Tag Archives: pets

Check Your State’s Humane Law Ranking

Photo courtesy of the UK Human Rights Blog


Today the Humane Society released a report detailing all 50 states’ animal laws in 2011, as they relate to “issues ranging from animal fighting to farm animals to wildlife to companion animals”. When you click the link below it will bring you to an interactive map. Hover over any state to see a brief synopsis and whether or not it increased or decreased in its rank in 2011.

I am very disappointed in my own state’s ranking, and would have thought it to be higher than it actually is. And something I already knew from working in the field that I do: it is one of the only states with no felony penalties for first-time cruelty violations. This fact is sad and discouraging, given the horrendous nature of some of the animal crimes I’ve seen. But laws can change.

Take a look and see how your state ranks:


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.


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: 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.


It’s already six days into the new year. The days are flying by. The month of December and the beginning of January always have me thinking about changes and possibilities and how I’d like to see the brand new year progress. Recently there have been a ton of articles and news reports about New Year’s Resolutions, or more to the point, how likely (or UNLIKELY) we are to keep them. So many of us make the same ones year after year, obviously indicating our inability to hold ourselves accountable for them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I have EVER kept a New Year’s resolution to myself. I have every intention of following through with the promises I make this time every year, but for one reason or another my focus wanes as the days go by, and over time those promises lose their prominence on my mental “to do” list. For this reason I have decided not to make any this year.

That being said, there are things I’m making priorities in my life, like paying off debt or concentrating on finishing grad school. But I’m not going to set myself up for the inevitable disappointment of not meeting those vague, often realistically unattainable resolutions. I know that I will not miraculously transform my body into Cindy Crawford’s over the course of a year. I will not surpass Oprah Winfrey on Forbes’ list of the most powerful women. I’m being slightly more realistic. For the most part, I just want to keep on the same path, and see where life takes me over the next 12 months. I am facing some major milestone accomplishments this year, and already have several conferences and exciting travels in the planning stages as well, so why not just revel in the moment as each one of them arrives? When I have a clearer idea of exactly where my career and personal life are headed I will make some hard and fast, “stick-to-’em” goals. But for now I’m going to get out of my own way and go easy on myself.

Maybe the only thing I have “resolved” to do this year is to keep SAVING LIVES. As many lives as I can, actually. But even if it’s only one, it will have been worth any hard work or frustration. Never forget: We Are Their Voice.

What about you? What resolutions have you (or have you not) made?

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.