Local television stations recently aired
a piece about a puppy who had been set on fire. The story had
a rare resolution -- the puppy survived because a compassionate
off-duty police officer happened by just as the crime was being
committed. And, thanks to a monetary reward offered for information
about the juveniles who did the crime, people phoned in tips and
the torturers were arrested. Last year in early May a similar
incident was covered in the local news involved a grown dog who
was set on fire in a school parking lot. As I recall his assailants
were never identified.
Without knowing anything specific about the dog or the puppy,
I would venture to say with some confidence that both had to be
friendly. In other words, they trusted humans. Streetwise animals
keep their distance from us; they have a clear sense of the threat
we pose, many have firsthand experience of our viciousness and
know from this that humans must be avoided. On the other hand,
friendly animals never expect the worst from us, which is why
they live in added peril on the streets where homeless animals
die every day. As well as falling prey to the innate dangers of
street life, friendly animals make easy targets for ill-intentioned
Over the years I have seen animals in need bring out the best
in many humans beings. I have also witnessed the sad fact that
friendly homeless animals bring out the worst in others, an unpalatable
irony of circumstance: animals whose gentle good nature colors
their perception of us, animals who have good reason to distrust
us nevertheless trust us without condition are repaid by egregious
acts of torture.
We find the bodies of tortured animals discarded in the alleys
despite our rule that “friendlies” rank high on the list of those
we pick up. We can’t possibly locate and pick up all of them.
We can hope to be in the right place at the right time and that
ours will be the footsteps greeted with the hopeful expectation
nowhere so vivid as in the eyes of a friendly animal begging to
be taken from the streets.
I draw a stony blank when attempting to fathom why the gentlest,
most vulnerable creatures become victims of hideous cruelty. I
suppose no good will result from pondering this question, one
without a graspable answer. Our legislators deserve praise for
enacting a new, stronger law against cruelty to animals; this
certainly takes us a step in the right direction.
However, with human violence in the streets showing no signs
of letting up, we can’t expect animal cruelty to take a sudden
leap in priority for the police, new law notwithstanding. Another
obstacle to enforcement remains as well -- the reluctance of citizens
to report the crime and identify those doing it.
Residents tell us they’ve seen kids coming through their neighborhood
torturing and killing animals, but we cannot report what we have
not actually witnessed. The residents themselves must report what
and whom they see, yet they do not. They fear retaliation. Going
to the police, they believe, means risking their property or even
their own safety; in the face of this concern, conscience and
the courage to intervene often fade.
A monetary reward frequently motivates witnesses of animal torture
to come forward, but a reward in these cases is rare. Televised
attention to an incident of cruelty can stir enough public interest
to yield a reward for legitimate information, although we know
from our work in the streets (six nights a week) that news coverage
of cruelty to animals unfortunately represents only the tiniest
fraction of such crimes.
An end to human viciousness is too much to hope for. Stronger
laws, increased penalties for torturing and killing animals, these
we can reasonably hope for but not without a unified effort by
decent people determined to do what it takes, apply enough sustained
pressure to achieve change. Perhaps our new law will stimulate
progress. I would rejoice in seeing progress begun in favor of
the ones so innocent and worthy of our protection.
On April 6, 2001 Maryland Legislature gave final approval to
H-B 649 which makes it a felony to mutilate, torture, cruelly
kill or beat an animal, organize a dog or cat fight, or injure
a police animal in the line of duty. Penalty for such is up to
3 years in jail with a minimum fine of $2,500.