It is no secret that our veterinary emergency clinic was witness to a horrible recent tragedy. For those who do not know the story, a man came to the clinic seeking treatment for nine dogs who had been left in a car on a hot day. All were deceased on arrival.
There were felony charges filed, and an arrest was made. A seriously high bond was set. The headlines followed, unleashing a frenzy of rage and hate. Viscous online rants and even death threats ensued.
A few days later, and many times before, a dog lay critically ill dying of heatstroke, in our clinic. The owner brought the dog along for an errand, and a 10-minute stop at the store turned into 25 or 30. The owner was devastated and was treated with sympathy and compassion.
So, it begs the question, when does an incident like this go from a tragic accident to a crime? When does sympathy and compassion give way to taunts and threats?
Whenever death occurs en masse, it always makes a greater impact. We are gripped by a plane crash with a few hundred aboard, but we hardly give thought to the 50, 000 traffic fatalities that happen in this country every year.
So maybe it was the numbers in this case that led to the shock and the call to animal control. Maybe the numbers led to the charges. And maybe the numbers led to the outrage. Should the numbers really be the transforming element?
As an owner of an emergency and specialty hospital, I see many cases of cruelty that range from willful neglect to full-on torture. Right now we have a stray that one of our technicians is fostering. We named her Loretta Lynn.
She was an absolute rack of bones, without even the strength to stand. She had a swollen, severely painful leg. The cause was a gunshot wound, which had destroyed her knee. We have her scheduled for an amputation.
Despite all of the abuse and suffering intentionally inflicted upon her, she remains a loving and affectionate dog. One of our techs made the comment, "How can she still love people?"
Last week I received a frantic call from my wife because she had just seen a dog, which had been roaming our area for a few days, hit by a car. It was badly injured and had somehow limped away, disappearing into the woods. "You have to come home now and find this dog!" she cried.
We searched for hours, but came up empty. We began pulling into neighboring driveways to look and ask anyone we saw if they had seen him. As we pulled into one drive, my wife groaned. It was not the dog who had been hit, but a skeletal ghost of a dog, chained to a tree, with no shelter at all. What did this dog do when it saw us? It wagged its tail expectantly. My tech's comment rang to mind, "How can she still love people?"
As with children, dogs are completely dependent upon their owners. Whether it's poor judgment or intentional abuse, they are subject to the consequences. When owners fail in their stewardship, whether intentionally or through carelessness, others have the responsibility to intervene.
We know that there is a lot of animal cruelty in the world and we hate those who perpetrate it. So when a high-profile incident occurs, we explode with fury and Internet rants that lead to nothing, and may even be misplaced.
Instead, let one result of this incident be that every reader of this column never leaves his or her dog in the car. Ever.
I assure you, anyone could make this mistake.
As my friend Kay Hyman from the Charleston Animal Society says, "Only bring your dog with you if the destination includes your dog."
Then let's channel some of this rage into supporting the society and Pet Helpers with their Unchain Charleston program to free dogs from life on a chain. There are so many humane organizations desperately in need of support.
Report acts of neglect, cruelty or abuse. Do anything that helps reduce ongoing suffering of pets, because its all around us.
Words without action are, as Shakepeare put it, "full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing."
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.