How much would you pay for a dog with five legs?
If you're Allyson Siegel, the answer is $4,000, plus at least $2,000 more for medical expenses to remove the extra leg.
The 45-year-old Charlotte woman bought Precious the puppy -- whom she has renamed Lilly -- from Gastonia resident Calvin Owensby last week because she couldn't bear to see her sold to a show that features deformed animals.
Lilly, a Chihuahua-terrier mix born to Owensby's Chihuahua Diamond, was born about six weeks ago. One of six puppies, she seemed healthy, except for the extra appendage. The fifth leg, white and without feeling, hangs down between her two back legs.
When John Strong, the owner of a Coney Island sideshow, heard about Lilly from a friend, he knew he had to have her.
Owensby asked for $3,000, and Strong immediately agreed to the price. "There are millions of dogs with four legs -- and there are only three with five legs I'm aware of," said Strong, who makes it his business to find the deformed animals.
The money couldn't have come at a better time for Owensby, 57, an electrician who was laid off in December. "I've been looking for work, can't find work nowhere," he said. "It hurts when you go from $500 a week to nothing."
Strong saw it as a good deal, too. Not only had he passed over the chance to buy a five-legged dog last year, he moved 27 live animals and 250 stuffed, preserved or mummified ones to Coney Island for the summer season this spring, setting up down the street from a well-established rival sideshow.
But when a local paper published Owensby's plans -- and his phone number -- he started getting calls from irate animal lovers, protesting the sale and "cussing me out."
Siegel also read the story and decided she couldn't let the adorable puppy live the life of a carny. She has donated to animal charities and helped injured animals, but she felt she had to do more for this little dog.
"I just called him and I said, 'How much?'" Owensby still wanted a $3,000 profit, but he had to pay back a $1,000 deposit that Strong had given him, so Siegel forked over $4,000.
Siegel says a simple creed motivated her: "Don't do to animals what you wouldn't do to your kids."
Surgery to remove the leg, which is tripping Lilly up as she tries to walk, is scheduled in two weeks. And after all her trouble, Siegel -- who already has six cats -- plans to give Lilly to her sister in Charlotte to raise.
Strong scoffs at the notion that his show constitutes animal abuse and said he would have given Lilly a good life. And although Strong is disappointed that he didn't get the dog, he said he's counting his blessings. "Sometimes, you just gotta say, 'OK, I still have nine live, two-headed animals,' and move on," he said.