Thursday, 14 February 2013

Perfect cop, perfect person

I love cops. My brother is going to become one. Writer husband almost did become one. I always trust them and have always been friendly with them, and I've never regretted it. Least of all now!

I mentioned in my previous post that we'd had some very disappointing trouble with a neglected dog. We found a very old Irish Setter wandering on the street with no collar or microchip, and it was in a deplorable state. Nails untrimmed, fur greasy, very severe hair loss, a rash covering its entire body, fleas, an eye infection, a double ear infection, a secondary skin infection, open wounds under its front legs from scratching, three cysts, and worst of all its canines were broken off and its teeth were all black and yellow and worn down. We brought it inside, gave it a bath (we had to change out the water twice), and took it to the vet, where we spent about $250 on veterinary care, prescription medications, flea control, dog food, a collar and a dog bed. We had its ears cleaned and its nails trimmed. We had its teeth examined. The vet told us it would probably need a full mouth extraction, or would at least need to lose most of its teeth, in order to be healthy.

This dog was utterly precious. It was sweet, quiet, wagged its tail, it was very affectionate, very loving. It knew sit, but nothing else. We named it Atlas.

Well, to avoid being charged with stealing a pet, we called up our local animal shelter, which also happens to be the authority for animal control in our city, and reported it as a neglect case. I made it very clear that I was afraid of any owner who would allow their pet to remain in this condition, that I was afraid the dog would go back to the owner, that I wanted to help the dog and the entire situation alarmed me.

The shelter gave my phone number to the owner without my consent and not ten minutes later the owner called me at home demanding his dog back. We immediately booked a cab that we couldn't really afford to get to the shelter and have the vet there look at Atlas, since the shelter couldn't legally withhold a dog without seeing it first to determine its condition.

We had to sign Atlas over to the shelter in order to have it examined - this was, at the time, our only recourse to prevent a neglected animal from going back to its original situation.

The vet, to put it bluntly, did not give a fuck. Phrases that were used included "Well, it's not normal in terms of a dog you or I would own, but..."; "Oh, the teeth aren't broken, they're just worn down. You know, from chewing on rocks and stuff."; "Your vet says the teeth are rotten? That's a matter of opinion."

As our vet pointed out, if a dog is chewing rocks, it's hungry. Plus, the owner had already said the dog had a flea allergy (and yet he did not have it on flea control), and that its skin condition was entirely an allergic reaction. The unpaid shelter vet refused to acknowledge the secondary infection that the vet we paid to make an assessment said was definitely present. The shelter vet then walked away from us as we were speaking and refused to commit to either educating the owner on dog care when he came in, or setting a checkup visit for the dog. Basically, she saw a neglect case, but she could weasel out of it and she just didn't want to do that much work on a Sunday.

Atlas went home with his neglectful owner the next day.

That day, we called the shelter to ask: has the dog gone home; was the owner educated on dog care; did you give him the prescription medications that we paid for and show him how to use them? We were told "we took care of it" three times in a very clipped tone, and then hung up on.

We called the owner back and left him a voicemail offering to buy his dog flea control. 24 hours later we hadn't received any response.

The day after, I was pretty much sick of it. Neither of us could get over the fact that we had taken a neglected dog to the people who are charged with protecting animals and nobody had bothered to make sure it was comfortable and living happily.

I spent all day on the phone. I called the county police. I called state patrol. I called just about every major shelter in the state. Four hours later I had nothing. I was transferred and redirected so many god damn times and half of those transfers were to the shelter that had blown Atlas off and sent him back uncared for.

Every time I called a law enforcement office, I received the same automated message: If it is an emergency, or if you want to report a crime, please call 911. Okay, I thought. Is it a crime?

Hoo, boy, yes it is. The full law is here, the relevant parts are as follows:

(2) An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence:
     (a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure.

Suddenly, I had a crime to report. I called up Everett Police to make sure it was all right, and after hearing the story, I was advised to wait until the shelter was closed so that the case wouldn't be sent right to animal control, i.e., the shelter, and then call 911 and ask an officer to go out to the owner's house. We found his address by checking his number in the directory, and I made the emergency call and explained the situation.

Pretty soon the officer on duty phoned me directly to ask me to tell her the whole story again. She commended us on the "phenomenal" effort we put in to making sure that the dog was all right, and went straight to the owner's house to check up on Atlas.

She took my concern for my privacy seriously and simply told him "I understand you've been involved with the animal shelter recently". She told him that if he continued to neglect his dog, the police would have to intervene. She educated him on the basics of dog care, and told him that that care had to be ongoing.

She then called me back, related this to me, and told me that the animal neglect (second-degree animal cruelty) law works a lot like trespassing or child neglect - the offender has to be warned first, before any action is taken. She gave me the incident number and her name, and told me to call back in a month, and she would personally go out and check up on the dog to make sure it was doing better.

The moral of this story is that just because a place says it's an animal shelter, says it has the best interest of animals at heart, just because a person says they're a vet, or that they care for animals, it's no guarantee of anything. And unless you live in New York or New Jersey and you have the ASPCA at your disposal, your best bet is the find the relevant legislation FIRST, and get the cops involved at the first sign of mishandling or irresponsibility.

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