Jesus christ, somebody call Animal Control, it’s InkedFur’s Furry Friday again here on Lawyers & Liquor. This means that as I’m writing this I have the strange and discomforting sensation that only comes from knowing there are a thousand fursuited eyes reading every word, never blinking…never blinking. While I’m recovering from that mental image, take a mosey over to my sponsor, InkedFur.com, and see what they have in stock for all you sick puppies.
So you may remember back when I first stepped into the steaming heap of dogshit that led me to interact with the furry fandom in the first place I watched a little documentary called Fursonas. There was a lot to unpack in that little show, but one character/person that stuck with me through it was Gary Guy Matthews, a/k/a “Boomer the Dog” . To put it politely, Boomer is…eccentric. He’s been all over the media, I’ve found, and generally speaking is a fully grown man who not only has developed a fursona, but lives the general life of a giant fucking dog. The guy has a fursuit that he made and maintains completely out of shredded paper. He said in an interview that he has a doghouse he sleeps in.
I gotta say, I’m both a little stranged out and filled with respect for the dedication that Boomer has here.
But the pinnacle of eccentricity comes back in 2010, when Boomer petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County to change his name legally from Gary Guy Matthews to Boomer the motherfucking Dog. The court, of course, said “What the hell?” and denied the name change. Boomer, however, appealed the matter to the intermediate appellate court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which then stood firmly behind the trial court on the matter and affirmed the denial of the name change.
I…well shit guys, I gotta say…I don’t really agree with the reasoning there.
Boozy on Boomer
First, let me be clear, from what I’ve seen there are two schools of thought regarding Boomer the Dog. The first school of thought is, when his name is mentioned, every furry cringes a little bit and quickly changes the fucking subject because they don’t want to be associated with a guy who goes on television and talks about how he lives like a goddamn giant dog. The second school of thought seems to be that he’s a sweetheart who has gained a really bad reputation simply because he’s a little strange and likes to talk to people about his passions. I heard from both fucking camps when I said I was going to write about this shit.
So, I want to say this: I’m primarily focusing on why Gary Guy Matthews wasn’t legally allowed to change his name to Boomer the Dog, and why I don’t really agree with the reasoning. However, that sort of requires that I talk about the man inside the dog (stop thinking about it that way, you assholes. We just fucking talked about that shit last week), so to speak, so…I’m going on record as saying I like Boomer. For fuck’s sake, the guy says he’s never been “intimate” with anyone, he has a radio show, he makes a giant dog costume from paper, and whenever he talks about his – is lifestyle the appropriate word – in any interview he looks like a kid on Christmas morning. It appears the guy really fucking loves to share and that he isn’t fucking hurting anyone, and quite goddamn frankly I don’t see the fucking problem. Look, if you’re a fucking rocket scientist and someone’s going to say you’re incompetent because there’s a guy in Pittsburgh who wants to be called Boomer the Dog in your fandom, maybe ask them about that cousin they have.
Because everybody has that fucking cousin, and while you may roll your eyes when talking about them, you know deep down you love the motherfucker.
So, no Boomer hate here. I’m good with Boomer the Dog. I may not want to hang out with him, but it’s just so fucking rare to see a person that appears so goddamn innocent in this world, and it’s really fucking refreshing to see that.
Now that we got that shit out of the way, let’s start talking about the case of Boomer the Dog.
And I swear to god, if any of you are going to start messaging me horrible fucking stories about Boomer, keep it to yourself. Let me believe there’s one person out there in the world that’s just a fucking innocent.
The Case of the Man Who Would Be Boomer
Alright, so Gary Guy Matthews loved the show Boomer the Dog as a kid, a show that, quite frankly, I had no goddamn clue even existed until I heard about Gary Guy Matthews. Now, some of us, when we love a show and it goes away, do perfectly reasonable things like mail bags of peanuts to the network to convince them to bring the show back for one lackluster season, at least so some of the storylines could be wrapped up. Some of us buy a brown duster and spend the rest of their lives mourning the loss. Gary decided that rather than simply grieve for the loss of his show, he would begin to identify with the main character and adopted, from then on, the name of Boomer the Dog and the desire to live as a creature that, if not properly trained, will definitely shit on the rug.
No word on whether or not Boomer the Dog, the Man, will shit on your rug for the sake of accuracy
After living as and being known as Boomer the Dog for about eighteen fucking years, he figured it might not be a bad idea to go and get his name changed to match…you know, considering nobody called him “Gary” and everyone called him “Boomer.” Makes perfect fucking sense to me. I mean, I don’t think I’ve heard my real name from the mouths of friends for decades, they all tend to call me by my nickname too. I wouldn’t want to change my legal name to match what my friends call me (guys, my friends fucking suck), but to each their own and considering there’s a guy out there who was legally allowed to change his fucking name to “Beezow Doo-Doo Zoppitybop-Bop-Bop” , you would think that Boomer the Dog would be a pretty fucking benign change.
NOPE, not according to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which determined that Boomer could not legally be Boomer primarily because it could “put the public welfare at risk.” The court’s reasoning was, essentially, that if Boomer saw an accident and called 911, 911 wouldn’t take it seriously because “Boomer the Dog” was reporting an accident. Name change denied. But, you know, the 911 operators in Washington must be used to this shit because the same issue didn’t come up with Mr. Zoppitybop-Bop-Bop’s name change.
The part that got me, though, was this bon mot from the Judge at the end of his order:
“Although the Petitioner apparently wishes it were otherwise, the simple fact remains the Petitioner is not a dog.”
That was unnecessary.
Anyhow, Boomer then appealed the ruling up to the Pennsylvania Superior Court who, if I have any familiarity with that court, looked at it and said “What the fuck is this? A Dog man? Oh for fuck’s sake, guys…” The Superior Court, however, agreed with the trial court , essentially holding that determinations as to name changes are left to the discretion of the trial judge and, absent an abuse of discretion, which the court didn’t find here.
So, Boomer is still Gary, and Gary is still Boomer, and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at least, that appears unlikely to fucking change.
But…you know…was it right?
An Argument for Boomer
First, let me start off by noting that, both in the Court of Common Pleas and at the appellate level before the Superior Court, Boomer/Gary, the man-dog-newspaper hybrid, was pro se. This means he represented himself. A name change itself is a fairly straight-forward procedure but…and appeal isn’t. An appeal, as we’ll see next month, is a complicated mess of case law and prior precedent. A pro se appellant with little to no legal background or training isn’t going to do it right, and while the court may grant them some leeway at the end of the day the court can only decide the case based on the record that’s in front of them.
So, before we go any further, let me repeat my standard admonition to anyone who thinks “I can do this incredibly important thing on my own!”: Hire a fucking lawyer. Thank god this decision wasn’t reported, Boomer, or your pro se ass would have set precedent in the Commonwealth royally fucking up name changes for other people.
Alright, so we first need to recognize that the trial court is going to remain undisturbed unless there is an abuse of discretion in the matter present. An abuse of discretion is where the determination of the trial court is “manifestly unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious, has failed to apply the law, or was motivated by partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill will.” Harman v. Borah, 756 A.2d 1116, 1123 (Pa. 2000) (citations omitted). To break it down into “paste eater” terms, if a judge acts in an unreasonable, arbitrary, or vindictive manner and/or was motivated to do so because of his personal feelings, an abuse of discretion exists. Likewise, if a judge sits around and ignores the law in issuing the determination, an abuse of discretion exists. Outside of those instances, which the Appellant must allege and show to the appellate court, the Superior Court was never going to reverse the name change.
Alright, so Pennsylvania’s Name Change statute is at 54 Pa.C.S. 701, et. seq., and there’s a lot there to unpack, but generally it states that in all cases except those involving minor children a change of name is subject to court overview primarily to determine whether or not the person changing their name is attempting to avoid a debt or work a fraud. This isn’t just me talking, by the fucking way. This is also the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In the matter of McIntyre, 715 A.2d 400, 402 (Pa. 1998).
In McIntyre, a transgender woman was seeking to have her name legally changed from her birth name to the name that they had chosen. However, because they were pre-operative, the court below denied determining that allowing a biological male to assume a female name would “work a fraud against the public” and was therefore not allowable. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in review, determined that since the Petitioner was a fully grown goddamn adult and their gender was of no real concern to the court in the matter, reversed the denial and granted the name change. Note, nowhere in the opinion does the court question or even discuss the actual gender of the Petitioner outside of a discussion of the underlying facts of the case. As the court stated, that was not a proper part of the consideration for the court, since, you know, there were no debts and the Petitioner was a fully grown man.
But here, the Judge, while alluding to the fact the “Boomer” was not a dog with that ever-so-snarky closing line, didn’t explicitly say he was denying the name change because, quite frankly, he thought Gary Guy Matthews was a fucking weirdo lunatic. Instead, the judge below set forth a public welfare argument for denying the petition, one that, in my opinion, was a little weak considering that Gary was willing to accept “Boomer T. Dog” (by the way, both “Boomer” and “Dog” are actual fucking first names and surnames) instead of the preferred “Boomer the Dog.” Still, in the world of a trial judge, 911 will not respond to emergency calls if the caller says they are “Boomer the Dog.” It’s so comforting to know that the Judge believes 911 isn’t going to respond to an emergency call if they think the caller isn’t going to give their real name, or that the judge believes a 911 operator is incapable of asking 2-3 questions to determine if the call is real.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“THERE’S A MAN HERE WITH A GUN, HE’S SHOOTING PEOPLE! <sobbing>”
“Sir, stay where you are. What’s your name?”
“Boomer the Dog, please hurry.”
“Fuck you, sir.”
But it is a valid concern, now that I’ve typed it out. I mean, imagine if someone gave 911 a response like that?
Unlike, you know, Captain Awesome.
But judges are people, and shit happens. Still, even taking that into account, how does that jive with the holding of In re Miller, 824 A.2d 1207 (Pa. Super. 2003), where the trial court determined that letting a woman change her name to that of her domestic partner (whose gender is never specifically stated) would be against the public interest in that it would imply the woman had a legal status, married, that was not actually allowed by law at the time. In re Miller, 824 A.2d at 1209. While the gender is never stated, we can assume, from the fact that common-law marriage was still legal in the Commonwealth in 2005, that this was a same-sex case, though. In that case, while the trial judge actually pointed out the number of benefits that could be given to this woman by members of the public which she was not actually legally entitled to by virtue of the name change. As a New Jersey court, which the Pennsylvania Superior Court looked to for guidance, stated in an opinion on a similar issue:
“If I grant such a petitioner–a petition, rather, to the outside world, which in this case would be the immediate neighborhood or their social contact, their work related, their church, other places of worship, people in the apartment, where they go shopping and so forth, bank accounts, social security, credit cards and so forth, because if it becomes–if I grant it, it would be legal and then we would have a union of some sort between the two, representing to all people that there’s some sort of a union here; there’s some sort of a marriage here; there’s some sort of a civil contract to represent to these people in general that they’re together. And that is not legal as of today.”
Id. at 1212 (citing In re Bacharach, 780 A.2d 579, 585 (N.J. Super. 2001)).
The Pennsylvania Superior Court, even taking into consideration the fact that granting a name change to a person so their last name would match that of their partner would create an appearance of legal right where there was none, still held that this concern was not enough to deny the name change petition, and the trial court’s concerns had led to an abuse of discretion and the misapplication of the law. Id. at 1214.
Is the case with Boomer the Dog any different, really? I’d argue no. Boomer the Dog (because, respectfully, fuck you, Your Honor, I’m calling him Boomer at this point) was debt-free, not a felon, and was an adult. The sole question before the court, then, was really whether there was some public policy reason the name change should not be allowed. The, judge, as the judges in Miller and McIntyre did, found a reason in public policy, and in my opinion one that was much less well applied in the face of facts than the reasons set forth in Miller (McIntyre was a classic case of a judge finding a reason…seriously…”a fraud against the public”? C’mon). Taking the line from McIntyre and Miller, where actual legal issues were at stake with the names, the mere fact that the judge was concerned a 911 operator “might” think an emergency call was a prank is, in my opinion, not nearly enough to justify the application of the law and judicial discretion in this matter.
But, while I don’t have a copy of the brief, I’m gonna bet those arguments weren’t actually raised by Boomer the Dog in his appeal, nor was it really argued that the judge’s determination truly constituted a misapplication of the law as set forth by Miller and McIntyre. And that’s a goddamn shame, because with a good lawyer and a good appellate brief, Gary Guy Matthews would be Boomer T. Dog right now, instead of just using that name.
And that’s sad, because as the Court recognized in Miller:
“Shakespeare recognized the care with which we must approach a person’s desire to change or modify their name where the playwright presents Iago addressing the Moor of Venice with the caution: “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls.” Tragedy of Othello, Act III, scene iii, 155. Where a court denies an application for adoption of a name change without anything on the record to support such denial, we rob the applicant of that which in no way enriches, or protects, the public and makes the applicant poor indeed.”
Back, You Filthy Animals!
Alright, that wraps me up for another InkedFur Furry Friday. Go see the folks that sponsor this shit over at Inkedfur.com and buy some stuff!
Next week I likely won’t post on Friday, as I’m heading down to Anthrocon to see you filthy animals. So, until then, I’ve put down some fresh piddle pads and the kibble bowls are full. Now get back in the cages.