Category Archives: Animal Abuse/Neglect

The Sparkle of a New Year

 

She came into the clinic last Tuesday – a sad, emaciated, tiny black pit bull puppy, no older than six months. Her owner said that she had gotten her hind leg caught in a fence recently, and thought it might heal on its own. Clearly it had not. It was gangrenous and rotten, skin sloughing off and smelling like death. The humane officers were told about the dog, and decided to cite the owner for lack of vet care. Just another form of abuse. He had no choice but to surrender the dog to us.

Her name was Sparkle. I have no idea if that was the name she came in with or the name the girls gave her when she was signed over – the first time I saw her she was being prepped for surgery… the entire leg needed to be removed. When I opened her cage door, her skinny little tail beat out a steady beat on the metal walls and she shyly hobbled over to me, head down, eyes hopeful, despite the obvious pain she must have been in. I squeezed that little dog for all it was worth, rubbed her head, fluffed her blankets; I knew no one else wanted to go near her because of how bad that rotten limb smelled. But I didn’t care. And it was probably the only kindness she had ever known.

She looked so tiny and frail on the operating table. I thought about what an awful life she had most likely had, and the senselessness of it all. I wondered about the cruelty and dismissive actions of people who consider it a right and not a privilege to own a pet. I also thought about what a great life she could have when the pain was over and she learned to hop around on three legs. A dog so young and so resilient should have no trouble adapting, and would no doubt make some good, kind person very happy. And she almost made it.

The surgery was practically over. Only a few stitches remained. But her little heart just couldn’t take it. I swallowed the huge lump in my throat and coughed back tears as I forced breaths of pure oxygen into her lungs and the surgeon frantically tried CPR, pleading with her not to give up. But the heart monitor wailed its steady, horrible, monotone announcement. I looked at the surgeon and she at me, both not willing to accept it. Sparkle held on strong throughout the entire procedure. We still don’t know what happened.

When I turned off the lights in the surgery ward that night I glanced at Sparkle’s empty cage. And grabbed the little stuffed monkey toy that she had in there with her. I wanted to somehow keep her with me. So the monkey sits on my dashboard now as a reminder.

My only consolation? That Sparkle’s horrible owner will be prosecuted. I can only hope that the hugs and pets and love she briefly got from me gave her some happiness.

For 2012, I wish for no more sad endings. No more pain, torture, neglect, or suffering at the hands of humans. No more ignorance, no more cruelty, no more insensitivity. This New Year, I want to imagine a world where animals are respected, admired, protected, and cared for. In my mind all this is possible. Will you help me make 2012 a better year? For them? For all the Sparkles out there?

“The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.” – Mark Twain

Happy New Year to all of my readers. May all of your wishes for the new year come true.

Shine on from the Heavens, Sparkle.

Guest post: Understanding the Emotional Symptoms of Animal Abuse

This is a guest post by Allison Gamble!

People who suffer from physical and psychological abuse exhibit behavioral and emotional symptoms even long after the abuse has stopped, and the same is true for animals. Whether the abuse is emotional or physical, it will leave indelible marks on the animal’s psyche. However, by employing a sort of animal forensic psychology, you can learn to better understand these behaviors, including the types of abuse known to cause each, which is essential if you wish to successfully rehabilitate an animal that has suffered from abuse. Only by understanding the cause of the behavior and what actions you should avoid when handling the animal will you be able to mitigate the animal’s reactions and help it overcome the fear and aggression that maybe a characteristic part of its current behavior.

Territorial Aggression as a Reaction to Abuse

Territorial aggression is primarily thought of as a canine behavior; although it can affect any animal that feels that its territory is threatened. Generally, territorial aggression is a reaction to the animal’s territory being severely limited, often by chaining the animal.

According to the National Humane Education Society , animals that are chained typically suffer from neglect in several forms, including inadequate shelter, nutrition and hydration. As such, their basic survival needs are not met on a regular basis. Additionally, the animal, generally a dog, does not receive the love and attention that it craves as a social animal. As they become farther removed from the human companionship that would make them safe to be around, they tend to become aggressive. Torment at the hands of passing people and the aggression of other animals is also common, exasperating this condition. Their reaction is generally preordained. They behave aggressively, defending what little territory they have to call their own.

The Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association conducted a study that revealed chained dogs were 2.8 times more likely to bite than their non-chained counterparts. This due to the fact they are simply trying to protect their small territory from others, and they have not had the chance to form the necessary human bonds that would naturally eliminate this behavior.

It is important to note that not all animals that are chained are the victims of abuse. Some may be chained for short periods of time with fresh food and water or even be chained only when their owner is also working outside. These animals typically will not be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms of abuse, such as depression or timidity.

Aggression Towards the Owner

While it may not perhaps be en vogue to refer to the caretaker of an animal as an owner, most individuals who abuse their animals view themselves as just that. The animal is theirs to do with as they please. For some, this will include physical violence (beating or otherwise harming the animal when it disobeys), emotional abuse (withholding the affection the animal craves) and physical neglect (providing inadequate food, water, shelter, and protection from fleas and other parasites). The dog learns to fear the owner because the owner does not provide what it needs and because the owner often treats the animal in ways that cause it to cower or feel physical pain. Thus, as a the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) points out, animals that cower in fear or react with aggression when approached by their owner generally are victims of abuse.

Timidity

Oftentimes, animal abuse takes the form of neglect, and the animal becomes fearful of people because she or he has not been properly socialized. Generally, emotionally abused animals will behave in passive and timid ways, although it is not possible to say that all dogs that are submissive have been abused. For some, this is just their personality. For others, it is a deliberate choice.  A paper by Dr. Kertsi Seksel  details some of the patterns in submissive and timid behavior abused animals will exhibit, including learned helplessness (failing to help itself due to fear of the outcome), behavioral extremes and involuntary urination due to stress.

Depression

Just like people, animals can become depressed as well. However, unlike people, depression in animals generally does not last for long periods of time. As discussed by  WebMD , often it is related to changes in the animal’s environment or the loss of a primary caregiver. However, in some cases, depression may be a sign of abuse.

Generally, depression in animals is characterized by changes in behavior; listlessness; and a lack of enthusiasm for events, such as walks and meals, which typically made their days exciting. It would be a mistake to view an animal that appears depressed as abused, as many factors may contribute to depression in animals. However, a depressed animal should be carefully monitored, especially if the behavior does not change, as this might be a sign of depression.

A Word of Caution

No single behavioral sign is symptomatic of abuse. Just as people act out for a variety of reasons, so do animals. An aggressive dog may fear people due to a learned response in its past, but the current owner is not the abuser, nor does it mean the dog is kept chained all of the time. Timid animals learn to be submissive for a number of reasons, and oftentimes it can be a sign that the animal feels safe and protected with its current caretaker. They would act out if they did not feel this way. Depression can easily be seen as a sign of abuse, but often it speaks to a personal heartache the animal has recently faced.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that understanding an animal’s past circumstances can be the key to having a successful relationship with it in the present. An animal that was kept chained for much of its life prior to rescue should not be put back on a chain. Instead, you should work carefully to teach the animal that he does not need to guard his territory. If an animal was repeatedly struck with a folded newspaper, learn from his cues and avoid carrying a folded newspaper around him or her. With careful work and the guidance of professionals, including animal behaviorists and veterinarians, it is possible to mitigate the emotional symptoms of animal abuse.

The Real Heroes

Scallion, one of 25 animals rescued by PSPCA officers (photo by PSPCA)

April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. In honor of this I’m posting a link to the TV show Inside Edition’s recent coverage of the Pennsylvania SPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement officers in action, and their discovery of a hoarder who kept animals trapped in abandoned cars in horrific conditions. It was only due to the diligence and hard work of these officers that many of the animals survived. Watch the video here:

PSPCA humane law enforcement officers save 25 animals

You can also read the article on PSPCA’s website: http://www.pspca.org/news?id=583 

Please note, these officers are paid solely by donations – they receive NO state or city funding! Without their work all of the animals in this case, and the thousands of cases like it in the course of a year, would never make it. Click here to donate.

Every month should be Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. For humane law enforcement officers across the country, it is. My experiences with them over the last year, the lessons they’ve taught me, the knowledge they’ve shared with me, are why I consider them an inspiration. The nightmarish things they encounter day in and day out would force many people to turn away. Yet they get up every day to continue the fight. I encourage all of you to help in any way you can. Foster. Adopt. Donate. Volunteer. And remember the ones who speak for those who can’t. We Are Their Voice.

Thanks guys, for being heroes.

ASPCA’s Groundbreaking DNA News – March, 2011

This is unprecedented… two humane law enforcement cases have resulted in felony convictions based on DNA evidence. I’m so excited I can barely write this, so here is the link to the article on the ASPCA site:

DNA Evidence Revolutionizes Cruelty Cases in NYC

I was priveleged to hear Dr. Robert Reisman, the ASPCA medical coordinator quoted in the article, speak at last year’s veterinary forensics conference . He has been doing some phenomenal research with graduate students in New York that will certainly add to this emerging science. And although there is already an established canine DNA database (Canine CODIS), these two cases make it even more apparent that DNA can be used to solve not only human crimes, but crimes against animals too.

How great is this? Just one more step towards making the laws established to protect animals even stronger.
Keep up the good work!

photo courtesy of ASPCA.org

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Ace’s Full Moon

He was barking his little gray head off at me. I was crouched on my hands and knees on the sidewalk, peering through the tiny screened basement window that allowed me a partially-obscured view of the abandoned pit bull inside. The owner of the house had called to say that the former tenant had disappeared a couple of months before, leaving piles of junk and his dog behind. The homeowner wanted to clean out the house in order to rent to someone else and the dog had to go – he thought that the owner would be back for the dog, but he had never even returned phone calls. I wondered how the dog had survived for so long abandoned in a basement. And how anyone could leave their dog without so much as a thought.

The sky was darkening and the shadows were stretching longer across the street. I could see the moon begin to peek from behind the run-down rowhomes. The homeowner let us in with a single warning: “He’s mean.”

He didn’t seem mean when I was peering at him through the window. Scared, yes. Protective of his home, for sure. But mean?

The neighbors came out to see what was going on. One of them knew the dog’s name: Ace.

The officer and I made our way inside, past piles of junk left by the previous tenant. We opened the door to the basement, and there was Ace, standing at the bottom of the stairs in remarkably good condition (for a dog left stranded in a basement), and bigger than I had thought, barking. But not just barking, as I had seen him do when I peeked at him from outside, but snarling. Gums pulled back exposing teeth. Low growls coming from some place inside him – some angry place with hurt and fear. The officer tried to calmly talk to him, to no avail. Ace was having none of it. Finally, the officer went to the truck to get a long pole with what looks like a metal loop on the end. It would keep the dog away from people and fairly immobilized. Looking at Ace from the top of the stairs, I suddenly understood “mean”.

Somehow, someway, we managed to get him out of the house. He growled the whole way. He was by far the most vicious dog I had ever seen. But I knew that his viciousness came from fear.

The officer and I struggled to get him into the cage in the back of the truck. He kicked and twisted and snarled and bit at the air and seemed like he would have torn our faces off if he could have. The more he twisted and fought the tighter the loop became. Blood dripped from his mouth when he bit his tongue. The whites of his eyes glowed in the light of the huge moon that was now high enough to see by; they were wide with fear. Finally in the cage, the officer released the loop and he lay there, panting, not moving, his own blood covering his face.

I felt rage. I looked at the neighbors, standing around watching the “show” and snarled myself. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut, but I heard the words escaping: “What a horrible life this dog has had”. I looked each person in the eye, accusingly. I hated them all for letting this happen. Hated his “owner”. Hated society.

One woman was crying. “Y’all are going to put him to sleep…”. I hated her too. Why hadn’t someone helped sooner? But I knew why. It’s the city. You mind your business. Keep your head down. Don’t interfere.

Driving back to the shelter, the officer and I breathed a sigh of relief. We both agreed that Ace was one frightening dog. He had scared us both. “You’d have to be crazy to do this job”, the officer said, shaking his head. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to himself, to me, or to no one in particular. We saw the moon at the same time. It was enormous, high in the sky, glowing bright and taunting us with its wide smile. A full moon. I turned and looked at Ace in the cage behind me. No longer growling or barking, he huddled in a heap, still panting, eyes sad, exhausted from his struggle. He looked at me and didn’t make a sound. He suddenly seemed very small. I felt like crying. What had made him this way? What atrocities had he seen and been forced to endure? I watched the moon as we drove. There would be no help for Ace. No chance for rehabilitation in an already over-crowded, over-burdened, cash-strapped system. No hope for a happy life, or more bright moons. Perhaps it was just my imagination but the moon seemed to shine extra bright that night. For Ace.

The Search Warrant To Get Sherwin


The city police car flew around the corner, the first SPCA law enforcement truck following close behind; the SPCA truck I was riding in followed on its heels. All three vehicles came to an abrupt stop halfway down the street, completely blocking it. Car doors opened and we all got out, making our way up to the row home door like a small army. People on the street stopped in mid-activity and watched with undisguised curiosity, staring at the firearms on everyone’s side and wondering what was to happen. Police on the street could only mean one thing: trouble. When a woman finally opened the door the search warrant was served and we all entered, surveying the scene, looking at everything, flashlights on and eyes adjusting to the dim light.

The warrant itself had taken a long time to write. It needed to be spotless and perfect, or the judge who was asked to sign it could have thrown it out. Probable cause needed to be documented in detail. No elements could be forgotten. As it turned out, it was signed within hours.

The dog we had come to find was supposed to be in the basement, but one of the officers saw a dog in the back courtyard when he looked out the kitchen window. Before the dog could be seized, however, the rest of the house had to be searched.

The basement was dark and damp. No dogs, but make-shift leashes and thick collars gave plenty of evidence that dogs had been there. The first and second floors had very little furniture. It looked like a stash-house: a hiding place for drugs, or dog fighting, or any number of illicit activities. The woman’s clothes were in dresser drawers, clearly disputing her statement that she didn’t live there. No one besides her was in the home. The city police stayed out of our way, but provided a great deal of security in a very bad neighborhood.

Two SPCA officers opened the door in the kitchen that led to the courtyard, yelling, “Get back!” at the dog on the other side, who was clearly trying to shove its way inside. I expected to see an enormous giant of a dog bursting in, but when the officers managed to get the leash around its neck, the small, horribly emaciated pit bull that appeared didn’t in any way resemble the image in my mind.

The little dog was splattered with dried red paint. It was smeared on his ears, tail, legs, and back. There were scars and fairly fresh injuries on his face. One officer took him to the truck and loaded him into a cage in the back. The other officer checked the woman’s identification, asked her questions, and obtained a picture of her boyfriend, whom she said lived at the home with her.

Pictures were taken of the yard where the dog was found. It is the pictures of a crime scene and victim that can often make or break a case. The yard was littered with garbage, trash bags, cardboard, and junk. An open paint can that had once held red paint was seen. There was no food or water.

Inside, an officer spoke on the phone with the woman’s boyfriend, while the woman sat on the steps staring at her cell phone. She showed complete disregard for the entire situation. The boyfriend gave multiple stories: the dog was put in the yard by someone else, he didn’t own the home but stayed there sometimes, his cousin, the actual homeowner, was in jail, he couldn’t remember the address of his employer, etc. The officer showed no mercy, telling the boyfriend that if he was not willing to provide the correct information, he would be forced to do so at a later date.

I stood outside on the steps for a bit, watching the people from the block mill about and talk to each other. I heard one woman say that she needed to move, that the block was too “hot”; too much trouble. It was a known drug area. A man across the street sat on his stoop with his pit bull the entire time we were there, as if trying to show us that his dog was fine and he was not part of the problem. Kids ran and played on the street, some petting the man’s pit bull, and in retrospect I wish I had attempted to talk to them and gauge their perspective on how animals should be treated. I am convinced that change in this area must start with educating the children who are so often desensitized to the violence all around them.

An officer told me to keep an eye on the truck, since it was unlocked and running in order to provide air conditioning for the dog. “That’s our evidence in there,” he said, referring to the dog. “You never know what people may do.”

I went to check on the dog, and we eyed each other warily. He stood in his cage, and when I spoke he wagged his tail. No sign of aggression, no overt fear. From the looks of the injuries on his head and face I thought maybe he was used as a bait dog in fights. He let me pet him. He was a beautiful dog and seemed very young.

The woman in the house was given a citation and a copy of the search warrant. The city police waited for us to finish and escorted us off the block. Back at the shelter, pictures were taken to document the dog’s sad condition; getting the “money-shot”, the one showing the extent of his injuries and starvation, was extremely important for court. Staring at the dried paint all over him, we decided to name him Sherwin, after the Sherwin-Williams paint company. He was a happy boy, despite all he’d probably been through, didn’t flinch when given his shots, and devoured the small amount of food he was given. He also didn’t seem to be at all familiar with human attention and affection. He wasn’t aloof or standoffish, but some dogs, especially those starved for attention, will nuzzle or lean into people when being petted; Sherwin acted as if he had never experienced it. I hope with time he will learn what it’s like to have a loving home.

If you are interested in adopting or fostering Sherwin, please contact me by leaving a comment about your interest. He is currently on hold pending forensic evaluation by a veterinarian, but should be released soon.

Tied to the pole


We almost missed him.

We drove around the block twice and saw nothing. Just as we were getting ready to leave, a woman tapped on the rear window of the truck as we paused at a stop sign.

“You lookin’ for that dog on the pole? He’s over there,” she said, pointing to the street corner we had just past.

We thanked her and drove over again. Just as we were turning the corner, I spotted him: a big dog on a short chain cowering near a bush to try to escape the hot sun.

The officer parked the car and we walked over. Multiple calls had come in that morning and all during the previous night about this dog, abandoned at this spot and barking continuously. He was quiet now, probably having barked himself hoarse. When he saw us approaching he got up and squeaked out a raspy warning, as unsure of us as we were of him.

Neighbors came out of their homes and told us about being kept awake all night by the barking dog. One woman had tried to give it water but the dog hadn’t been that interested. Others were afraid to get too close for fear of being bitten. A man brought a fresh bowl of water out and the dog took advantage of it this time. Everyone felt sorry for it. But no one knew whose dog it was, nor had they seen anyone drop it off.

The officer and I talked to the dog and I tried to distract it while the officer untangled the chain. When we finally got the dog off the heavy chain and on a leash, he pulled me clear across the street. Hungry and dehydrated, he was still strong. We realized he was slightly emaciated and suffering from dermatitis; patches of fur were missing from his legs and back. But he was still a handsome gray pit bull or pit bull mix.

“Why would someone do this?” one of the neighbors asked. “Just leave the poor thing tied to a pole on a sidewalk? There are lots of other, less mean options.”

I agreed. Who knows why people do the things they do. I have long given up trying to find explanations.

The officer and I took the dog to the Animal Care and Control facility, which is different from the SPCA. The Animal Control team handles abandonment cases. I realized that being sent to their facility meant a high probability of euthanasia because it is constantly filled to capacity, and there is a severe shortage of rescue groups with available space. Instantly sad, I thought of the rotten life this dog had been given. Exposed to nothing but neglect, he now stood a good chance of being put down, simply because there was no room for him. Yes, it’s possible he may be adopted, or sent to another facility, but the odds were against it. He had probably never known kindness. Probably never known fun, or what it is like to sleep on a bed or a blanket, or how it feels to have a child wrap pudgy arms around his neck. And there are thousands just like him. I managed to see him wag his tail by the time we arrived at the animal control shelter. A tentative “happy-tail”. Happy in the face of uncertainty. He didn’t know what his fate held for him. I didn’t either. It was hard not to cry because all I could do was hope – hope for him and hope that someday I won’t ever have to wonder.

The Jungle House


That’s how it was described to me by the officer before we arrived to pick up the six cats supposedly inside. He was right – when we pulled up out front it was easy to identify which one he was referring to. Vines had completely taken over the outside of the home. Plant-life shoved its way in windows and simply covered the ones it couldn’t penetrate. It was hard to see the walkway to the porch. It was as if Mother Nature was reclaiming her own.

The homeowner was in the hospital with no known discharge date. According to his friend, who came to let us inside, the owner was an alcoholic who had tried to detox on his own the week before and ended up collapsing, most-likely from the shock of the withdrawl. The homeowner knew his condition was serious, but he was also worried about the cats in the house that were left to fend for themselves. So he had agreed to let the SPCA come and rescue them.

The outside of the jungle house was NOTHING compared to what we saw on the inside. I noticed an animal skull mounted to the outside of the front door. Before the owner’s friend opened the door for us, he tried to express just how bad it was in the house.

“Listen, it’s horrible,” he said. “There are fleas everywhere. And the cats ain’t used to people, so they’ll most likely run and hide. Least that’s what they did when I came to feed ‘em.”

I didn’t have a clue how bad some people in my city have to live until I saw the inside of that house. When I stepped inside I was slapped across the face by the unmistakable odor of urine and feces. It was as if time had stopped. Cobwebs and layers of dust and animal hair covered everything. It was dark and dreary; the windows were covered by the vines outside, heavy curtains inside, and a film of dirt several layers thick. Clothes that obviously hadn’t been worn in years lay haphazardly across furniture and on the floor. Boxes of magazines and assorted collectibles were stacked in the middle of the front two rooms. The only piece of furniture that was not piled with boxes was a small couch in the living room, which is most-likely where the homeowner slept. Piles of feces were EVERYWHERE. Roaches scurried out of our way. The homeowner’s friend picked up a bag of cat food from a kitchen chair and shook it. I shuddered to think that it was probably infested with insects. I saw one cat on a window ledge, but when he caught a glimpse of us he flew like a bat-out-of-hell past our legs and up the stairs. Another cat scurried out of the kitchen in the same direction. We put the four cat boxes we had brought on a semi-clean area of the living-room floor and headed up the stairs.

It was worse up there. A mattress on the floor of one of the rooms was used as a makeshift litter box. There was no air conditioning, and the heat made the stench even more pervasive. It was impossible to take a step without coming into contact with animal feces. After chasing the cats with flashlights for about five wasted minutes, Jim said to me, “We need to go back to the shelter and get the traps. These cats are completely feral and we’ll never catch them otherwise.”

We trudged downstairs and out into the sunshine and fresh air. Jim called the homeowner in his hospital room to let him know that we were going to set traps and take the cats out. The homeowner was sad but understood. He was aware and embarrassed at the condition of his house, which I took to be a good sign of a dawning recognition of his living situation. He knew he couldn’t care for the cats and he gave permission for his friend to sign for them.

I looked down at the legs of my pants and realized I was COVERED in fleas. After hosing each other down with flea spray Jim and I headed back to the SPCA for traps. I thought about how horrible life for that homeowner must be. I had seen signs of a life before things had gotten bad – yellowed pictures and clippings attached to the refrigerator door. Images of happier times, perhaps? But I thought about how he now battles with addiction every day. No family. Almost no friends, except for the kind soul that we had met. How scary it must have been, pushing a cart of laundry down the street and collapsing. ALONE. The cats were his only life-line. He cared, at least in his mind, more for them than for himself. What would life be like for him after the hospital? He couldn’t possibly be allowed to return to that house. Could he?

We returned from the SPCA with two large traps and cans of cat food for bait. We set them in the living room and kitchen and hoped they would work. Unfortunately, we had run out of flea spray and had to resort to picking the second round off of ourselves by hand. Thanking the owner’s friend for his time, patience, and caring, we said we’d be back the following day to check the traps and bring more. Driving away from the jungle house I realized that the SPCA is not just teaching me about animal laws and behavior, but also about human nature and humility. This isn’t just the stuff of movies. It’s reality. Not everyone lives a comfortable life. People AND animals struggle with the basics EVERY MINUTE of EVERY DAY. They don’t struggle with which new car or gadget to buy. They struggle to find food, water, shelter. They struggle to get out of bed. They struggle to find someone, anyone, who will not scream at them, hit them, or otherwise disregard them. They HOPE to find someone who will listen. Someone to care.

I swear on my life…

“My stalls have never looked this bad. Ever, I swear on my life,” the man professed to Jim and I. Repeatedly.

Really? And just how much is your life worth, buddy? I thought, as I walked through the dilapidated stable, staring into the horses’ stalls. Almost all of them, numbering around 25 or so, were filthy. No, filthy is too kind a word. Atrocious. Repulsive. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The stable was in falling-down condition. Flies were everywhere. The cobwebs in the eaves and beams of the ceiling (and rapidly encroaching on the stalls) were as thick as blankets, made ever more visible by the thick coating of dust that covered them. Food buckets were empty. Water buckets were filled with slimy fluid. There was almost no light. Hardly any fans to circulate the stifling heat. And the worst were the floors. In most of the stalls the horses stood on inches of feces. Not a piece of straw in sight. They looked at us with interest, some demanding attention by nuzzling, others just staring from darkened corners.

One of the horse owners led us through. He lived in a tiny trailer on the property. He must have been the one who called us to report the conditions, although I couldn’t be sure. He told us the horses’ names, and who their owners were. He said, “When you guys came out before, the owners cleaned up, but the day after, everything went right back to the way it always is.” And the SPCA knew this place well.

It was a boarding-only facility. The horses’ owners were responsible for everything. All care. All cleaning. Even refilling water buckets. Fans had to be provided by the owners. In short, the woman who owned the stable merely collected rent money. And nothing else. There was no one there to care for the animals if the owners didn’t do it themselves, aside from the man showing us around, who would do the minimum if he saw a horse suffering. The stable owner showed up shortly after our arrival, as did some of the horse owners, as soon as word of our presence spread through the grapevine.

Excuses and stories of life’s hardships and why they couldn’t possibly get to the stable to take care of their horses made my head ache. Seemed everyone had relationship issues, time conflicts, and money woes, but frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. Simply put if it’s too hard, don’t own a horse. Horses are time- and money-consuming animals. They require lots of care, and owning one can be immensely rewarding, but sacrifices of time and a large amount of effort is required to keep them healthy and happy. Neglect is a form of abuse, and these people were neglectful. I could tell that Jim didn’t want to hear the tales of woe either; he walked slowly through the stable taking lots of pictures and notes; he tried to appear understanding but only to a point.

And then there was the “I swear on my life” guy. Over and over he said it. Along with: “I promise, tonight I’m going to clean them up.” Why not stop following us around, crossing your heart and hoping to die, and do it now? I thought. As if to show us he meant business, he led a beautiful stallion out of the stable and into the barely half-acre-sized field. I wondered how long it had been since that horse had seen the field; he ran with ears pointed forward and tail high, back and forth, snorting and puffing with endless energy. He looked so happy. But just because the horse was out of the stall didn’t mean the guy was cleaning it. No. He continued to stand there and try to convince us of his and the other owners’ innocence and good intentions.

But the SPCA’s file on this stable was thick and patience was wearing thin. Jim didn’t mince words when he told the stable owner that if she couldn’t or wouldn’t enforce the rules with the horse owners (most of which were SPCA requirements) she needed to hire someone to provide for the animals. He effectively shot down every argument she gave, including those regarding a lack of funds to pay someone.
“Look, pay them minimum wage. I don’t care. But at the very least these horses need clean water and food multiple times a day, and they need clean stalls. Every day. And exercise. And vet care. End of story,” he told her. “And PLEASE, get some working light bulbs in there.”

I left feeling exhausted, seeing the horses’ imploring and plaintive stares in my mind. They seemed beaten down and so sad. I was angry once again, and that hollow in my stomach was ever-present. I knew how hard it would be to enforce any rules with those people. They were like so many others who just don’t care.

The next day a citation was issued and the stable owner was fined. I wondered if it would make any difference for the lives of those horses. I swear on MY life, I will fight for better conditions for them and so many like them.

Protected: Precious: another ethical judgment call

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