Category Archives: Dogs

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.


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.


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: 

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.

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 Sugar at the end of my day

The SPCA ambulance had no air conditioning. And it was HOT. It was like driving a giant, puffing, stinking, diesel-powered furnace. There was no cage in the truck we normally used, and we needed one for this last call of the day. We were on our way to pick up a dog from an owner who could not afford vet care, and this dog desperately needed it. The SPCA’s law enforcement had given the owner several days to get the dog to a vet, but he claimed financial hardship and had agreed that the SPCA should take the dog, see that it had proper care, and put it up for adoption.

We arrived at a row-home so typical of the city. The owner’s grandson motioned us to the alley, which ran along the tiny rear courtyards. This dog had never been out of the man’s backyard. He had never been on a leash. We had no idea whether he was friendly or ferocious. He turned out to be simply scared.

It was almost comical to watch the dog outwit every attempt to catch him in the tiny courtyard, hiding under tables and ducking our leashes. When we finally managed to slip a leash around his neck, I noticed the horrible condition of his coat and skin – barely any fur remained on his body, and open sores were visible on his neck – a secondary skin infection, for sure. But I felt immensely sorry for the owner, an elderly man who stuttered and hobbled with the aid of a cane, and told us the dog was about nine-years-old, and his name was Sugar. There had been a car accident. And bills to pay. I could tell he cared, but there just wasn’t enough money to go around.

Sugar did not, under any circumstances, want to leave that yard. That was the only environment he had ever known. We finally managed, with the help of the elderly man’s grandson, to get the dog into the back of the ambulance. He was docile, but scared to death.

“M-make s-sure you t-tell them that he-he’s a good g-g-guard dog,” the elderly man said sadly, as we prepared to leave. I had a lump in my throat. It didn’t seem fair.

If Sugar was resistant to leaving the yard, he hated that ambulance more. I could hear him barking and crying on the way to the shelter. I knew his fear must have been almost unbearable. He fairly flew out of the holding carrier when we finally arrived, but had absolutely no idea how to walk on a leash. He bit and ground the leash to tatters. The officer and I tried pulling on the leash, but to no avail. Sugar had put on the brakes and that was that. I couldn’t bear the sight of his legs stretched out in adamant refusal, and thought how much it must hurt to have the leash digging into those oozing sores on his neck. We called for a cart, and wheeled him to the shelter hospital.

Frightened and away from the only family he had ever been exposed to, Sugar bravely allowed the vet techs to administer shots and Frontline for his fleas. We scooped him into a cage in the hospital where hopefully he could survey his new surroundings and calm down. I talked to him through the bars of the cage and told him it would be okay.

That night I was sadder than I had been in awhile. I thought about Sugar and his owner on my ride home and wished there had been a different option. I visit Sugar every chance I get now. He is still a resident of the hospital, on medication and recuperating. I try not to think of what will happen – an older dog on the adoption floor, with most people wanting to adopt cute, cuddly puppies. But there are lots of success stories, and that’s what I have to keep in my mind.

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.

Protected: Precious: another ethical judgment call

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The streets were quiet. I thought it strange for a summer Saturday night in the city.

“I’m really hoping this is an easy call. Somehow I doubt it though; usually any calls this side of the subway turn out bad,” Jim said to me as he navigated the SUV through skinny streets filled with garbage.

I grimaced. Last call of the day. The sun was setting, making triangles of orange light through the buildings. We pulled up in front of a run-down strip of row-homes. Two women sat on a stoop; Old Milwaukee’s in hand, cigarettes dangling from their lips. They watched our approach. Jim checked his call-log before getting out of the truck.

“Starving dog,” he said to me. “Let’s go see.” We crossed the street to one of the homes and Jim knocked on the door with the end of his nightstick. No one answered. I looked around and saw one of the women from the stoop approach us with wobbly steps.

“You the animal people?” She peered at us through glassy eyes and I could smell the alcohol on her breath. “The dog’s really nice. Sweet girl,” She said. I wondered how she knew our purpose; was she the one who reported the dog?

“Are you the owner?” Jim asked her. She shook her head.

“No. You gonna take the dog?” She dug a key on a tattered string out of her pocket and stumbled towards the door of the house where we had just knocked.

“Wait, ma’am? You’re not the homeowner?” Jim called after her. “I need to speak with the homeowner.”

“Oh no, I dun live here… but she my frien…,” The woman mumbled. “Dog’s really skinny. She’s not here much,” She said, referring to her friend and the dog’s owner. “Dog just had puppies. I don’ know wha’ happen to ‘em.” I noticed she had very pretty eyes – would probably be a lot prettier without the droopy-lidded effect of the alcohol. She’s going to let us just walk into someone else’s house? I thought.

Jim called the number the woman gave us for the homeowner. His conversation with her was brief, but she admitted that she hadn’t been able to care for the dog and didn’t have money for the vet.

“Listen, we can take the dog with us and get her some care and a good home if you sign her over to us, but if you don’t and if I see that the condition of the dog is bad enough, I will have to issue you a citation and you could be fined,” I heard him explain.

There was no resistance. The woman on the phone gave permission for her neighbor to sign for the dog, and she became ours, just like that.

“I’ll go git ‘er,” the woman said, and unlocked the door. Jim went to prepare the truck for the arrival of a dog whose condition we hadn’t even observed yet, but whom we feared was flea-infested at best. I retrieved a leash from the truck, and when the woman opened the door a small crack, I handed it through to her and she slipped it around the dog’s neck. “Now you just wait!” She shouted to the dog.

“Is she friendly?” I asked. Better find out before she explodes through the door in a rage, I thought.

“Oh yeah,” said the woman, and out came Daisy.

Emaciated and panting, and an obvious new mom, the small pit bull Daisy still had amazing strength. She pulled me across the street to the curb and sniffed the ground as if relishing the freedom of being outside. Sweet and curious, she patiently tolerated my attention. People suddenly appeared from out of the woodwork to say goodbye.

“Bye Daisy! You be good now, maybe I’ll even see you on TV!” the woman who signed her over said, responding to Jim’s assurance that Daisy would find a home, and may even be featured on the SPCA’s adoption segment on the news. She patted her head.

I lifted her into the car; she weighed next to nothing and every rib was visible. Her hip bones dug into my stomach. But she seemed happy. She peered out the half-open window as if to say goodbye.

Jim looked at me and smiled as we drove back to the shelter. “You helped save your first dog tonight!” I felt an amazing sense of satisfaction. There had been no resistance from the owner; she seemed to really want a better life for her dog. I wondered about the woman who most likely could barely afford to feed herself let alone a dog. I never found out who reported Daisy to the SPCA.

Back at the shelter we set up a cage and showed Daisy her temporary new home where she would stay until healthy and ready for adoption. I wished so many good things for her. I wished a loving home and nothing but fun and dog treats for her future.

Since that night I’ve been visiting Daisy and I’m happy to say she is putting on weight and settling in. I wish she didn’t have to stay in a cage. I wish none of them had to stay in cages while they wait for their second chances.

Protected: Ethics and judgment

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Monster, puppies in the park, and the evidence-cat

Monster - a monster???

* Names have been changed

“So I think I’ll just take a drive by, and then park and put my vest on,” Jim* said to me.
Okay, I thought. Wait, what VEST? The BULLET-PROOF vest? Where’s MY vest??

This was the start of the day. I was riding along with Jim (not his real name) for the second time. We had gotten a call about someone selling pit bull puppies on the street at a community fair. Pit bulls. Of course. Apparently it’s pretty common to see random people with a cardboard box of puppies on the street, holding one up in the air shouting, “Puppies for sale!” I asked how much the people usually charged. “Two-hundred,” was the response. DOLLARS? On the street? I wondered how many of them would be used for fighting.

Jim’s idea was to scan the area first before getting out of the car. We did, and saw nothing. So out of the car (without vests, as it turns out) we went, walking through a street filled with hippies, Rastafarians, and artists of all kinds selling their wares. But no puppies. I was a little relieved.

“Whoever it was must have been scared off. I know the girl who called it in; she’s a pretty outspoken activist. Probably called us right in front of him,” Jim said. I liked her instantly. “Can’t just sell puppies on the street. You need a permit for that.” Yeah, right. We both knew these people couldn’t care less about a permit.

On to the next call. And the next. There were several interesting stops during the day. A call had come in the night before regarding a dog killing cats in a yard. The owner then threw the dead cats over the neighbor’s fence. We went to investigate.

Jim and I made our way through a tiny alley littered with garbage and overgrown shrubs, counting row homes as we went to make sure we found the right yard.

“Are you the SPCA?” A small voice asked. I looked to my right and saw a girl in a bathing suit standing in the middle of a saggy inflatable pool, which took up most of the concrete yard it was stuffed into. Several other kids were sprawled in the cloudy water, watching us.

“Yes, are you the one who called?” Jim asked the girl. She replied that she was and proceeded to tell us about the boys who often came to the abandoned house across the alley with Monster, as the red-nosed pit bull was called, to fight him and watch as he killed cats the boys trapped in the fenced-in yard with him. We looked at the yard and Jim took pictures. The dilapidated structure seemed to be falling in on itself, but someone had put an old stuffed chair in the yard, and haphazardly hung a torn, blue plastic tarp along one side of the fence to protect it from curious eyes. We couldn’t see any blood or signs of a fight, but a black trashbag in the alley caught Jim’s attention. The cat had obviously been dead for some time, but in the sweltering summer heat it wouldn’t have taken long to reach the state of decay it was in. “That’s the cat they threw in the neighbor’s yard after Monster killed it,” The girl said. I carried it back to the car as evidence.

Before we left Jim thanked the young girl and gave her his business card. “I want you to call me if you see those kids back here, especially if there’s a dog fight going on. Just say a fight is in progress and someone will come right out. Okay? You did the right thing calling this time. If we go to court would you be willing to testify against this kid?”

She smiled shyly and said, “No…. I’m too scared.” I wanted to hug her. I would be too.

Speaking with some of the neighbors we learned that this boy wasn’t even out of middle school. Next to the abandoned house was the home his family supposedly lived in. There were several notices on the porch from the school district. No one was home. “If he’s fighting dogs at his age, this kid is too bad-ass to bother with school,” Jim said. I looked around at the impoverished neighborhood sadly and wondered how many were just like him.

That cat rode with us the rest of the day, its stench a constant reminder of its presence in the back of the SUV. One of the last calls to be investigated for the day involved a starving dog in a cage in someone’s bathtub. The neighborhood was considerably more upscale than the ones we had visited earlier, meaning, well, meaning nothing. Animal cruelty and neglect spans all economic classes. The landlord answered our knock at the door and a beautiful Rottweiler peeked timidly around his legs. She doesn’t look like she’s starving, and that must be one big bathtub, I thought.

“You guys must be here about the people upstairs,” the landlord said. Oh.
He pointed up the steps. “They ain’t been here in awhile, I know that. I know they got a dog up there. Little thing – like a mini-greyhound or something. They never take the thing out. I’ll take you guys up. They’re supposed to be moving out in August.”

Jim and the landlord called the homeowner and left a message. Up the dark steps… I heard no barking and feared the worst. In the bathtub was a small heavy-duty plastic dog carrier. Jim shone his flashlight through the slats. From behind him I could see fur.

“She’s okay. I don’t think she’s starving, but greyhounds are skinny to begin with. Looks like someone’s been by to give food and water. But she can’t stay in here,” he said to the landlord. He walked towards the door. My heart sank. We can’t take her now?? I thought. “I’ll leave a notice on the door,” Jim said, “but if she doesn’t call back I’ll have to get a warrant.”

Get a warrant, get a warrant! I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout at the landlord: How can you look at your beautiful dog and know that this poor girl is up here all alone stuck in this craphole?

I left to the sounds of the little dogs cries. I wanted to cry with it. Back to the SUV and the evidence-cat. “Nothing I get from that house can be used in court now,” Jim told me. “We went in without a warrant, which is okay because we had the landlord’s permission, but now no evidence will hold up in court if this has to go that far.” Great. I felt the beginning of a dark hole in my chest; I hadn’t been that sad in quite some time and knew it most likely wouldn’t get any better.