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Currents: student writing contest: 1st place

The Horrors of Animal Cruelty and the Crusade Against Cruelty Offenders

By Megan Ruggiero

“We're going to the animal shelter,” my mother said to me, as she prodded me awake on an early Saturday morning. “What in the world is an animal shelter?” I said, as my seven-year-old brain spun with confusion. “I know how sad you are that we had to put Satin down. Your father and I thought it was time we allowed ourselves to get another pet. It might make you miss him less,” she said, with a somewhat comforting pat on the top of my head.

My parents and I drove to the Paws for Life Animal Shelter, in Boise, Idaho, in my mom's stereotypical, soccer-mom minivan. As we drove, I could not help but wonder why my parents were not taking me to a regular pet store, or a breeder in order to purchase a new pet.

I asked my parents why an animal shelter was so special, and my father told me that animals that are taken into a shelter need more help and love than any other animals. At that point, I did not understand why certain animals would need more care and attention than other animals. I was baffled, but soon I would find out exactly what my father meant.

Once at the animal shelter, I was in my glory, bounding through the rows of cages, and observing all of the furry creatures. All of them were my potential pets. Oddly enough, out of all the friendly, excitable dogs that I had seen, my heart was stolen by the quietest, mellowest dog in the entire shelter.

I stopped running as soon as I saw her lonely, reddish-gold shape lying in the very back of one of the cages. She did not immediately jump to the front of the cage as I approached. She did not wag her tail with persuasive energy that begged me to take her home. In fact, she barely even looked up, but the eyes that she did look up with were sad. They were deep and beautiful, but so sad. As I curled my fingers around the slim bars of the cage and bent down to see her eye-to-eye, she whined, and her tail thumped once against the linoleum floor. I was sold.

One of the volunteer workers had been following me along the rows of cages with my parents, and when she saw that my heart had made its decision she said, “That one was physically abused by her previous owner, honey. She is extremely skittish and afraid of most people.”

I did not know that animal cruelty existed. I did not know that anyone was capable of such an act. However, I ended up finding out that cruelty and neglect can negatively affect an animal's personality and leave metaphorical and literal scars that can never be erased.

Amy Zelig, the animal cruelty specialist at the Upper Valley Humane Society in Enfield, New Hampshire, knows all about the scars that are left on animals at the hands of cruelty offenders. In Enfield, five cases of animal cruelty have been reported in the past year. The worst case involved three cocker spaniels from Lebanon, New Hampshire.

“The owner's physical condition made it impossible for her to keep up with the care of her dogs. The dogs were severely matted and had ailments that could easily be treated. However, they were not receiving the care” (2006). A chihuahua found with the cocker spaniels was extremely under-socialized and had been kept crated entirely too much. No one at the humane society could handle him. The workers at the humane society are still training him, so that one day he may be placed in a new home and have a second chance.

This particular case falls under the animal cruelty category known as neglect. To Amy's knowledge, the most common type of animal cruelty in New Hampshire is neglect. Amy defines neglect as “not providing proper veterinary care, not providing proper shelter, or not providing sufficient general care” for an animal (2006).

The question in neglect cases typically focuses on whether a person purposely withholds proper care for his/her pet. Neglect cases can be compared to murder cases in which a judge decides whether the murder was premeditated.

For cruelty, in all of its forms, necessarily involves reference to an individual's mental state—namely, whether one takes pleasure in causing or allowing another to suffer, or whether one is indifferent to doing this” (Regan 67). Neglect usually occurs in a household due to an owner's change in emotional, mental, or physical state. These changes in state cause the owner to focus on his or her own affairs and forget that his or her pet even exists.

In the case of Michelle Greene, from Wilder, Vermont, a change in mental state occurred when Michelle began to take care of her ill mother. Michelle was forced to focus so much attention on taking care of her mother that she became unable to provide proper care to multiple pets, including dogs, guinea pigs, parrots, and one ferret (Smallheer).

Michelle's time was being consumed by her mother's illness, and she was doing everything in her power to help her mother be comfortable. While her neglect should not be downplayed in any way, at least she had a legitimate, understandable change in her life that somewhat excuses her actions. According to the Windsor County Deputy State's Attorney, David Cahill, she was allowed to make a plea agreement because it “balanced the suffering of the animals with Greene's embarrassment and remorse” (Smallheer).

In my Brandi's case, the owner's change in state was the emergence of a horrible addiction, a heinous disease called alcoholism. My parents did try and shield me from Brandi's frightening and depressing past, but eventually when I was old enough to endure the horrors of it, they told me everything. Brandi had only been fed once a day if she was lucky.

Her owner frequented bars at night, and was rarely home. When he was home, he would strike her for accidentally stepping in his path. I also found out that Brandi had an immense fear of metal baseball bats. Unfortunately, the night Brandi had been rescued, her owner actually hit her with a bat for barking too loudly in her pen outside. Brandi escaped her pen and hobbled into the yard of a concerned neighbor. The neighbor took her to the animal shelter, where a veterinarian found three broken ribs in her immobile body. The cruelty that was inflicted on Brandi went beyond neglect and became physical abuse., a Web site dedicated to collecting information on animal cruelty cases, contained a database that held 2,808 animal abusers and 2,481 cases as of August 14, 2004. One chart on the Web site listed all 720 reported cases involving convicted perpetrators.

Beyond neglect and abandonment, the most common types of animal cruelty included 81 beating cases, 53 involving forced fighting between animals, 36 shootings, and even more horrible, 89 cases of mutilation and torture (Gerbasi, 361). I never found out if Brandi's owner was charged or convicted of the abuse he inflicted on her. I can't help but wonder if he was one of the 2,808 abusers, and perhaps he was one of the 720 convicted criminals. I can only hope that Brandi was granted justice for the suffering that she endured.

Amy Zelig does admit that the physical, animal abuse cases in New Hampshire are generally handled fairly. She recalls one case at the Upper Valley Humane Society involving a perpetrator that was guilty of animal abuse and was actually forced to pay restitution for his wrongdoing. The restitution covered his animals' veterinary care, and he was not allowed to own any other pets in the future. However, neglect cases are often considered less important to law enforcers and the court system.

Amy said that, “There was one case that involved several humane societies and many animals with a prominent family. The animals spent nine months in protective custody. The owners didn't have to pay any restitution. The case was not handled properly and the owners were not punished at all” (2006).

Michelle Greene was punished for the neglect of 19 animals, but she did not receive a severe sentence. She was allowed a plea agreement, because the investigation proved that the case dealt with neglect, rather than willful intent to harm her animals (Smallheer).

The plea agreement allowed for a lighter sentence with the stipulation that Greene forfeit the rights to the 19 animals. Her sentence included eight days on a prison work crew and restitution to the organizations that cared for the neglected and starved animals. This is quite the light sentence considering 19 animals were neglected and one had to be euthanized. Plus, not only did Greene break the neglect portion of the law, but she could also be considered an animal hoarder.

After all, 19 is a big number when it comes to living, breathing beings that need the basic elements of survival (food, water and shelter), as well as a nurturing, caring environment. How can hoarding and starvation not be considered willful? Michelle Greene knew that her animals were suffering. Yet, she did not seek help from others, and she allowed the suffering to continue even though she knew her animals were too difficult to care for at the time of the incident.

Les Bowe, an Animal Services Officer from Manteca, California, believes that “you should really want to love your animals like you love your kids” (Brewer, N/p). One situation that comes to mind when I think of pets being comparable to children is the typical dog being locked in a car in the dead of summer for hours on end. Every time I see this situation I ask myself, would a person have left their child in that car?

According to Bowe, windows add 15 to 20 degrees to a vehicle's internal temperature within a few minutes of being parked (Brewer, N/p). Dogs' coats are designed to retain heat, and dogs do not sweat when their bodies become overheated. Therefore, they are especially susceptible to heatstroke (“Beat the Heat”). This is a form of neglect that is too often overlooked. Bowe admits that no one in Manteca has ever been charged with this type of obvious neglect.

Neglect cases are not the only animal cruelty cases that are given little attention. Amy believes that the law does not cover the “mental piece.” She feels that an animal can be given sufficient shelter, food, water, and vet care, but still be socially isolated, and just plain bored.

Think about the dogs that are left outside for three-fourths of the day in dog runs. Think about the horses cooped up in stalls without proper exercise. Think about the cats that sit on the window sills day after day longing to be caressed. Also, in reference to cats, Amy feels that cats aren't treated with the same regard as dogs. They are expendable to most of the population, and she has seen cats be lost between the lines of the law (2006).

In Del Mar, California, one of the town's most adored cats was kidnapped and brutally burned. Bert, the cat, was found in a neighboring town with 3rd degree burns covering 75 percent of his body (Gerbasi, 360). He tragically died two days later due to the burns, internal bleeding and kidney failure. The community did make efforts to catch the perpetrator, but once it was believed that the perpetrator had fled the country, all attempts ceased (Gerbasi, 360). The chase may have continued for a longer period of time had the victim been a dog or another type of large animal.

In animal cruelty cases, some animals are lost between the lines of the law, but others may lose their lives. For many days after Brandi's ribs had healed, she slept for hours on end, and many of the workers at the shelter felt she had lost the will to live. Every time one of the workers tried to handle her, she would move away. She would never act violently toward any of them. She would just remain as far from human contact as she could within the confines of her cage.

When we arrived at the shelter, the workers were debating whether or not Brandi should be euthanized. They thought she would never fit into any home, because she did not have a lively, welcoming nature. The dog that was perfect for me almost died at the horrid hands of animal cruelty, and that is why I hope every offender of this crime is punished just as if he or she had committed a similar crime against a human being.

The animal cruelty statute in New Hampshire does separate misdemeanor offenses from class B felony offenses. Misdemeanor offenses include all acts of negligence, such as depriving an animal of proper care, shelter, or food, abandoning animals, overworking labor animals, and negligently allowing an animal to be beaten, or mutilated by another animal (“Statute 644:8”).

The class B felonies include any second offense of the previously listed charges, and the purposeful beating, whipping, torturing, or mutilating of an animal. According to the statute, an arresting officer has the power to confiscate the animals of any person that is charged with animal cruelty (“Statute 644:8”).

Another punishment that is mentioned in the statute is restitution for the treatment and boarding of the animals that have been victimized. The court may also decide to prohibit a convicted cruelty offender from owning any other pets in the future. First of all, there are no sentences indicated in the statute that require jail time, or large fines.

The only punishments that are covered by the statute are mild considering that purposeful cruelty is a class B felony in New Hampshire. Plus, is one year in jail enough time for an animal cruelty perpetrator to reform and truly understand what he/she has done? Would one year in jail be enough time if the victim of mutilation, beatings, whippings, or torture was a human being?

Amy Zelig has seen animals euthanized at the Upper Valley Humane Society because they had been neglected, or abused, and were deemed unfit for a new home environment. It is for this reason that she urges people to join the fight against animal cruelty and the battle to increase the severity of punishment against animal cruelty offenders.

She encourages people that are interested in animal rights to contact the Humane Society of the United States and to speak with the representatives in their towns. If more people complain and advocate, lawmakers will be more likely to hear the pleas. There is always strength in numbers (2006).

Joining the Humane Society of the United States is a beneficial decision for any animal protection activist, because it serves not only as an animal-welfare society, but also as an animal rights organization. The difference between an animal-welfare society and an animal rights organization is miniscule, but both of these aspects of animal protection are important to the cause.

An animal-welfare society tends to “predicate its activism on beliefs of the virtue in human kindness and the evil of suffering,” while animal rights groups are “steeped in ethics,” focusing on the value of animals in society and their rights to equal consideration (Wolch, 13).

The animal rights portion of the organization focuses on the laws. The animal-welfare society focuses on why the laws should not be necessary, because people should never be evil enough to harm another living being. The laws would not exist if people's actions did not force the issue.

Animal protection organizations like the Humane Society of the United States not only give their attention to anti-cruelty campaigns (pets, working animals, and animal fights), but they also lend a hand to wildlife preservation organizations and anti-animal testing groups (Wolch, 14).

My mother still makes donations to the Humane Society of the United States to this day. She and I both recall Brandi's social troubles that were observed upon taking her into our home, and we want to do anything we can to prevent similar complications for other abused animals.

Upon entering our home, Brandi investigated her new surroundings slowly and cautiously. She would not go out in the garage, because we kept a metal softball bat next to the door. She would whine, her tail would curl between her shaking legs, and she would not budge.

Brandi did not pay too much attention to my parents and me for about a month. She never wanted to play with the numerous toys we attempted to entertain her with. She accepted walks only if we took her on routes that had few other walkers. She did not sleep in either of our bedrooms at night.

The one thing that she did do with great gusto was eat. I would watch her eat her IAMS, and I would smile and joke that she fit in perfectly with our family. I loved watching her slightly malnourished body grow, and her fur begin to shine like the sun. My parents seemed surprised that I adored her, even with all her apparent emptiness. I had faith it would end some day, and it did.

I consider Brandi's bout with animal cruelty a success story, because she was integrated into a new home and has experienced a complete turn around in personality and demeanor. She is fourteen and in superior health compared to other golden retrievers her age. She has learned to be comfortable with human contact and has become a lovable and loyal addition to our family.

Since the day we brought Brandi home, I have become increasingly interested in animal rights and the protection they deserve. “Now, to many, the idea that animals have rights will sound as silly as the proposal made some years back that animals be required to wear clothes when in public” in order to be within the law regarding public nudity (Regan, 70).

However, ridiculous ideas can sometimes turn out to be true. Human beings are said to have inherent value, because they have the ability to value other people, objects, and ideas. In having value, we have the right to be treated with respect and honor.

We can value animals. Animals can value us. This is especially true in the case of pets. Pets show that they value us through their loyalty, devotion, and affection. If we, as humans, can value others, and animals can value others, then why shouldn't we all be treated equally under the law, in terms of intrinsic rights, and in life?

Megan Ruggiero wrote this piece for her Writing 105 class in the fall 2006 semester.

Works Cited

*“Beat the Heat: How is Your Dog Coping?” Dog Breed Info Center. 2006. Paragraph 1. Google Ads. 29 November 2006.

*Brewer, Rick. “It Was a Bad Season For Pet Abuse: Animal Services Officer Says Incidents Have Risen.” The Record (5 September 2006) N/p.

*Gerbasi, Kathleen C. “Gender and Nonhuman Animal Cruelty Convictions: Data From” Society and Animals 12.4 (2004) 359-365.

*Hill, Gerald, and Kathleen Hill. The People's Law Dictionary Online. 2006. ALM Properties, Inc. 29 November 2006 .

*Regan, Tom. All That Dwell Therein: Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics. University of Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.

*Ruggiero, Megan. Student. Colby-Sawyer College. 2006.

Smallheer, Susan. “Woman Pleads Guilty to Cruelty.” Rutland Herald 8 July 2006. 28 November 2006.


*“Statute 644:8 Cruelty to Animals.” Home page. New Hampshire General Court. 28 November 2006.

* Wikipedia: The Online Encyclopedia. “Animal Hoarding.” 4 November 2006. Media Wiki. 28 November 2006.

* Wolch, Jennifer, and Jody Emel, eds. Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands. London: Verso, 1998.

*Zelig, Amy. Animal Cruelty Specialist, Upper Valley Humane Society. Email interview. 15 November 2006.