Thursday, February 27, 2014

Animal Abuse in West Michigan

Mlive recently ran a story about Foxy, an injured dog that had been surrendered to Kent County Animal Control. McKenzie Coleman, the woman surrendering him, fraudulently claimed she had found him tossed in a trash can. As unpalatable as it is for Coleman to have claimed saving Foxy when apparently he'd been living in her home for weeks with his eye injury unaddressed, it's not a crime to lie about your motivations for giving up an animal or neglecting to treat his physical problems. It's just unethical and irresponsible.

More troubling is the unknown and unreported abuse or neglect that goes on around us every day. I missed this report in November about a woman who was keeping 23 dogs and 7 cats in her Grand Rapids home (the City of Grand Rapids conveniently has no limit on the number of animals allowed on a property; which may be why Kimberly Savino relocated her dog grooming service/dog "rescue" here from Massachusetts.) It turns out Savino lives just around the corner from my house. I walk by her house on my way to my son's school, and I had no idea that there were that many dogs living there. The residence is large, as is the yard, but the fenced in area is small. I have heard dogs barking sometimes, but not often or loudly enough to indicate that 23 of them were on the property.

This is not the only recent hoarding case. A couple of years ago, authorities seized 352 dogs from one couple's home in Allegan County. This fall a Ypsilanti woman had 88 cats taken from her home. Unfortunately, hoarding is not just a crime, it's a criminal manifestation of mental illness. Hoarders seem to be unable to stop their behavior, no matter how much cruelty it results in because hoarding is how they address their fears and anxieties.

Of course, even worse than people who hoard animals, are people who fight animals for sport or profit. This week two dead pit bulls, bloodied with fight wounds, were found frozen on the side of a road near an elementary school in Muskegon County. Dog fighting tends to be part of a pattern of negative social behaviors like drug and weapons trafficking and illegal gambling, so spotlighting it can only help reduce other crime. But you can't stop dog fighting until people begin to see what a cruel and barbaric sport it is and put pressure on the people in their communities to stop it.

And then, finally, there is the animal abuse no one wants to talk about because it affects all of us, and that's factory farming. When the news reports rivers of manure running into area waterways the unspoken subtext is that so many animals are being crammed in so close together that the manure production is unmanageable by traditional farming methods (which usually involved tilling it back into the soil to replenish it). Chickens, pigs, cows, and other meat animals live in miserable conditions on area farms, spending their days breathing in dirt and filth, wading in feces, fighting among themselves for space or breath. To keep them minimally healthy until they can be slaughtered, farmers pump them full of antibiotics and other chemicals - the end result being that our food supply daily produces deadly contamination while at the same time it erodes our ability to fight the diseases this contamination causes.

Fortunately, we also have numerous agencies in the area advocating for animals. There are dozens of breed-specific and other rescues, and humane societies in every county in West Michigan. These agencies both address the day-to-day needs of abused and neglected animals and educate kids and adults on the importance of valuing them. The Humane Society of West Michigan regularly posts uplifting stories about animals they've placed in loving homes or kids who have foregone a new scooter or iPod for their birthdays, asking that donations be given to the animals instead. It's a relief to read this kinds of stories after a gruesome one about dog fighting.

While most West Michigan people are not animal abusers, we all need to be more aware of what is going on around us so we can stop abuse before it escalates. This is not just an ethical stance. In Detroit approximately 50,000 wild dogs roam the city creating an enormous public menace. An abused or neglected animal is a dangerous animal, and we need as few dangers as possible.