Jill Morgan still hasn't gotten used to visiting animal shelters and seeing more dogs than she knows will find homes.
In an average year she helps rescue more than 100 golden retrievers, something the Red Cross honored her for last March, though she also finds herself helping with other dog rescue groups. She refers to her own dogs as children, and swells with passion and indignation when talking about how home foreclosures are driving up the rates of abandoned pets.
But now Morgan is facing a whole new dilemma: She's getting death threats and her tires were slashed after publicity about her decision to euthanize a dog that had reportedly killed a Chihuahua.
As a result of the backlash, most Northern California Golden Retriever Rescue operations are currently suspended, out of fear for the safety of some 40 volunteers.
On the other side of the controversy is Dan Irish, a dog lover who has been raising and training dogs since childhood. When working construction, and during his 20 years as a bouncer, Irish said he always took dogs with him.
Both Morgan and Irish talk enthusiastically about dogs. Both also get very passionate about what each feels is unjust action by the other person.
Morgan's home answering machine has filled with messages, her address in rural Lodi has apparently been given out near and far, and her e-mail inbox has become an easy target for anonymous contributors.
One e-mailer told Morgan that her children should die of cancer, that a black cloud had been placed over her and that the writer hopes she dies a slow, bleeding death.
It started a couple weeks ago when word spread about Morgan's October decision to euthanize a dog.
But the original story starts even earlier.
The dog in question, Rocky, was less than three years old when a Chihuahua crawled under the fence to his Nevada family's yard. Rocky or his brother killed the tiny dog. His owners turned them over to a local animal shelter. That's where the rescue group, dubbed NorCal for short, found Rocky, and they decided to give him a chance, Morgan said. On March 31, she took Rocky to her house, which serves as a type of foster home for countless dogs, as well as permanent home to her own four dogs.
"At my house he viciously attacked four goldens and a Newfoundland six times. The final straw was when he got down my 8-year-old (golden) Mikey, jumped on him and was at Mikey's throat," Morgan said.
That happened April 9, a little more than a week into Rocky's stay at Morgan's house.
"It was too risky," she said. "I have too many dogs coming through to have a vicious dog."
So NorCal took the dog to Irish, an animal trainer who says he's come into contact with 40,000 dogs in the past 50 years and has rescued thousands.
He also talks passionately about his love of dogs, beginning with showing them as a child. When talking by phone from his West Point home in rural Calaveras County, Irish tells his own dogs, "Everybody say hello," then holds the phone receiver out as the dogs erupt in a chorus of barking.
Irish does what he calls "reprogramming," or rehabilitating dogs that have behavioral problems.
So one of the NorCal members called Irish and arranged for him to train Rocky, or Buddy as the dog was renamed. He was paid $800 a month for two months - not a typical amount for a nonprofit organization, NorCal members said.
Then, in a move that has added to the controversy among NorCal board members, the group gave Irish another $2,000 for the training, and had him sign an adoption form.
He cashed the check on Sept. 13, then three weeks later advertised the dog for free online, saying the dog needed a home with a good fence.
Morgan found the ad and was livid, since the adoption form says that if the new owner isn't going to keep the dog, it will be returned to NorCal.
Irish, in turn, says that doesn't matter because the group didn't want the dog anymore.
In the meantime, three NorCal members were skeptical of all the money being paid, and they traveled from the Bay Area to Irish's home to check on the dog. They pretended to be with a breeding group, and Irish was mad when he realized who they were. He alleges that one saw his dogs rough-housing and said they should be euthanized.
He later called one of the women and left a message, expletives included, saying what he thought should be done to her. She filed a police report about threats.
"I called them a bunch of foul names and said that what should be done to them is what they wanted to be done to the dogs," Irish said. "I didn't make threats. I don't threaten women."
So when Morgan saw the ad online, she rented a car and used a fake name when she went to get the dog. She felt it was her duty to make sure the dog didn't cause harm, since he apparently wasn't going to be living with Irish any longer.
"If the dog would have broken out of anybody's fence and there would be a small child standing there holding a Chihuahua, what would have happened? Rocky had already killed one dog," she said.
Morgan picked up Rocky and had him euthanized by a local veterinarian, who only puts dogs to sleep if they show a pattern of aggression, Morgan said.
Irish was outraged, and says he hasn't been able to eat or sleep well since. He believes Morgan has an illness, needs therapy and that she should never be around dogs again.
Morgan, meanwhile, says Irish is a "loose cannon," and she's upset that dogs aren't being rescued while her organization waits for things to settle down.
"I was thinking that maybe I should just quit, but I can't," she said, as she looked through dozens of pictures of rescued dogs, each one with a story she remembers. "These dogs have all been thrown away."