While I hate to write about some of the animal abuse stories that have
appeared in the news lately, part of preventing animal cruelty starts with educating ourselves about the harsh reality of what people do to other living beings. Every April is designated as Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month, but it's important for us to fight for animals year-round.
Many people have remarked to me over the last 20 years that they were too sensitive to have ever become a vet - that they couldn't stand to see any animal suffering. Their inference was that I (or we veterinarians) are of a different breed - that we are somehow tougher than they are and perhaps feel less - that somehow an animal suffering doesn't affect us emotionally.
They couldn't be further from the truth about me and about most vets I know. Sure, I can make my way through a euthanasia without totally falling apart, although if you ask my assistants and most of my clients, I generally use about as many of their Kleenex as they do at such occasions. There's no lack of feeling involved. I simply suck it up and do what the animal needs.
In fact, maybe that's why I can do a euthanasia. In each case I am ending animal suffering. When I graduated from vet school, I made a promise to myself that I would never euthanize a healthy or treatable animal and I haven't. Several people left my office upset over the years and headed for a different hospital, looking for someone who would euthanize their cat after I told them I wouldn't. Many others let me or a staff member adopt their cat instead of euthanizing it. But never did I agree to put a cat to sleep that was healthy or had a treatable disease. So when I had to euthanize a cat, I knew I was helping the kitty. However, it's still painful for me to do because I'm not from a different tough kind of breed. It is simply that I do what I have to do.
You see, I'm the person that has to change the channel when the SPCA commercial comes on. I'm the person who secretly released her fruit flies outdoors at the end of the semester of genetics instead of suffocating them. I'm the person who went to the dean's office and seriously contemplated giving up graduating from vet school if they made me euthanize my surgery dog. I begged and pleaded to adopt the dog ....and cried and threatened and begged some more ...and finally went along with their rules because if I didn't, I would not become a vet. The dean made that clear.
After many tearful conversations, my husband and I decided that the dog was going to be put to sleep anyway and that his life was a special one, but it was in fact one life and by becoming a vet, I could go on to save thousands of other animals. And I have. But I will never forget that experience or that precious dog or my anger at the system that continued on for a long time. Fortunately, things have changed and those are no longer the requirements at most or all vet schools as far as I know.
I'm also the person who can't bear to watch the news anymore because it seems like every day, there's yet another new case of the many animal abuse stories out there. And I can't comprehend, cannot for the life of me wrap my head around, the idea of hurting an animal. How can someone do that to an innocent creature? They have to be mentally ill, right? That's the only way I can explain it. My mother would say "or just plain mean!" but don't you have to be mentally ill to be that "mean"?
Unfortunately, as much as I try to avoid seeing most of these news stories, they're hard to miss when you're in the animal profession or even just existing in this world I suppose. Animal abuse info seems to be staring me in the face everywhere I look. So recently, I saw the headlines about a man skinning his cats alive and eating them. I couldn't read the details - maybe you know them - but I felt so ill, I didn't finish dinner and I got as far away from that story as I could.
I did a little research before writing this article. Facts on animal abuse are easy to find. But I could only take reading about this subject for a very short amount of time. The many types of animal abuse that exist becomes apparent, though, very quickly. Here's some of the animal abuse stories I found:
Last week in Ohio, a dog was found dead with a plastic bag taped over his head.
In New York, more than 30 dead animal bodies were found dumped.
In North Caroline, a litter of puppies was found starved.
In California, a Rottweiler was found beaten to death.
In Florida, a dog's leg was cut off with a saw.
In Kentucky, a cat was shot with an arrow.
In Indiana, a cat was decapitated.
In Florida, a dog was beaten with a large flashlight.
In Texas, live dogs were burned in a fire pit.
In Spain, a cat was severely burned with acid.
In California, 58 farm animals were rescued from a so-called backyard butcher. The animal abuse reported was especially severe and I can't bring myself to repeat the descriptions of the animals found there.
And all of these cases are just from within a single week!
And then there's the especially lovely case of the New Jersey woman who was performing surgery on her dog at home. This one really boggles the mind. The police found quite a lot of blood, which was apparently coming from the head of a husky mix who had "surgery" 12 hours earlier. The wound was described as "palm-sized". I have pretty small hands and yet the size of my palm is still a pretty large wound.
Other animals were found in the home as well, some apparently sedated with the woman's own antidepressants and anti-seizure meds. A Persian-mix cat was found heavily drugged with big patches of hair shaved away. The "surgery" dog, even though 12 hours had passed since the surgery, was still pretty much completely out, unable to hold his head up.
Some of these animal abuse stories make me want to use some rather obscene expletives and I'm not a cursing person. But what the ...uh...heck? How do you explain these animal abuse stories? And what can we do to prevent them?
Since April is Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month, I wanted to point out some of the animal cruelty facts and some of these animal abuse stories even though I can't stand learning about them, thinking about them, and talking about them. I guess we can't hide our heads and pretend this craziness doesn't exist if we want to do anything about it. And that's my big question. What can we do to stop animal abuse? How can we better protect the precious animals in our world? What kind of legal penalties should there be for this kind of behavior? Will stiffer laws on animal abuse deter a good amount of this behavior? Is there anything else we can do in addition to fighting for stricter laws on animal cruelty?
I hope you'll give it some thought and join in the conversation. You can post your comments on the website or on Facebook. Maybe together, little by little, we can change the pattern of animal abuse that has emerged in our society. Maybe, some day, hearing all of these animal abuse stories so frequently will become a thing of the past.