RPCV lawyer helps Audra Elam (Togo) save dog


Reginald Brown (Micronesia 1990-02) helps Audra Elam (Togo 2019-20) save dog from being sent back overseas after COVID-19-forced separation

By Sydney Czyzon Chicago Tribune, July  02, 2020

A Peace Corps volunteer feared her beloved dog would be sent back overseas Friday because of issues with his paperwork.

Then, a former Peace Corps worker used his legal expertise to help stop the separation.

Audra Elam, the 27-year-old dog owner, originally from western Illinois, was teaching children in Togo in western Africa when she had to leave in mid-March because of the spread of coronavirus.

“He would follow her to school,” Andrew Orland, another Peace Corps member, said of the dog. “When she did English classes in the afternoon, he would come hang out with the kids.”

Audra Elam with her dog, Socrates, on her porch in western Africa before attending a local festival in 2019.

Elam left behind the terrier mix, Socrates, with the hope she could return to the village and extend her stay. But when it became clear she couldn’t go back, she arranged for her dog to receive a required rabies vaccination in Africa.

A company then flew the dog to the United States. Socrates arrived June 26, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially barred the dog from staying in the United States for his required quarantine, citing inaccuracies in his rabies documentation.

The CDC requires that anyone bringing a dog to the U.S. from countries at high risk for rabies — including most countries in Africa — provide proof the animal received its rabies vaccination.

Elam said she provided proper rabies documentation, translated from French to English with all the requested information. The dog also received a rabies vaccination Tuesday at an animal care facility at Kennedy International Airport in New York. Elam appealed the CDC decision, but at first, it looked like the agency would stand firm.

It wasn’t until Washington, D.C.-based attorney Reginald Brown got involved that the situation changed.

“Her tenacity just represents the best of the Peace Corps,” Brown, a former Peace Corps volunteer himself, said of Elam.

Someone following Elam’s story on social media alerted Brown to the situation, and the lawyer soon put together a seven-person team that volunteered to help. They located a federal statute that allows dogs more than 3 months old to be vaccinated in the U.S. after arrival and confined for 30 days after. According to the CDC, the vaccination requires 28 days to be fully effective.

“They weren’t even following their own rules and regulations,” Elam said of the CDC.

Brown said he contacted the Department of Health and Human Services, of which the CDC is part, for help resolving the matter. The CDC referred to Health and Human Services when asked for comment.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s official account tweeted a statement Thursday afternoon from his chief of staff, Brian Harrison, about Socrates.

After reviewing the case when Socrates’ plight was brought to Azar’s attention, the agency has “determined there is nothing within the law that requires Socrates to return to Ghana for the duration of his quarantine,” Harrison said in the statement.

“The Trump administration has once again shown a dogged determination to pursue deregulation and unleash some common sense,” Harrison said. “Happy 4th, and welcome to America, Socrates!”

At first worried her dog would be sent to Ghana, Elam cried when Brown called her with the news. Socrates will stay on American ground for his quarantine and she can pick him up July 28 from JFK.

The dog was her rock overseas, Elam said. When her grandfather died in March 2019, she relied on Socrates for support.



Leave a comment
  • Nice story. But it has nothing to do with deregulation and common sense. It has to do with the rule of law and following a federal statute, not something the Trump administration does too often. Of course, it was a private attorney, Reginald Brown, had to advise HHS and CDC to follow the law.

  • I’m delighted to learn of Reginald Brown’s knowledge and contacts.

    There may be a time when his expertise and whom he knows might

    be very helpful another matter. Nothing at the moment but I am

    impressed with the PCV network!

    Walter Blass, Country Director/PC/Afghanistan 1966-68

  • Sounds like good news. NOW, let’s get some discussion and action to return all the terminated PCVs to their posts, where determined safe ! ! John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment. 1963, -64, -65.

  • Thanks for posting, but all the credit belongs to Audra and Carol Clark, a RPCV and teacher in North Carolina. A few years back Carol and another group of fearless volunteers led a campaign to pass the federal Kate Puzey Act which helps RPCVs who have been the victims of sexual assault. We represented that group pro bono and were thrilled when President Obama agreed to sign the law in an Oval Office ceremony with the RPCVs and Puzey family. Carol read about Audra’s situation and reached out to us to help again on the DC side. We were absolutely prepared to litigate but the power of Audra’s message and photos did the trick and opposition melted away once we were able to get to decisionmakers with the legal authorities and influential voices in the media. I was inspired by Audra’s tenacity. It’s so common in volunteers. Glad she got the win and thanks to all.

    • Thank you, Reginald Brown, for using your knowledge to solve a simple problem that was blown out of proportion by ineptness. I know I would appreciate such support if I were in AJ’s shoes. I was quite disheartened to see the post about AJ and her dog get so much flack and chillingly heartless comments after it was posted to RPCV group pages. It is nice to see that there are members of the RPCV network who are still there to support one another.

  • The story behind the story behind the story. This is great! Thank you for all you have done.

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