A German family couldn't pay its bills, so the city took their dog and sold it on eBay

BERLIN (WASHINGTON POST) - 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 one-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 the authorities from Ahlen, a town 40km south-west of Munster, seized the pug and assessed her value at US$850 (S$1,150).

Then they listed her for sale on eBay.

More than 160km away, a police officer saw the listing, and though she was sceptical 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," Mr Schlebes said.

Edda's original owners had failed to pay money it owed the town, reported the Associated Press, including a so-called dog tax.

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.

Mr Frank Merschhausm, spokesman for the city of Ahlen, told NPR in an e-mail that their 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," Mr Merschhausm told NPR, adding that the city is conducting an internal investigation.

The pug's new owner, Ms Michaela Jordan, told local media she feels misled by the city's eBay advertisement for Edda.

She was initially sceptical 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 US$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 operations and is preparing for a fifth, the new owner told the German tabloid Bild.

The police officer is demanding a reimbursement from the city and for the original cost of the pug and more than US$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," Mr Merschhaus, the town spokesman, told NPR.

"Only if multiple requests for payment go ignored or agreements for instalment payments are not adhered to" does the city resort to pets.

"It is a very long way to seizure."

Edda's original family - which includes three young children - said they are still coping.

But they are glad the pug has found a good home, they said in an interview with one of the many German news organisations covering the saga.

Even months later, they've kept tokens of Edda: her leash, her dog bowl, a bright painted portrait of smooshed pug face.