Fear wasn't factor in duty of dog owner

March 28, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

I WOULD JUST like to say, here at the outset of this little story from the edges of human experience, that I have respect for Jim and Christy Ferrens, and you will not hear me ridiculing what they did. Far be it from me! They did what I believe most men and women would do for $340 - stoop to a new low, slog through mire, pan through muck.

It's not as if this young couple - and new parents - from the Towson area submitted themselves as contestants on NBC's Fear Factor, although it was something like that.

Let's just say that their dog was being a dog, and the Ferrenses, in response, were being human.

They accepted a challenge that any of us - even, I'll bet, Martha Stewart or other high-net-worth individuals from America's 3.8 million millionaire households - would have accepted in these blah economic times, when every penny of a household budget counts.

This started after a home-improvement handyman finished installing one of those pull-down attic staircases in the Ferrenses' home in Idlewylde.

They owed him $340 at the completion of the job.

Arrangements were made to leave a house key for the handyman so that he could gain entry on a day when neither Jim nor Christy would be home. The handyman was advised that a stack of $20 bills - 17 of them - would be left for him in an envelope on the staircase in the Ferrenses' home. (It was Christy's mother, who lives nearby and is a friend of the handyman, who actually left the cash on the staircase and told the fellow where to find it, Christy hastened to point out.)

The handyman arrived and right away looked for the envelope on the stairs.

It wasn't there.

He called Christy's mother to make sure she had left it for him. She was certain she had.

The handyman searched around and found an envelope with his name on it - torn in half and empty.

No bills anywhere.

You can imagine that all parties in this story engaged for a time in some serious head scratching. There had been no forced entry of the house, and only an hour had passed between the time the envelope was placed on the stairs and the handyman's arrival.

Apprised of the issue, Jim and Christy Ferrens concluded that Hobie must have eaten the money - Hobie being the couple's 2-year-old, sometimes-bathroom-tissue-chewing yellow Labrador retriever.

Yes, perhaps the dog did it.

Only time, and the dog's digestive system, could prove the Ferrenses wrong or right in their suspicions. So they waited.

They waited and they watched.

Mostly Jim waited and watched. He agreed to keep vigil in his backyard.

Within 24 hours it was clear, based on all outcomes, that Hobie, indeed, had enjoyed a $340 brunch. But now what?

Considerable ickiness separated Jim Ferrens from his cash.

Would he engage in the unpleasant process of recovery for the sake of $340? He pondered this question - for about five minutes - before concluding that, yes, indeed, he had at least $340 worth of self-degradation in his bones, especially if it was confined to his own back yard and not televised to a national audience.

"I'm not sure I would have done this for, say, $5," Jim said. "But $340 was definitely enough to follow Hobie around the yard for a day."

So it was Jim who made like a crime-scene investigator and stooped and collected, picked and inspected, discovered and recovered the severed pieces of cash - and a few whole bills - after Hobie had finished with them.

This was followed by Jim and Christy washing and drying, reassembling the bills as jigsaw puzzles, reconnecting serial numbers.

Presenting the bills with intact serial numbers was key to replacing the cash at a bank. Bills in worse condition can be submitted directly to the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing for replacement. Every year, the agency replaces tens of millions of dollars in currency damaged from fire, water, chemicals, animals, insects and rodents, and burial. More than half of a bill must be present for the government to reimburse the holder, though the Treasury will replace more severely damaged notes if there's sufficient supporting evidence that the missing portions have been destroyed.

Jim and Christy Ferrens will be sending along such documentation - perhaps this column - in the hopes of replacing two $20 bills, the two for which they could not find full serial numbers.

One other $20 bill is gone, probably part of Hobie now.

But the good news is that Christy and Jim Ferrens pieced together $280 in $20 bills - reconstituted after constitutional.

"We took them to Bradford Federal, and the woman who replaced them did not seem completely shocked to hear the story," says Christy. "But, of course, we have neighbors now who ask if Hobie can change a $20."

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