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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tears for the Animals

I cried last night. Then I cried again. And again. And again.

I cried for all the abused animals I read about on Facebook. Thoughts of animal abuse  raced through my head, the painful images of suffering and death keeping me awake well into the night. No matter how much we try to help, there is always a new, more horrible story of abuse. Every time I think I have heard about the worst possible cruelty to an animal, another, more horrible, story surfaces.

I cried for the donkey set afire by two laughing men. I cried for the dogs who spend their lives chained to a tree or a dog house, alone, neglected, lonely, suffering in summer's blistering heat and winter's bone-chilling cold. I cried for the animals deliberately starved to the point of death, and for those who endure beatings and kicking. I cried for the 31-year-old horse wantonly killed by an unknown person with a gunshot to the head. And I cried for the tiny kittens viciously beaten by two young children, the attack encouraged by their mother. One kitten died; the other, a little guy named Dexter, is fighting for his life. I cried for the three little puppies viciously raped by the son of a known dogfighter. One little girl died of her injuries; the survivors remain seriously traumatized and fearful of men.

I cried for the millions of dogs and cats killed every year in the United States because the animal shelters and animal control facilities are full. I cried when I thought about the cruel and uncaring people who work at some of these so-called 'shelters' and who seemingly would rather kill animals than put forward effort to get them adopted or into rescue. I cried for the animals given up by the people they love because they are 'too old' or 'too destructive' or there is 'no time' to care for them or the people are 'moving and can't take' the animals with them.

I cried for the dogs forced to fight in blood-splattered rings, who will either be killed by the other dog or by humans if they fail to fight well. I cried for the innocent 'bait' animals, torn limb from limb to whet the fighting dogs' lust for blood. I cried for the dog, locked in an apartment when his humans moved out, who died of starvation, his head resting in an empty bowl as he waited for food that never came.

I cried for the wolves, chased by hunters in airplanes or snow-mobiles, shot, trapped and slaughtered simply for being wolves. I cried for the whales chased to the point of exhaustion, then killed by grenades shot into their bodies so wealthy Japanese can feast on their flesh. I cried for the emaciated young mountain lion that wandered into town in search of food and water during this state's worst drought ever, only to be shot and killed "to protect the public."

I cried for Rosie, the gentle Newfoundland shot by the police as she hid in the bushes of her own yard, scared of the intruder. I cried for the golden retriever shot because she barked at a cop as she stood on her front porch. I cried for the dogs confined to tiny cages, constantly pregnant, as they churn out litter after litter so their owners can make as much money as possible on their puppy mill operation. I cried for the puppy roasted alive over an open flame by a woman in China as someone watched and photographed the torture, but did nothing to stop it.

Then I looked over at my dog, peacefully sleeping on the floor by my bed, under the cool breeze of a ceiling fan, her comfortable bed nearby. She is nearly 13 now, her yellow coat mostly gray, her hips and back riddled with arthritis. But she has not a worry in the world. The worst thing she has to endure is an occasional grinding of her toenails (she prefers that to nail clippers). She gets special food twice a day to help with her kidney stones. She gets medicine for her arthritis pain and low thyroid levels. She is walked daily. She always has fresh water. Her life is good.

Then I cried again, as I wondered what causes some people to abuse animals. Why do they abuse their spouses and children? My daughter, adopted from Russia at the age of 11, was abused frequently by her birth mother. One of the first things I told her was that she never needs to fear being hit again. Do people abuse animals and kids out of anger? Do they abuse because they are sociopaths or psychopaths? Do they abuse because they get some perverted sense of pleasure from it? Because they themselves were the victims of abuse? Because they like the sense of power and control it gives them?

Whatever the reasons, the cruelty must stop. There is a new momentum, a new determination to demand that the laws and the courts deal seriously with those who abuse animals, to end the abuse of animals, and to end the widespread killing of animals simply because they are unwanted.

Hurricane Katrina changed the way people and relief agencies think about caring for animals in the aftermath of disasters. An emaciated pit bull in New Jersey named Patrick, hours from death from deliberate starvation, has changed the way people around the world think about companion animals and those who abuse them.

People are no longer willing to simply shed tears for the victims of abuse. They now are demanding action. Groups are springing up everywhere, demanding reform of the sometimes cruel practices of animal shelters and dog pounds. They are demanding greater efforts to find adoptive homes for the animals entrusted to them. They are campaigning to end the practice of selling puppies and kittens -- nearly all from mass-production puppy or kitten mills -- in pet shops. They want harsher punishments for those who abuse animals, and stricter laws on the books. People are stepping up to act when they see a bad situation involving animals. They are reporting suspected animal abuse; they are donating food and bedding to shelters, large bags of ice and frozen water bottles to a shelter where the animals were sweltering in the heat and humidity. They are demanding that those in charge of animal shelters be held accountable for their, and their staffs', actions. Business as usual will no longer be tolerated when animal lives are at stake.

I suspect that I and others will shed many more tears before real change is effected. Change comes slowly much of the time. But now, at least, change is in the wind. Letters and phone calls to companies that sponsored animal abuser and felon Michael Vick's 'reality' show on the BET network were successful in getting the show canceled. Shelters are creating new ways of promoting their adoptable animals, and more are moving to the 'no-kill' philosophy. It can be done.

As someone who has worked for and volunteered with a variety of animal organizations over the years, I look forward to the day -- perhaps not in my lifetime, but some day -- when there will be no more tears shed for an abused animal, because there will be no more abuse.