When a dog wanders away from home, the owner searches frantically down lonely streets, crawls under abandoned, derelict buildings, and makes his way through subterranean passageways, calling out his pet’s name again and again until the empty streets ring with the sound. If at last he succeeds in finding his lost friend, both pet and master leap for joy.

But dogs are more than “man’s best friend.” They are often members of the family; and out of all the creatures on earth, only man and dog adopt one another. Dogs do behave as if they were children, and many true stories tell us about little ones who were raised by dogs or wolves.

An amusing spectacle is now unfolding in Augusta that has been summed up under a variation of the headline “Man bites dog.” This time, the headline is “Conservative activist kicks puppy.”

On the day Mike Hein was to appear at a preliminary hearing at the Capital Judicial Center, concerned citizens gathered to share coffee and donuts and to express their support for the dog named Puppy Brewer. It is the height of summer — the searingly hot dog days of summer, if you will — and because the prosecutor was on vacation, the hearing was postponed. This unexpected change in the date of the hearing led the district attorney to appear before the crowd to say that “the case has been assigned to our most experienced attorney.”

In other words, she reassured the assembled citizens that justice for Puppy Brewer would not be delayed.

It was a scene worthy of only the greatest American satirists, Mark Twain perhaps, or the comedy duo Bob & Ray. Were the recently departed Bob Elliot still with us, boisterous gales of laughter would be rolling in from Cundy’s Harbor.

The crowd by the courthouse was quickly consoled, failing to recall that Augusta leads Maine in property crimes per capita. Why the alleged crime of kicking a puppy merits the prolonged attention of Augusta’s most experienced prosecutor is a mystery, given that the justice system in Augusta has not yet succeeded in ridding the city of drug dealing, domestic assaults, car thefts, burglaries and homicides.

The answer is two-fold. A bias always exists against social reformers, and Mike Hein has made himself a gadfly in Augusta by opposing the ills that harm our society.

Secondly, we Americans love dogs inordinately. That is, we love dogs more than we love children. It is far easier to call together a crowd to protest alleged cruelty to a puppy than it is to assemble a protest against the cruelty of abortion. Hein has resolutely opposed the evil of abortion, while also fighting the scourge of drug and alcohol use, public displays of indecency in our state capital, and gambling.

Hein is a lightning rod who draws down upon himself all the wrath of a political and social establishment that is willing and eager to tolerate these evils. And each blast of lightning is directed towards him not because he is an ordinary citizen, but because he was once a “conservative activist.”

So before we convict Mike Hein in the court of public opinion, let us acknowledge that we do not know what happened that day on the Rail Trail. We do not know what preceded nor what followed the incident. Hein denies kicking or harming the dog in any way. Puppy Brewer received no permanent injury, as might well have happened, had Hein tripped, and both he and the dog tumbled down together onto the asphalt road.

As Hein makes his way through the lonely corridors of our criminal justice system, let us remember that it is our fellow man who is owed the warmth of human charity and human mercy above every other creature that walks the face of the earth.

While the wheels of justice are turning for Puppy Brewer, let us see that justice is also secured for our fellow man. Let us extend to Mike Hein a presumption of innocence, and let him receive his right to a fair and speedy trial.

Fritz Spencer is the former editor of the Christian Civic League Record.