Jeremy Quaile's dog died alone, and it took several days for anyone to notice.
Five months later, Quaile died in much the same way.
He had no family and few close friends in Calgary. Like countless people who come to the city in search of opportunity, he left lifelong relationships behind and struggled to forge new ones as deep or as strong.
But you might remember his name; it was in the news last summer.
Or maybe you saw it on Facebook, alongside comments labelling him an "idiot," a "terrible person" and "human garbage."
Strangers cast these judgments on him, knowing nothing of his life and little about the circumstances surrounding his dog's death. But of one thing they were certain: his pet died in a horrific way — left in a car for days during a summer heat wave — and that was all they needed to know.
- This story is the first in a two-part series. Read the next:
- PART TWO | Truth and consequences when judgment takes months in court and minutes online
Quaile tried to defend himself from the onslaught of online hate. He explained, to anyone who would listen, his version of events: that he didn't know how his dog ended up in his car, that he had been frantically searching for his beloved companion, that he was more devastated than anyone when he discovered her dead inside the hot vehicle.
But he couldn't respond to every online barb. It's doubtful he even read them all. There are hundreds.
Many commenters said he didn't deserve to live. Some suggested they'd kill him, given the chance. On the Calgary Humane Society's Facebook post that announced he had been charged with a non-criminal offence, one person responded with no words, posting only an animated image of a swinging noose.
Quaile died by suicide. He was 45.
His loved ones don't draw a direct connection between his death and the death of his dog. They recognize he had been struggling with isolation and addiction long before he lost his closest companion and became a social media pariah. And mental health experts say suicide is a complex act, never the result of a single factor.
But family in Ontario and Quebec still question the way the humane society handled his case, the way news organizations reported it and the way so many people rushed to judge him. Put together, they say, these came as further blows to someone already at a low point in his life.
'He was so gentle'
Like anyone, Quaile had his ups and downs. But, over the past couple of years, the downs had become more common. He had lost two jobs and was living off retirement savings. He filled his days, increasingly, with alcohol.
Lynda Diotte struggles to reconcile the sorrow of her son's final months with how happy he was as a boy.
She said her only child was always a sensitive soul, concerned with the well-being of all living things.
"He was such a sweet little guy when he was growing up. He was so gentle."
As a toddler, she said, he would take great care to not even tear a leaf on a houseplant. As a school-aged kid, he was bigger than most of his peers and would stand up to bullies who picked on the smaller children.
His parents separated when he was 12. He grew up mostly in Toronto, spending some time in Ottawa. He was intelligent and earned high marks, but grew frustrated with his teachers in his later teens. He chose not to finish high school.
"And then he got into the alcohol," his mother said. "And I was concerned because it's in the family. Alcoholism is a genetic problem."
Quaile liked to drink, but his childhood pal Jim Gountounas didn't see it as a major problem until much later in his friend's life.
The pair met in kindergarten and grew up together in Toronto. They played on the same hockey and soccer teams. They lived together, for a spell, in their 20s.
"He was a great friend ... always the life of the party, always made people laugh," Gountounas said. "He'd give his shirt off his back to you, if you needed it. He was always ready to help."
As he matured into adulthood, Quaile decided to go back to school and earned a certificate in electrical engineering technology. He found work in the Toronto area, but was laid off amid the 2008 recession.
An opportunity in Calgary brought him out West. He knew no one in Alberta, but the job was good. With some help from his family, he paid down his debts and was able to buy a house.
"This was a happy and exciting time in his life, made all the better when he adopted Knightley, a female black Labrador that he adored," his father, Allan Quaile, said in an email.
Alone in a new city, he had found an instant — and constant — companion.
'He loved that dog, man'
He and Knightley were inseparable.
Neighbours in the community of Penbrooke Meadows said they'd often see him out and about with his dog.
His mother said he didn't call as often as she would have liked but, when they did speak on the phone, he would gush about the latest, cutest thing Knightley had done.
"Oh my God, he loved that dog ... it was everything for him," she said. "It was nice to know that he felt he had company, because he was all alone in his house."
Gountounas remembers teasing his friend when he adopted the pup, given how smitten he was. He said Quaile would feed Knightley prime cuts of steak, when he could afford it.
"He loved that dog, man. That was his life. It was just him and his dog."
Those early years in Calgary were good to him, but it didn't last.
He was laid off from the job that had launched his new life in Alberta. He started drinking more.
He found a new job with a new company, but he didn't love it. After "a weekend of drinking and drugs," his father said, he didn't show up for work and was fired.
"He would go on binges," said Gountounas. "So for two or three days, he would be gone."
It was during one of those binges, his loved ones say, that Knightley died.
We don't know how, exactly, Knightley wound up inside Quaile's car. We don't even know when she was put in the vehicle — or by whom.
Court documents outlining the charge against him cite July 7 or 8 as the offence date. The Calgary Humane Society later said it believed the dog was in the car as of July 9. Peace officers with the animal protection agency found her body on July 12.
Temperatures that week soared as high as 31 C. Investigators said the car's windows were shut and there was no water in the vehicle. The official cause of death was hyperthermia — an elevated internal body temperature that leads to organ failure.
It's unclear how long Knightley survived inside the vehicle, which was parked outside Quaile's home.
However long it took, her death was almost certainly agonizing.
Knightley's death was the culmination of a broader decline in how he cared for his companion of the previous eight years. Near the end, his parents said, he paid more attention to alcohol and less to his pet's needs.
"I think Jeremy got to a point where he could not look after Knightley in the manner that any of us expects," his father said. "But, on the other hand, for most of her life she had an owner who loved her and cared for her as much as anyone could."
As Knightley's owner, Quaile was charged under Section 2(1) of Alberta's Animal Protection Act.
The act makes it an offence to "cause or permit an animal ... to be in distress." The non-criminal charge carries a maximum fine of $20,000, although actual fines usually come in well short of that.
The humane society issued a press release about the charge, naming Quaile as the accused, on July 18.
And the reaction was swift.
Social media response
The release was immediately picked up by many news organizations. In comments and social media posts, readers didn't hold back in expressing what they thought of Quaile.
"This makes me sick!!! It's time we make an example out of this loser," one person wrote.
"PUT HIM IN A CELL THAT HAS NO AIR & SEE HOW HE WILL SURVIVE!!!" another added, in all capital letters. "LET HIM DIE TOO!!!!"
"He doesn't deserve to live anymore! I'm telling you if I was in Alberta I'd be dealing with him in my own way!" another person wrote, adding with emojis depicting a syringe and an urn.
The news release was posted on the Humane Society's Facebook page, where it garnered 114 comments, including the one with the swinging noose.
Quaile engaged directly with some of the online comments, trying to defend himself.
"You people have no clue what happened ... I would never leave my KNIGHTLEY in the back seat of my car," he said in one reply to a news story. "Somebody put HER THERE ... don't believe everything you read in the news."
He kept at it for weeks, often posting photos of Knightley along with his messages. His mother said it took a further toll on his already fragile mental state.
"It ruined him," she said.
"Really, it broke his heart. To have people think he was like that, it made it even worse. He said to me, 'Mom, you know I'd never hurt her.' And I said, 'Yes, I know, sweetheart. You don't have to explain to me.'"
But he did feel the need to explain it to others, including CBC News.
Alcohol, foggy memories and regret
Quaile called me last summer with a blunt admission.
He had read the brief article I had written about the charge he faced, and wanted to tell his side of the story.
It was almost impossible to understand him on the phone. He alternated between uncontrollable sobbing and brief bursts of anger. But, in the 15-minute conversation, he managed to communicate a few things.
He said he had been drinking heavily for several days and simply lost track of Knightley. He didn't know how she ended up in his car. He was also angry with the way he was being portrayed. But, as an interview, our conversation was unpublishable. He was clearly extremely drunk.
He also told his mother he had been drinking around the time of Knightley's death. He told her he remembers leaving the dog with someone who lives nearby, someone who was familiar with Knightley and wanted to take her for a walk.
He didn't remember exactly what happened after that.
"He must have gotten loaded and forgot the dog was with her," Diotte said. "He was blaming himself. He was sobbing on the phone when he called me."
This version of events — which Quaile relayed to his loved ones and in several social media posts — also included him calling to report Knightley missing before finding her dead in his car.
The humane society disputes this, however.
While it declined to be interviewed and refused to answer several questions about the case, the agency did say one thing, by email. Spokesperson Sage Pullen McIntosh told CBC News Quaile "did not report the dog missing."
He never mentioned that, specifically, when he called me, either. I came away from the conversation with little information about his recollection of events. It seemed he simply didn't remember many things.
What was clear was the deep sorrow in his voice whenever he mentioned Knightley's name.
After he hung up, I was so concerned about his state of mind that I called police and asked them to check on his welfare. They found him to be highly intoxicated but otherwise physically OK.
Less than five months later, he took his own life.
No one knows exactly when he died, but it was likely sometime in early December.
His father only learned of his son's death after not hearing from him for several weeks, Googling his name and coming across a terse online obituary.
The obituary lists the date of death as Dec. 9, 2017, but Allan Quaile said that's the day police found his son's body in his northeast Calgary home.
Like Knightley, it's believed, he had been dead for several days before anyone realized.
His funeral was sparsely attended. Friends and family back East didn't make the trip to Calgary. Gountounas said he didn't learn about the funeral until after it happened. In the end, he said, two people showed up: a neighbour of Quaile's and a former co-worker.
The neighbour sent his family a video of the service.
His family still questions why the humane society opted not only to charge him last summer, but also to issue the news release that included his name but little context.
"While I cannot get into great detail of the investigation as this is an active file pending court, this is an important message for the public ... and should serve as a sobering deterrent," senior investigations manager Brad Nichols said in that release.
The situation escalated when Quaile didn't show up for a scheduled court date. A warrant was issued for his arrest in September and, by October, his father said his son was "very concerned" police would pick him up.
On Oct. 6, Allan Quaile said he called Nichols "to explain Jeremy's situation" and ask if he would consider withdrawing the charge.
"He again acknowledged that there was no intent on Jeremy's part but he was quite firm about proceeding with the charges," Allan Quaile said.
"His justification was that the process might result in Jeremy getting treatment for alcohol and drug addiction."
Nichols declined to speak with CBC News for this story. The humane society would only provide a written statement, saying, "After investigation, it was determined on reasonable and probable grounds, that Mr. Quaile was responsible for causing the dog to be in distress."
"It does not matter whether the charged individual intended to cause the animal's distress or not," the statement adds.
The humane society also said it takes mental health "very seriously" and attempts "to get the people we work with the help they need through education, agency referrals and welfare checks."
"We are very sorry to hear of Mr. Quaile's passing and our condolences go out to his family and friends," the statement concludes.
'Stay close to your children'
Both parents said their son had talked with them about suicide last fall.
"Of course, then he'd deny it," his mother said. "He'd say, 'No, no, ma, I'm not going to do that.' But I knew. I knew he meant it. But I kept thinking in my mind, maybe he won't do it."
She said her son started isolating himself. He became harder and harder to reach by phone. But distance and denial kept her from acting, which she regrets.
"I almost got on a plane and went down," she said. "I didn't know what to do. I feel, though, I should have gone anyway. And I'm sure he wouldn't have kept me locked out. But I wasn't sure, at that time, you know?"
Her voice still rises when she speaks about the humane society, the way her son was portrayed in the news and the people who tormented him on social media.
But there's a sense of resignation in her tone, as well. Something maybe even bordering, now, on acceptance.
When she talks about what can be done to prevent something similar from happening to others, she doesn't have advice for peace officers or journalists or Facebook users.
Rather, she has a message for parents.
"Pay attention," she said.
"Talk to your kids. Stay close to your children, as much as you can."
If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide by calling toll-free 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645 or chatting online with Crisis Services Canada.
Clarification : An earlier version of this story said Jeremy Quaile's friend Jim Gountounas couldn't make it to Quaile's funeral. In fact, Gountounas said he didn't learn about the funeral until after it had happened.(Apr 16, 2018 12:49 PM)