19 September 2015

The New Animal Police: Orwellian Stories From The War On Animal Lovers

The New Animal Police

The New Animal Police

This is a photograph of my dog Fate herding sheep. When her tongue gets long, I stop the work and bring her to a pool of fresh water, kept  cold and within easy reach. When she gets hot, she will go over and lie in it. And drink from the nearby bowl, always kept full.  I know now that when I post a photograph like this, within minutes I will be accused in an e-mail or other message, always from people I do not know, or who do not know me, of abusing her, of working her in heat and of subjecting her to danger.

She lives to work, and loves to work. I would never, of course, subject her to harm.

More than once, passersby have pulled over and demanded to know, often rudely,  if my border collies are okay, if they should be working in warm weather, in the summer. I wish I could learn to be nicer to them, and explain that farm animals still need to eat and be moved, even in the heat and the cold. Unlike many of the farmers I know, many of whom hide their cows from the sight of the road, I will not hide the work my dogs do, I am proud of them, I choose to live in the open, in a free society.

But this is the new reality of people and our lives with animals. Here are stories from this increasingly Orwellian reality, from the war on people who love animals.

At the beginning of the summer, Barbara had to drive into a busy town south of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to pick up a dress at a tailor's. She had her Lab Smokey in the car, she called ahead to make sure the dress was ready. She was very mindful of the heat and the dog's welfare. She loves him very much, dotes on him so much she hates to drive around without him.

Barbara found a spot in front of the store, it was 78 degrees, so she rolled down the windows and turned off the engine.

She went into the store, waited between three to five minutes for her dress. Smokey is eight years old, and goes everywhere with her, like most Labs (and my border collies) he loves to ride in the car. People always come up to the windows to pet him, take his photo, say hello. His tail never stops wagging. You know the type.

When  Barbara came out of the store, the sky was partly sunny, there was a good breeze, a police cruiser was waiting, lights flashing. Two officers came up to her, handcuffed her, placed her under arrest. A new city ordinance, they told her, requires them to handcuff dog owners if they are left in a car for any length of time on a warm day. They have no choice.

Barbara, who has lived in the area all of her life, was stunned. She had never heard of the law, the embarrassed officers – they were clearly uncomfortable –  told her the police had received two different calls alleging Smoky was in danger by being left in the car and she was charged with two counts of animal cruelty.

The store owner said she was only in the store for a few minutes, Smokey was very clearly healthy, well groomed and cared for.

Barbara spent four hours in the town jail before her husband could get her out. Her car was towed to a city lot.

Smokey was, as is required by law, seized by animal control officers and it took her several days and several hundred dollars to get him back. A vet said Smokey was in great shape and was not suffering in any way from being in the car, but he appeared traumatized after being seized roughly by animal control and taken from Barbara.

Fortunately, she is wealthy and quickly hired a very good lawyer, he threatened some massive lawsuits, was well connected to the police, he told her she narrowly missed a long court fight against animal rights activists who wanted to seize the dog and felt she should not have the dog returned to her because she had placed him in danger.

That is happening to thousands of people. And you don't have to be a lawyer to wonder what happens to the people and their dogs when they don't have a lot of money.

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This week, I received a message from a writer in Southern Vermont.

"Wait until you hear this," she wrote.  She said she was driving her car along a highway with her three dogs inside on her morning errands. She had  a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Wheaton Terrier, a relative's Italian Spinone. She was pulled over by a state trooper who told her that the police had been called by a secret informer to report a car transport situation that was dangerous to dogs.

One of her dogs, she told the trooper, likes to ride with his back paws on the floor in back and his front paws on the middle center console. (I should say this is precisely how Fate, my border collie loves to ride, this helps working dogs maintain their calm and balance as things rush past them).

The dog is never in her lap and does not obstruct her view.

She tolled down the window and the dogs eagerly greeted the trooper who was happy to pat them. Reading this story, I thought: another poor police officer forced into this Orwellian intrusion into the lives of people who love animals. It seems we put police into the middle of every kind of social confusion and problem, and then hate them for being there.

The trooper thought about it and did not issue her a summons or try to seize the dogs. He asked her if she had ever considered buying a gate that prevented the dogs from coming forward. She told him it might be safer but she loved riding with her dogs in the car and taking them places with her. And it is not required by law (yet.)

The writer is good-humored, and so, fortunately, was the trooper. It could so easily have been different.

I would not be surprised if such laws requiring gates in cars were not soon passed by the new animal police, countless dog owners have already stopped taking their dogs places, fearing the new hysteria over animal cruelty and abuse sweeping so much of the country.

In our rush to grant animals perfect lives free of risk and human interactions, spared the normal travails of life, we have lost perspective. In our new Inquisition over animal abuse, we have lost sight of what we are losing.

Driving around with dogs is a cherished American tradition, an enormous boost to our love of animals and need for them. It is essential to the socializing of dogs, it brings great pleasure and stimulation to dogs, who otherwise are closeted in homes and yards for most of their lives, it brings enormous pleasure to many people, especially children. It keeps animals in our everyday lives.

We forget that we will end up forcing people to forego the adoption of dogs or even keeping them if they face humiliation, arret and legal conflict. Dogs, like so many other animals, will disappear from sight because there is no safe place to take them, or way to transport them free of the growing corps of informers, who seem to answer to no one and are accountable for nothing.

I often think of Ethel and Harry, an elderly couple of Columbus, Ohio, who told me this sad story. They live in a high-crime neighborhood, they were robbed several times outside the stores in the mall where they shop. They starting bringing their beagle ( also named Harry) with them, both to get him outside and in the hope he would help protect them by barking and deterring robbers. When they came back from grocery shopping, the police were waiting for them, Harry was seized after a secret informer called the police and said it was too hot for the dog to be left in a car.

Ethel and Harry insist the temperature was in the 60's, the windows were open, they were inside for little more than 10 minutes.

Harry and Ethel live on fixed incomes, they had no money to fight the charges or pay the fees to get Harry back. He was euthanized after several months, no one notified them of his death. Their cousin, an attorney, had to threaten a lawsuit to find out what happened to their dog, who had lived with them for eight years.

I think also of Suzanne's story she owns a sheep farm in California, and had two Maremma guard dogs guarding her flock. The dogs ran along the boundaries of her 200 acre farm as part of their daily guard work. They always accompanied the sheep as they moved about to graze. The dogs were seized by the animal control officers after informers drove by, saw them and reported that they were running loose, and near a road and off-leash. Suzanne told the police that the dogs stayed within the fence lines, as trained, and were animal guard dogs, but the police said they had no choice but to charge her with animal neglect, and the dogs were seized. She is still in the process of trying to get them returned.

We are often warned about the safety of animals like dogs, we almost obsessively focus on the Apocalyptic view of them, that the live in great peril every minute. We view them in terms of the worse things that might happen to them. The truth is that American dogs live the best lives of any animals in the world, very few of them suffer and die at the hands of abusive and uncaring owners.  Some dogs die from heat stroke, others are in danger running loose, others love to play navigator and stick their heads out between the front seats.

In this new culture of hysteria, perhaps we might focus on what we are losing. The police, with difficult tasks to perform, are increasingly drawn into very personal and previously private situations involving animal lovers and their dogs. They are bound by increasingly unrealistic and mindless rules and regulations, usually lobbied for by the most extreme (and very well-funded)  animal rights movement.

They are drawn into decisions and situations – and conflicts – that  they don't care to be in and where they don't belong.

Our relationships with animals like dogs are intensely personal and individualistic. Very few of us care so little for our dogs that we would drive around with them on our errands and let them suffocate in closed and overheated cars. The fact that is sometimes happens does not mean that all of our animals must be separated from us and live restricted lives or that we must fear the police when we take them with us on our errands.

We are moving towards a kind of quarantine for dogs, increasingly sealed off from the opportunity to socialize them, to give them varied and stimulating lives, to accompany us in our travels, be appreciated by other people. Dogs deserve better than to be isolated only in homes and backyards because society does not permit us to take any risks with them.

In our culture of secret informers and unthinking intrusions, we are drowning the baby to save the bathwater. It is not a pleasant thing to be stopped or arrested by the police, especially if you have done nothing wrong and cherish the right to make our own judgements about our animals. And if necessary, suffer the consequences. If I leave Fate to die of the heat in a broiling car, I deserve to be punished for it. I ought to be held responsible.

If I wish to bring her along, it is not the business of the state. Or of secret informers with no accountability or mandate in the law.

The people above have suffered the very literal definition of Orwellian oppression: According to Wikipedia,  Orwellian is an adjective describing the situation, idea, or societal condition that the writer  George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It denotes an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian and unreasoning control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past. It features the "unperson," a person whose past existence or individual views and ideas are expunged from the public record and memory. Orwellian values are adopted by modern repressive governments or extremist social movements.

If I love her and care for Fate – as Barbara loves her dogs and Suzanne loves hers and Harry and Ethel loved theirs – then it is no one's business If I pull up to a store and leave them inside with the windows open. Or choose to bring them along to keep me company or protect me, or to train them to accept people.

In the name of protecting animals, we are  creating an animal police state that is increasingly affecting their care and welfare. And if they can do it to our animals, why can't they do it to us in every part of our lives? In the absence of clear evidence of cruelty and abuse, these decisions are ours, not intrusive and Orwellian secret informers, not the business of the police, unless the animal is suffering egregiously and clearly.

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