Alley Animals - Newsletter

Summer 2001 Edition
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Editors Note

In This Issue:

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 people.

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.

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