Last week, I posted the story of a “Humane Society” in Montgomery, AL, that killed Vinnie the very day he was brought in as a stray, even though local law mandates a five day hold period. His family arrived within hours of his impound, only to find him dead, already partially frozen in the crematorium. The dad told the local newspaper that Vinnie’s death “destroyed me, my wife and our six-year-old son.

Most people responded as I did, with horror, with sadness, with the famous refrain to ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. As I wrote in the comments, “while I hope most of us never experience the devastating pain they also caused to his family, we are all diminished by it.”

But some people did not respond with kindness, compassion, or even righteous anger at those who perpetrated this brutal act. They turned their venom on the family: “How about owners be more responsible and not ‘lose’ their pets, let them run loose, or ‘escape’ so damn frequently?” even though there was no evidence of any of this. They also claimed that the “owners are fully culpable for this fur-baby’s ending up dead.” That comment was “liked” by several people.

How to describe comments such as this and those who gave it a thumbs-up? Cruel, misanthropic, vindictive.

It legitimizes violence towards animals, excuses killing, blames the victims. It shows an ignorance of the lessons of history, a blindness to the progress to end killing made in communities across the country, and a profound lack of optimism for the future. And by failing to hold those truly accountable for Vinnie’s death — those who actually killed him — responsible, it perpetuates the myths and deadly misperceptions that for more than half a century have made our “shelters” the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in America.

Compare the hard-hearted, dystopian community these individuals legitimize, with progressive ones, where animal control gives first time canine “offenders” who get out of their house or yard and go for a walk a free ride home (and a warning) because:

  1. Mistakes happen;
  2. Dogs have minds of their own;
  3. They like to roam their neighborhood;
  4. That is why shelters exist: to serve dogs and their families;
  5. It is good, responsive government;
  6. Dogs with known homes don’t compete for kennel space with dogs who need homes;
  7. It reduces killing; and,
  8. It reduces costs to taxpayers.

Isn’t the latter community the kind of society we all want to live in? (Not the least of which is because it means the Vinnies of the world live instead of die.) And given that such a society already exists, shouldn’t that be the standard we hold others to? (Click here to see how I responded when I ran an animal control shelter.)

Some people may lack the vision for such a society, but I don’t. And given the response to the post, the vast majority of others on this page don’t either. If those whose knee-jerk impulse is to pour salt on painful wounds are capable of self-reflection, I would hope that this thought experiment might give them pause: I want them to imagine the moment when the pound workers took Vinnie out of the kennel. He probably thought he was going for a walk or going home. Imagine the wagging tail, the smile, the look of curiosity, the locking of eyes: “Where are we going?,” he likely thought, not realizing he was going to his death.

And I want them to imagine the moment when his family came to pick him up, convinced they were going to be reunited and how happy Vinnie was going to be to see them, only to find that he wasn’t wagging his tail anymore. He was frozen after being injected with a lethal dose of poison, ending his life and devastating a husband, a wife, and a child.

That anyone would respond to such a scenario with venom, rather than compassion, is tragic, and even more so when those responding in such a cruel way claim to actually represent the dog when they do so. Indeed, it must feel horrible to be so mean, so lacking in the milk of human kindness. And so as much as comments like theirs frustrate me with their lack of empathy and understanding, they also make me pity those who make them. And they make me pity the rest of us, too, because we have to live with the dysfunction in society that their heartless world view legitimizes.

It is so much less than the best of humanity.


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