In a kind of Christmas miracle, the Rev. Nurjhan Govan was able to spend the holidays with four of her beloved Yorkies — mother and daughter Zion and Tiny as well as Squirt and Eyes Jr.
The joyous celebration, even amid an isolating pandemic, was a long time coming.
The retired powerhouse pastor of the historic Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, Salt Lake City’s oldest Black church, spent much of 2020 without her canine companions after 10 Yorkies were impounded by Salt Lake County Animal Services. She faced dozens of misdemeanors — including allegations of lack of license, failure to immunize for rabies, and animal cruelty, which included failing to provide adequate food and shelter.
For months, Govan moved from place to place around Utah’s capital, even spending time essentially living in her car in Trinity’s parking lot at 239 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (600 South), while caught in a bureaucratic and legal tug of war to retrieve her pets.
By the fall, she was able to buy a five-bedroom house in Taylorsville, with the help of a veterans association and her pension from the denomination.
Govan says she attended two virtual pretrial court sessions about her dogs, and, in the past couple of months, the first two Yorkies were returned to her. Then, in December, she got another two back.
As far as Salt Lake County Animal Services is concerned, a spokeswoman says, the case is “closed.”
Officials have made periodic checks on Govan in her new house, says her attorney Steffen Thomas, and have determined that the Yorkies are well treated, with lots of food and space.
Because of the backup in cases, Thomas doubts the pastor will have her day in court before the spring or summer but is confident she will prevail.
“There is not any reason for [Animal Services] to keep the dogs away,” he says. “It is expensive to keep those dogs, and it is hard on my client, who sees them as emotional support dogs.”
Thomas hopes to “shave a lot of the charges down, particularly the animal cruelty charges, and then take it to trial,” he says. “I am in a state of cautious optimism.”
Govan, too, believes she may regain the rest of her Yorkies sometime this year.
“I plan to place some of them with friends I know who are caring,” she says, “or put one or two up for sale in a good home.”
The four she has are “good company,” Govan says. “They follow me around. They sleep on my bed. They let me know when the doorbell rings, since I’m hard of hearing.”
She does say, though, that her dogs became finicky eaters while with Animal Services.
“I used to feed them dry food from a bag,” she says. “Now they want only wet food or food off my table.”
For her Christmas feast, Govan cooked enough for herself and the dogs — and they downed it all, including her portion.
No matter. She adores them and, she believes, the feeling is mutual.
“They were gone so long I worried that they would forget me,” Govan says. “But when they returned, they fell right in line with affection.”
It was, she says, a heartwarming reunion.