered enough with the loss of their dog!”

The ordeal has moved Jennifer Long to tears.

“We called the police for help and this has happened as a result of it. It’s just been terrible,” she said. “... It was an accident in our own driveway that was a mistake. She didn’t get out and we left and we’ve just gone through hell ever since, Haeger especially, because he’s had to face these charges.”

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd

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