On March 30, The Metropolitan published my story about a homeless man named Bob Embrey who was residing near the East Bay in San Francisco. Bob was dog-sitting two massive Newfoundlands when I came across him during my stay at San Francisco for a journalism class. Upon interviewing Bob and finding out more about his story, I discovered what a friendly reputation he had with the surrounding community. The man was incredibly respectful, friendly and patient with us the entire time during the interview process. Upon inquiring where he had gotten the dogs and whom he was watching them for, Bob simply stated that he was watching them for a “friend” of his. From what I had assessed and observed, the two Newfoundlands referenced in my story appeared healthy, happy and well taken care of. After the online publication of my article, however, it was brought to my attention through a string of comments that there was far more to the situation with Bob and the dogs than I had originally covered in my story.
The two Newfoundlands featured in the story allegedly belong to Stephen Sayad and Cara Drogus. They’re two of between nine and 11 dogs that the owners reportedly own. According to several sources, the couple were evicted from their previous home in Mill Valley, California, in 2014, where they owned 11 dogs that were allegedly confined to cramped living quarters.
“They were evicted from their home in Mill Valley a few years ago. At the time they had 11 dogs, and especially in any urban setting, you’re never going to find a place to rent with that many dogs. So, they got this motor home and they’ve been living in it. At night they live in the Marina Safeway parking lot and then they drive over to Crissy Field,” said Tanya Hill, a Newfoundland owner and member of the Northern California Newfoundland Club.
Following Sayad and Drogus’ eviction at their home in Mill Valley, the couple found temporary housing at Wine Country Pet Resort, sources said. The couple received housing in exchange for their temporary work at the resort. The arrangement ended badly, however, with numerous sources alleging that embezzlement and fraud might have been involved.
“In 2014, they lost their home in Mill Valley. They moved to Napa and lived with the Wine Country people, who Stephen (Sayad) actually went to war against, and they took him in,” said Kaitlyn Anderson, who calls herself an old friend of Drogus’.
After the pet resort owners asked Drogus and Sayad to take their dogs and leave, Sayad responded to the decision with an attack post on his personal blog, accusing the resort owners of systematic fraud and other charges.
Neither Sayad nor Drogus has responded to my attempts by email and telephone to reach them for comment.
Currently the couple reside at Crissy Field in a motor home, where up to nine of their Newfoundlands live. Concerned individuals, including local and out-of-state Newfoundland organization members, dog breeders, friends and family, have all repeatedly reached out to offer help and assistance for the dogs and the couple. The root of worry for those who have reached out has revolved around the reported lack of care for the animals. Most of the offers of help and assistance reportedly have been returned with retaliation and disrespect from Sayad and Drogus.
“I reached out and it took me a lot of pride to set aside to ask ‘if you need help we can help you,’” Anderson said. “She (Drogus) met me with venom and hate, and she didn’t want the help.”
Others who have tried to help the dogs and their owners have received similar responses.
“I’ve gone personally and with the dog club, saying, ‘Look, we’ll take the dogs, we’ll place them, even if it’s temporary. Just let us help you. Let us help you get on your feet.’ And we’ve just been met with anger and hatred like we’re trying to steal them,” Hill said.
Embrey’s dog-sitting position with the newfie owners has put him in the crosshairs of a challenging situation. Embrey has upheld a genuinely positive reputation in the surrounding area, yet there is still a fair amount of concern for his ability to care for the Newfoundlands with his homeless status.
“I’ve got to say with Bob, yes, he’s homeless. The man has integrity: He’s polite, he’s kind, he definitely treats the dogs well. I have no issue with Bob. He’s also scared to death of the owner. I don’t want him to get hurt,” Hill said. Attempts to reach Embrey for an update on his dog-sitting status were unsuccessful.
Bob’s precarious position of caring for two Newfoundlands on the streets has caused some reaction, yet the position the other dogs face with the owners draws a greater amount of concern. Sayad and Drogus’ residence in their small motor home with eight to nine dogs has worried many about the situation the other animals face. With a reported lack of sufficient care, proper tools and living space, some think it reveals abuse of the privilege the owners have for owning pets in general.
“I do not believe anybody has a right to have a pet. Having a pet is a privilege, and if you cannot provide the legal care necessities for a pet, then I do not believe it is in the best interest of the animal to be in that particular person’s care,” said Kyle Warner, a humane educator at the Denver Dumb Friends League.
Signs of neglect have been reported from people who have encountered or entered the couple’s motor home and their previous home in Mill Valley. Incidents of dogs being tied to the bumper of their RV and dogs being left in small crates in their old home are just a couple of reported examples.
“One of my memories of him (Sayad) was going to the house in Mill Valley, and he was sitting on his ass on the sofa while the dogs were climbing all over everything, and they had three puppies in the house and the puppies were peeing and pooping everywhere, and he was yelling at Cara to take care of the dogs,” Anderson said.
The couple also reportedly have had encounters with San Francisco Animal Control officials and altercations with law enforcement. Supposedly, the couple have managed to avoid having their dogs taken from them because of their ability to provide the bare minimum level of care for their animals.
“My biggest concern for Steve and Cara’s dogs is that they are in a precarious situation reliant on the generosity of others to donate dog food. Getting donated food from food banks or other homeless resources is doable for a single dog, but trying to feed multiple giant dogs is an almost insurmountable task,” said Marylou Zimmerman, a Newfoundland owner and member of the Newfoundland Club of America. Zimmerman also works closely with the NCA Charitable Trust on their rescue and health research efforts.
“I have had conversations with members of the Crissy Field Dog Group and they, along with park rangers, have brought food to the dogs on many occasions because they feel sorry for them,” Zimmerman said.
On all accounts, it seems that the greatest concerns with this developing situation lie with the well-being of the owners’ newfies and Embrey’s position with them. The future remains uncertain for these animals and their owners with their living arrangement at Crissy Field. Offers of help and advocacy for these animals and their owners have been largely left unanswered and the unfolding events have left many concerned and distressed.