There But for the Grace of Dog…
Schadenfreude is a complex thing. It’s that scrumptiously malicious sense of pleasure we feel when we see bad things happen to people we don’t like. The sense of having escaped the danger heightens our feelings of comfort and happiness. Seeing someone we disagree with get the come-uppance we think they deserve feeds our sense of justice. And while we may recognize that Schadenfreude is a guilty pleasure - the added bonus of feeling smug because we weren’t the ones responsible for causing our enemy’s pain lends an added frisson of satisfaction.
Why do dog-related crimes whet our Schadenfreude so deeply?
Is it the enormous amount of divisiveness in the many worlds of dog? Conformation exhibitors who feel superior to obedience competitors. Show breeders who vilify performance breeders. Purely positive trainers who denounce balanced trainers. Competitors who feel superior to average pet owners. Toss in a few heaping helpings of envy and the widespread idea that “you’re with us or against us” — and it’s no surprise that the world of dogs is sometimes as combative as the Middle East. That divisiveness feeds our Schadenfreude and makes it awfully easy to turn us against each other.
Witness the big, ugly can-o-worms I opened last week when I posted about the story of the Murder Hollow Bassets. Is Wendy Willard an arrogant animal hoarder who taunted law enforcement or is she the innocent victim of over-zealous grundyism? I don’t care, because the thing is - her rights should be protected either way.
In too many cases today basic violations of noise laws, limit laws and sanitation laws are being confused with demonstrable animal cruelty. When we read stories of animal busts - especially when the perp is someone we don’t agree with (and in the world of dogs, we are bound to disagree with him in some way) - we assume that, of course, that horrid animal abuser must be guilty. In the rush to judge we forget that we are all innocent until proven guilty.
As society oozes deeper into political correctness, increasing numbers of Grundy laws are being passed and enforced at all levels of government. Laws that make it easier for a neighbor that doesn’t like the way you look or an animal rights group that doesn’t like the way you live – to find a law they can use to harass you.
We don’t need these laws. We’ve already got enough dog-related laws on the books. Think about it. Is it the number of dogs kept on a property, their breed or even their sexual status that creates problems or – is it just a single, lazy, clueless, disrespectful or irresponsible owner? An owner who will be a problem even if he’s only allowed to have a single, loud, dirty, neglected obnoxious or abused dog in his care? If existing cruelty, sanitation, noise and related laws are enforced in a timely and lawful manner - and if we treat our neighbors with mutual respect – dogs aren’t a problem.
YesBiscuit wrote an excellent post last week illustrating how we all need to pay careful attention to the context of the reasons given for animal seizures. Be sure to read the comments – these make it stunningly clear that there but for the grace of doG walks every single one of us. Sure, you may be able to avoid things like limit laws by moving to a rural area - but Mrs. Grundy seems to live everywhere now and unless laws regarding the seizure of animals change - the Mrs. Grundys of the world will eventually be able to hold all pet owners hostage.
Now, even though I’ve been accused by some of being a black-helicopters nut job – I really do agree that we need laws. And I believe that the laws should be enforced. But I also believe that there is such a thing as too many laws – and that enforcement can be conducted too vigorously.
If were up to me, when should animals be seized?
- When their life or health is in immediate danger. Minor cases of parasite infestation, out of date vaccinations, temporarily unsanitary conditions and minor lapses of grooming do not constitute an immediate threat to the life or health of an animal.
- When an owner has been given written notice of an animal-related offense and not come into compliance within a reasonable, specified time period (such as 30 days). This warning must be given in person by an officer of the court or by registered letter.
- When an owner is arrested and there is no one else available to care for them.
- When they have been abandoned.
- When an owner voluntarily relinquishes them - after he has been read his rights and allowed to consult with legal counsel.
- In addition to the above, except under circumstances where their immediate health and safety can be proven to be at risk, pets must only be seized by, or under the direct supervision of, officers of the law.
How should seized animals be handled?
- If they are seized because their life or health is in immediate danger – they must be put under the care of a veterinarian.
- If they are seized as evidence in a case (such as limit laws, breed specific legislation, nuisance laws, etc.) they must be kept in such a way as to maintain chain-of-evidence requirements. I do not think that, in most cases, releasing them to foster care meets these requirements. Killing them, selling them or adopting them out most certainly does not meet these requirements.
- Intact animals must be kept their original reproductive state and even aggressive animals must be kept alive whenever possible until they are either released by their owner or he is found guilty.
- Puppies must be kept with their dam until at least the age of seven weeks unless there is a health-related reason to separate them from her.
I’m deeply concerned by the growing trend to grant police powers to private citizens who are then given the authority to enforce humane laws. Humane officers aren’t police officers yet they are granted the power to search and seize our property. Our living property. In some municipalities they even are even granted the power to charge us with felonies.
Humane officers are accountable to their supervisors and local boards of directors - not the public. In most areas there’s no internal affairs department or grievance board to file a complaint with that provides an external, civilian review of their actions – so short of filing expensive, time-consuming lawsuits (and risking the loss of our beloved pets while we wait to settle them) - we have little or no recourse when non-police humane officers step beyond the boundaries of their positions.
The issue here isn’t the Murder Hollow Bassets or the PSCPA per se. It’s the disturbing increasing trend for states and municipalities to farm out enforcement duties to private citizens. Citizens who, in some cases (not all!) are more interested in advancing a personal agenda than enforcing the law. The issue isn’t Wendy Willard’s guilt or innocence - it’s the need to recognize that animals need to be treated as living property. That animals need to be treated humanely - but so do their owners.
And if believing this makes me an ignorant, lying, right-wing loon searching for black helicopters - I’m okay with that.