A couple of years ago, back in the days when you could find a job, I had one.
It entailed driving throughout a part of my county, looking for noxious weeds on the right of way. I liked the job in that I had complete autonomy. No one was looking over my shoulder (save electronically. My issued cellphone doubled as a GPS unit), I was on my schedule as to where I checked. I was out of the office the entire day. I was alone.
There were only two parts of the job I disliked: sitting down all day long, and seeing the way that horses and dogs are routinely kept in this country.
There are thousands of horses in my county alone, and undoubtedly ten times that number of dogs.
Every day, I saw dogs and horses kept in the most wretched of conditions.
It was so disheartening. I would see dogs tied or chained in a backyard that had nothing in it to keep a dog’s mind occupied. There would be a bowl, perhaps a bucket, perhaps even a doghouse…and the tethered dog. The area within the dog’s chained reach was always bare as a gymnasium floor, having been paced over til it was bare. And, of course, there was always dog shit, as far as possible from the dog’s primary laying down point.
The dog did two things: he either was barking, because it was SOME form of stimulation, the only means of expressing his supreme frustration at his imprisonment, or he was slumped, head down in resignation, that, again, of a prisoner who knows he shall never, ever be free. Nor even able to run, or jump, or sleep without a chain.
The dogs were former pets. Once, when they were puppies, they were played with by the owners, but not for long. When it became evident that the puppy was NOT like the dog the movies portrayed, that the puppy required mental stimulation, training, socialization, veterinary care, etc, the puppy stopped being fun. It stopped being a form of entertainment, a self animated toy that didn’t need batteries. Soon enough, the children they had been begged for by tired of them. The parents tired of nagging them constantly to feed the dog, walk the dog, groom the dog, do SOMETHING with that animal that you demanded. Of course, the kids ignored their parents, and the dog was ultimately sentenced to life on the end of a chain. There, they live out the rest of their lives, ignored, neglected, fed and watered by resentful, undependable people at unreliable intervals.
Occasionally I’d see a chained dog being mated by free ranging dogs who at least, if ignored, were free to roam. I always wondered if I’d see puppies on chains in a few months. But no, in a few months, I’d see a sign by the side of the road that read “Free Puppies”. Free puppies, full of worms, fleas, ear mites, heartworm, you name it. An acquaintance of mine made the mistake of picking up and cooing over a Free Puppy and a few months later, realized she had ringworm on both arms and hands.
My now ex-sister-in-law had three boys. The youngest, her favorite, begged for a dog. She caved into his demands. They bought a Bichon Frise, named him Elmo, for god’s sakes, and for a while, as a puppy, he was played with. But as soon as the summer ended and the boys were back in school, Elmo, the never house trained, entire, never obedience or leash trained puppy, became Elmo the Damned Dog who barked, marked, and constantly tried to escape the house, or begged to be let out of the house to do his business. Because the boys couldn’t be bothered, they didn’t, and no one was home during the day. He would have been chained up, but they had no backyard in which to do so.
So he was relegated to life in the basement, seldom to see the light of day, ignored, forgotten save for a few moments when he was fed and watered. I think.
One day, though, he managed to get out. Probably one of the kids left the basement door open and the house door open. Somehow, he got out of the house.
They didn’t miss him for at least a week.
It wasn’t until my SIL asked, “who’s turn is it to feed the dog?” when they began to realize that no one had seen or fed him in a while. They’d all assumed someone else had fed and watered Elmo, or cleaned up the dog poop. No wonder he’d been so quiet. He wasn’t in the house, so obviously, he was outside.
They went looking.
It didn’t take long to find him.
His bedraggled body still lay in the ditch where he’d been hit by a car.
In a way, this was better. His life was relatively short, and he went quickly.
They left the body where they found it. Too stinky.
Even harder on me, was seeing the horses. I cannot tell you how many times I saw horses in ‘’’’pastures’’’ that hadn’t a blade of grass in them. The plant life was thistles, burdock, daisies, scotch broom, but nothing to EAT. Yet the owners would look out, see green and say, ‘hey, there’s still graze out there!”
The enclosures were too small for a horse to actually move around in. Some were so small that the horse had literally, two body lengths of room in which to stand.
If there was more room, it was filled with more horses. You’d see five horses on an acre of gymnasium. Sometimes they had cover from the elements. There was usually a pile of junk, and or a tall wooden fence that was considered a ‘barn’, and almost always, a junked out car in the ‘pasture’. I suppose the owner believed the horses would get into the car when it started raining.
The horses are always haltered, if you can call it that. The halters usually are too small and have ‘grown’ into the horse’s head. Their hooves would be overgrown, the tails and manes full of burs, the ribs standing out, the hair staring. These horses were never ridden, never groomed, never handled. They would stand, listlessly, their tails chasing the unrelenting flies, not a lick of shade in which to stand. I remember seeing one that had a fetlock the size of a football. She probably had a wire wrapped tightly around it, and the proud flesh completely concealed it.
Some owners kept their horse in a ‘pasture’ that only a mountain goat would have been comfortable in, with rocks everywhere and no place level on which to stand. What wasn’t covered with rocks was covered with manure.
A woman in my home town, Paula Nichols, had a barn on fifteen acres, of which only three weren’t swamp, and seventeen horses. When she was finally arrested, she protested that she “loved her horses, they were her family.” Yet the police found one horse in a dark corner of the barn that had been dead for so long that it was merely bones. The rest of the horses had elf boots rather than hooves, and no meat on their bones. Most of the horses had rotted legs, from standing in manure and mud for their entire lives. Several had to be put down on the spot, as they were too weak to move.
Miss Nichols also had six boxers in a kennel no larger than a pickup truck. She had the gall to hire a lawyer to defend her in court and return her animals to her. The judge ruled against her and threatened her with a prison sentence if she tried to get them back. She moved out of the county and tried to sue mine for the return of her beloved horses. She lost. I’m sure she’s back to her old ways, that of collecting horses and inflicting misery on them.
What’s truly bizarre is she had her defenders. One person went on the internet and in all caps, screamed how wrong the county was to go in and rescue the horses. The writer lived about a hundred miles from here. He didn’t see the horrible conditions the horses were forced to live in, every single day. All he saw was the government trampling someone’s ‘rights’.
When you talk to these people about the squalid conditions their animals exist in, they are always vociferous in their self-defense. They have a hundred reasons why they shouldn’t be considered ‘cruel”:
I LOVE my animals.
They’re show horses, I’m raising them to make money.
Horses eat scotch broom (only when the only alternative is to eat rocks)
He’s not house broken, we have to leave him outdoors.
He tore the house down, we have to leave him outdoors.
Hay is too expensive.
There’s nothing wrong with that horse, she’s always been thin.
And the frightening thing is, in a way, they DO love their animals.
But not in the way they should.
I don’t know why people have dogs and horses if they’re not going to care for them they way they should.
It is useless fighting a battle of wits with an unarmed man.
The only thing we can do is take the people to court, and deal with the aftermath of hundreds of animals who often, don’t survive long after being rescued. They die. Sometimes they are put down, a merciful death after a long, merciless existence. Unfortunately, we cannot deal their owners the same treatment.We can’t make them live knee deep in their own shit. We can’t chain them by the neck to a wall, with nothing to keep them clean and dry. We can’t starve them or leave them with nothing but rainwater to drink.
We can only put them in a nice, warm, dry prison where they eat three times a day. Although, that never happens.
Most judges won’t even give them a prison sentence. The owners get a fine, at most.
But, like the animals they mistreat, they do die.
This is where I draw a bit of hope.
People who are purposefully cruel or benignly so, like the owners of the dogs and horses I saw, all die.
I’m an atheist, but there’s still something in my soul that tells me that there is a reckoning, somewhere. Call it karma, if you will. But someday, people who mistreat their animals (and other humans) eventually pay for their crimes, in some way, shape or form.
When they die, I certainly hope that there is a tribunal somewhere, made up of the species that the person abused. Perhaps it’s board includes the very creatures they neglected, hurt, abused, starved, chained up, or shut into a kennel no bigger than the animal. The tribunal will hold the person responsible for his actions. It will be in the position to chain, or beat, or starve. It would be nice if they were to impose the same conditions the person in front of the bench imposed on their animals…a lifetime in a pen, on a chain, standing and sleeping in his own shit, never meeting another living being, to not do anything but exist.
We don’t even treat murderers like that.
Yet some people do it to animals.
(and yes, I know. There are people who do it to their own children, or parents, or spouses. I cannot even go near that.)
Every where, there is benign neglect, just another word for cruelty.