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Friday, May 13, 2011

In Memory of London

Dogs are remarkable creatures. In addition to their phenomenal senses of hearing and smell, and their unconditional love and service to humans, they possess another trait that most humans can only dream of.

'Dogs can forgive their abusers; I don't think I can.'

I wrote this on Facebook a couple of hours after learning of the death of a white boxer named London. Her death was the direct result of the abuse inflicted on her by her previous 'owner.' He let her starve in the back yard of a house (hardly a home) in central Florida. She was never fed, her only source of water was a slimy pool, and her only shelter was under piles of garbage.

Emaciated and so weak she could barely stand, London finally was rescued and taken to an animal shelter. From there the good folks at Florida Boxer Rescue took her to a veterinarian, where she was bathed and fed. After treatment, she was sent to a foster home, where most likely for the first time in her life, she was loved.

London's story soon spread around the world, and a Facebook page called London Reborn attracted more than 6,100 supporters. Her fans anxiously awaited each update about London's progress, donated to help pay for her mounting veterinary costs, and supported the growing movement for harsher penalties for animal abusers.  

Sadly, London's extended period of starvation made it difficult for her to handle even small amounts of food. She was weak but struggled mightily to survive. When London took a turn for the worse, she was rushed to an emergency veterinary hospital, where she was diagnosed with a fungal infection -- from the stagnant water she was forced to drink -- that caused her internal organs to start shutting down. She was given food by syringe, started on treatment for the fungal infection and treated for her nausea. A few days later came word that her condition had worsened. Her heart, already weakened by an advanced case of heartworms, finally gave up. London was gone. Her struggles and pain were over.
 
Although London's death was devastating to her foster family and her legions of followers, we can find some comfort in knowing that before she died, London knew what it was like to be loved. She took her last breath in the arms of the woman who rescued her from the animal shelter.

Word of London's passing sent a shock wave through her supporters and resulted in an outpouring of grief from around the world. Her foster parents announced that London's Facebook page will remain active and become an on-line meeting place for those who care about animals. "To honor her memory we will maintain her page as a place to spotlight other dogs in need and follow their recoveries that she may be reborn through them. It will bridge the cracks that neglected and forgotten dogs fall into. We will call it London's Bridge. We feel this is the best way to honor her memory and the love she taught us."

Despite her long-term abuse, London still loved people. She, like the majority of abused dogs, forgave humans. Dogs have a remarkable capacity for forgiveness. I, like many others who care deeply about animals, do not have this ability. As a Christian, I know that I should forgive people for their sins. But deliberately abusing animals or children, or neglecting them to the point of death, is something I simply cannot forgive.

People often speak of karma getting back at those who abuse animals. Call it karma or God's justice, it still takes too long for justice to be served. We need stricter penalties for animal abusers, and we need them NOW. We also need better enforcement of anti-cruelty laws. Far too often, law enforcement and prosecutors either deny that abuse has occurred, or fail to take it seriously. And the punishments for those convicted of animal abuse are too often only a slap on the wrist: probation or community service.

What happened to the person who abused London and who was directly responsible for her death? He was given two citations and the case closed. Two citations? I am not familiar with Florida laws, but I would guess that a citation is something given for failure to buy a dog license or for letting the grass get too high in your yard. It is a pretty minor 'penalty' for causing the death of a dog.

We who assume responsibility for the life of another being must take that responsibility seriously. If we do not, and the animal suffers because of our actions (or lack of actions), society must demand -- and receive -- a far greater accountability and punishment than now exist.

Those who abuse animals often abuse their spouses or children, or go on to murder people. Animal abuse isn't just about animals. Animal abuse is a symptom of a seriously sick mind.

The time for excuses is past. The time for "It's just a dog" is past. The time for "He grew up in a dysfunctional family" as a justification for animal abuse is past. It is time for stricter anti-cruelty laws. It is time for a national animal abusers registry, similar to a sex offenders registry. It is time that law enforcement and the judicial system take animal abuse for the serious crime it is. It is time to update and upgrade the penalties that can be meted out by the courts to animal abusers.

London didn't have to die. Had she been treated properly, or surrendered to a rescue group or animal shelter, she would still be alive today. Instead, this sweet dog is gone, her foster family and her fans are grieving, and her abuser still walks the streets of central Florida, unforgiven.

I am sorry, London. Be at peace.