08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
The rope breaks, the electric chair shorts out; as legend has it, that kind of execution-day malfunction means a reprieve for the condemned—even, it turns out, for a very lucky dog named Cain. A year-old mixed breed whose owners said they could no longer care for him, Cain was sedated and went into the gas chamber at the St. Louis Animal Regulation Center along with seven other unwanted pooches on Aug. 4. Fifteen minutes later, Bill Dobbs, whose unenviable job it is to remove the cadavers, unlocked the chamber. "I saw this dog in the right corner of the cage," he says, "staring at me and wagging its tail."
It's unclear how the 30-lb. mutt escaped his fate, but there are theories. "We think the sedation might have slowed his breathing," lessening his carbon monoxide intake, says animal control manager Rich Stevson. Once out, Cain, who had acquired a reputation for surliness in his weeklong stay at the pound, "gave me a dirty look," says center supervisor Rosemary Ficken, "like he had it out for me."
After monitoring the dog for neurological damage, Ficken turned him over to the Stray Rescue of St. Louis shelter. There, founder Randy Grim renamed him Quentin—after San Quentin, infamous for its gas chamber—and, despite more than 700 adoption offers, decided to keep the dog himself. "He has his own bedroom," says Grim, "and a queen-size bed."