We have a moral responsibility to care for animals

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

Two weeks ago, I was on the scene of a puppy mill raid in Henry County.  I saw hundreds of animals living in unspeakable conditions. There were dogs in crates stacked two and three high; in most cases, the animals were standing almost knee deep in a mixture of their own feces and urine. There were cats in crates with litter boxes filled to the brim in waste. They had no water and little food.

The smell was unimaginable. Inside the trailer, where at least 38 dogs were being kept, I tried not to breathe as I dashed in to get a quick photo of some of the foul crates. I was in there only seconds, barely took any breaths while inside; but still, my lungs burned for hours afterward because of the ammonia-filled stench.

I am a seasoned journalist; I did my job while I was there, taking photos and notes and soaking in the gruesome scene. I kept my emotions out of it. Until the next day, when I was almost finished writing the story that ran in the Henry County Local, The Trimble Banner and The News-Democrat. I caught a glimpse of one of the photos I had shot the night before.

It was the silhouette of the face of one of the dogs – a spaniel. The lighting was such that you could see straight into her eyes. That’s when I had to start fighting back tears.

Like most people, I hate seeing any creature suffer. I say a little prayer every time I drive by the carcass of an animal hit by a vehicle on the road. My heart aches for animals who are the intentional victims of cruelty.

Many people don’t share my sensitive take on animals. That’s not to say they are not caring; they are just of the opinion that dogs and cats, particularly, are merely animals and their suffering is not of the same consequence as the suffering of human beings.

On the surface, I have an understanding of what they mean. When you are on the road, if it’s going to come down to you or the deer caught in your headlights, then you must do  what you have to do to survive. As much as I hate it, I agree that it doesn’t make sense to harm yourself or possibly other people by trying to avoid a collision with a deer or other animal in your path.

But I believe it’s wrong to turn a blind eye to the suffering of animals at the hands of other human beings and not stand up to make sure it stops.

I very much believe that we, as humans, must take responsibility for all of God’s creatures.

Companion animals – dogs and cats – were a gift to us; I have no doubt about it. Because we have the intelligence to know right from wrong, then we also have the duty to protect them from harm whenever possible.

It is not only the moral thing to do, but also the Christian thing to do.

But yet, at every turn, when I try to discuss the need for better treatment of animals in county shelters or the importance of strengthening animal welfare laws, I hear excuses. One government official said openly that cats are “wild animals” – they can fend for themselves out in the elements. Therefore, the county shouldn’t have to spend any money or devote space in shelters to house these creatures and find them homes.

(I have yet to see a healthy colony of feral cats living out in the wild.)

I have also been told that one must draw the line on spending taxpayer money. Animals are not humans; therefore, our financial resources should be devoted solely to helping other humans in need. Humans must take priority.

I disagree. Yes, we, as a society, must do all we can to protect humans. But, the fact is, humans do benefit from the humane treatment and care of animals. First and foremost, it’s a health issue. By keeping all companion animals healthy – whether or not they are strays – we prevent the spread of diseases, some of which can be transmitted to people.

By ensuring dogs are well socialized and in loving homes, we can reduce the risk of attacks on humans. Any dog that attacks a human likely is physically ill and/or has been mistreated or trained to be aggressive. Well-trained and well-kept dogs are unlikely to attack people when unprovoked.

Additionally, there are studies that show a connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. It’s not much of a leap to go from mistreating an animal to mistreating a child. Animal abuse in a home can be a huge red flag that something else may be terribly wrong there.

I understand that our state and local governments are strapped for cash, particularly in recent years.

But regardless of where the money comes from, the public is always forced to shoulder the burden of providing care for animals that are mistreated, abused or simply discarded like so much garbage in the state of Kentucky.

The cost of providing medical care for the 240 animals pulled from the Campbellsburg puppy mill is likely to be well into the thousands of dollars. Like nearly all other animal welfare groups in the state, Henry County Animal Control must rely on donations to pay for these costs.

Officer Dan Flinkfelt, who also serves Trimble County, said the shelter there has received $28,000 in donations so far, All of that money – and probably thousands more – will be needed to care for all of these animals.

In Carroll County alone, CCAS spends several thousand dollars each year providing medical care to sick, injured and, too often, abused dogs and cats that find their way to us. We must constantly hold fundraisers just to keep up with the vet bills.

Kentucky’s laws do very little to prevent animal cruelty, and there are absolutely no provisions in those laws to force the people who perpetrate crimes against animals to pay for the animals’ subsequent care. In fact, Kentucky comes in dead last in a 2011 survey that measures the strength and comprehensiveness of animal welfare laws in all 50 states.

Our laws provide more or less a slap on the wrist to those convicted of cruelty. Only torture of a dog or cat, in our statutes, qualifies as a felony. The definition of torture, however, does not include long-term, intentional neglect, starvation or other forms of cruelty. At most, that is a Class A misdemeanor. A few months in jail, in the most extreme cases; occasionally, they may be forced by a judge to make restitution or pay fines. And abusers are not restricted from getting more animals after a conviction.

We should be ashamed.

We can and we must do better. Protecting our companion animals does not compromise farming and it does not compromise hunting. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Other states can do it. Kentucky can, too.

This upcoming legislative session is a chance to improve our laws. Contact your legislators – State Rep. Rick Rand and State Sen. Ernie Harris – and insist that they focus on improving animal welfare laws in our state.