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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do The Good Guys Ever Win?

With all the reports of horrific abuse of animals on the Internet lately, I began to wonder whether the good guys ever win. Despite the efforts of all the people who care about animals and who want animals treated with respect, and there are many, it seems that we are simply applying a Band-Aid to a systemic infection. No matter how hard we try, the bad guys always seem to win.

Somebody abuses an animal. There is (maybe) a big uproar. The guilty party gets community service or probation. Some self-righteous reporters use their bully pulpits to claim that those seeking better protection for domestic animals have their priorities backwards, that we should instead focus our energies on abused children. Why do these misguided reporters assume that concern for one group of innocents is mutually exclusive to concern for others? By criticizing the 'misplaced priorities' of those seeking stronger animal protection laws, they suggest, wrongly, that we are ignoring 'more important' causes.

Of course, it is only fair to ask these same reporters what they are doing to help abused children. Are they involved, or do they, as I suspect, simply sit at their computers and spew criticism of people who ARE doing something? And how dare they assume that those of us who work on behalf of animals don't do anything to help people. It's easy to hide behind the computer screen and criticize the choices and actions of others. It takes a lot more effort, energy and passion to actually get involved and do something to change the status quo.

Animals are my passion, but that doesn't mean I don't care about people. I adopted my beautiful daughter from a terrible childhood in another country. I am mentoring another woman who has had problems with her internationally adopted child. She, in turn, is mentoring other families with similar problems. I have raised thousands of dollars to fight cancer and multiple sclerosis. I donate food and winter clothing to those in need. So, pompous reporter, don't tell me my priorities are misplaced.

As many have pointed out, children's abuse cases are different, due to privacy issues. And children have advocates. Every state and most counties have state-funded agencies tasked with protecting children. Sadly, the system doesn't always work as it should, and children still die at the hands of those who should protect them.

Animals, however, have no formal, state-funded advocates. We, the citizen warriors, must be their advocates. We must press prosecutors and district attorneys to prosecute animal abusers. We must advocate for stricter penalties for those convicted of animal abuse. We must raise funds and awareness for the non-profit agencies tasked with watching out for animals in our society.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. Following last year's slaughter of 100 'unwanted' sled dogs in British Columbia, a boycott of the business responsible for the deaths, widespread peaceful protests, an investigation and formation of a Sled Dog Task Force, the premier of British Columbia has announced new funding for animal cruelty investigations and introduced the toughest animal cruelty laws anywhere in Canada.

All the recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force were accepted, and the province of British Columbia reported that it immediately began making changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, "including increasing penalties to up to $75,000 and 24 months imprisonment for the most serious offences, extending the current six-month limitation period for prosecuting offences, and requiring mandatory reporting of animal abuse by veterinarians. The BC SPCA has also received a $100,000 grant to enhance their capacity for animal cruelty investigations," according to an official April 5 news release. That is a great start. Sadly, it took the slaughter of 100 dogs to get action.

Ignoring animal abuse also ignores the well-documented fact that some people who later abuse children or become serial killers get their start by abusing animals. Remember serial killer Son of Sam? The Boston Strangler? Ted Bundy? All began by abusing and killing animals. According to a study done by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA, "People who abuse animals are five times more likely to abuse humans than people who do not." Just one example, one little fact conveniently ignored by reporters shooting off uninformed opinions about how 'unimportant' animal abuse is.

So what better place to start addressing the issue of abuse than at the root? Get animal abusers off the streets, and we just may reduce the later suffering and abuse of the most vulnerable humans as well.

Maybe the good guys never will win. Maybe the forces of evil and ignorance and complacency will always be more powerful than the forces of good. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying. British Columbia has taken an important step in dealing with animal abusers. Let's hope many more provinces, cities and states will follow BC's lead. Nearly 100,000 followers of Patrick, the dog starved to within hours of death, are committed to making a difference in his honor, in cities, states and countries around the world.

If we don't help, who will?