I’m sure I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I meet some of the most amazing people thanks to my animal welfare advocacy. Most are just normal people like you and me who are on a mission related to animals, using their superpowers for the good of us all. I’ve only met a handful of these folks in person, but thanks to the inter-connectivity of our world provided by video conferencing and email, I still feel as though I know them. And I am proud to say I do.
I first learned about “Pete Paxton” last fall when I learned about his book (co-written with Gene Stone) called Rescue Dogs: Where They Come From, Why They Act the Way They Do, and How to Love Them Well. Pete’s name is in quotes because I honestly have no idea what his real name is, You see, he’s an undercover investigator who has done incredible work for the Companion Animal Protection Society. (I encourage you to visit the CAPS website to help further your education). Pete has been to over 700 puppy mills, hundreds of pet stores, and has worked undercover at some of the biggest mills in the United States. Rescue Dogs is aimed at exposing mills and explaining how the public can help fight them by adopting dogs. The book also explains finding a good shelter or foster group, dog training tips, how to rescue stray/abuse dogs, and busts myths about shelter dogs being “broken” in some way.
I have long railed against the commercial dog breeding industry and have long supported rescue and advocacy groups which help dogs saved from mills and which educate the public toward bringing an end to the industry. I’ve worked on local laws which keep national pet supply chains from setting up shop in communities and importing sick dogs from puppy mills which can, in turn, make people sick. I’ve fought state legislation which would allow pet supply chains to grow roots in my state and further erode the humane treatment of dogs in a culture lost in time compared to the values regarding dogs in the rest of the country. When I heard about Pete’s book and his undercover work in the mills themselves, I just had to read it
The first part of Rescue Dogs was a hard read for me, but not in a bad way. As you would imagine, there is something quite criminal (and, I would argue, nefarious) about the way many people in our society treat dogs for their financial gain. It is heartbreaking, infuriating and mind-boggling. And I say that as a person who has never walked a path remotely close to the one walked by Pete. I cannot possibly imagine the mental and emotional toll taken on people who take on fake identities and put themselves in the bowels of hell in order to take down the very people whose behavior we find abhorrent. I am confident that we cannot possibly understand what Pete and others like him have endured for the sake of dogs and for the sake of all of us. Could you pretend to be someone you are not and work in a place where dogs are abused, neglected or killed on a regular basis all for the sake of money to collect evidence? I know I could not. Which is why I consider Pete one of my animal superheroes.
The second part of the book was incredibly informative. I think that most people in the shelter and rescue world assume the public knows all about rescue dogs, where they come from, how wonderful they are and why adopting a rescue dog is such a compelling choice. Many people just do not know, even if we think they should. Thanks to Pete’s book, now they can. He goes into great depth about where many of these dogs come from, how they think and how to make them members of our families – as opposed to buying dogs from the million dollar industry which has no regard for their well-being, viewing them not as sentient creatures but as things.
Pete was kind enough to help me introduce you to information which goes beyond the book through the Q&A that follows. I think it’s helpful for me to say a few things about the book, but I want you to learn something information not found in the book to entice you to read it. You can find Rescue Dogs on all major book selling platforms and at your local bookstore. I hope you enjoy our exchange.
You repeatedly use the phrase “puppy mill” in the book. I also use this phrase as a reflection of volume of dogs produced as well as the conditions in which they live. What does that phrase mean to you?
To me, “puppy mill” refers to any facility or person who raises dogs for profit. I realize that puts individuals who sell a litter of puppies every two years to neighbors into that category. However, I use the term “puppy mill” to refer to anyone that is part of a system that results in dogs being killed in shelters and exploited for human gain. Whether a facility keeps dogs in the house or a kennel, has two dogs or a hundred, or is licensed or not, they are contributing to that system.
Most people who love animals would have an incredibly difficult time investigating undercover like you did while staying in character. Your work must have been difficult beyond description. How were you able to stay so focused to see the investigations through to collect enough evidence?
I appreciate the kind words. I’d like to say I’m just that tough, but I think part of it relies on my personality. I enjoy taking risks and improvising puts me in my comfort zone. Undercover work does involve suffering moral injury, but it also involves Adrenalin. Whether it’s a lot or a little, the Adrenalin is often there, and if you enjoy taking risks than it changes some situations that would normally repulse you into ones you want to dive into. Essentially, it’s the work itself that keeps me motivated, which I believe is true for any professional who enjoys their job.
In specific cases, though, it is knowing that if I quit, I’m letting victims down. In most undercover investigations, there’s no second chance to get the evidence. If you lose patience or will, it means everything you’ve seen animals suffer for will be for nothing. When I started doing investigations and would sometimes complain about stress to friends and family members, they would tell me I should walk away from cases and take care of myself. I would tell them instead to remind me that anything I’m going through is nothing compared to what the victims I’m documenting are going through. Friends who used to tell me, “Take care of yourself,” now tell me, “Cowboy up and stop whining.” It’s quite motivating.
Do you still do undercover work to this day? I would imagine that someone can only do that kind of work for a certain amount of time before they need to take a break.
I still work undercover, and much of it still for the Companion Animal Protection Society, which I mention in Rescue Dogs. I take breaks when needed, sometimes for weeks at a time depending on how many reports from past work and research for future work I have to keep me busy. Enough time behind a computer and I’m dying to go back in the field.
Stopping to write Rescue Dogs was a particularly long and unusual break for me. It was a difficult process going through so many old case notes and videos to verify details and write about things from years ago in a narrative manner. My field notes allow me to remove emotions from the context of evidence. Rescue Dogs had me write about that evidence in an emotional manner, in which my thoughts and feelings were as much the focus as the victims concerning them. At times it was cathartic, and at times it made it impossible to sleep. In the end, I’m very grateful I did it and that authors Gene Stone and Nick Bromley worked the entire process with me.
You write about dogs you met during your investigative work you wanted to help but could not because it would have blown your cover. Are there any specific dogs who haunt you or do you have any regrets?
This is where things will get dark. There are so many dogs that haunt me that the vast majority of them are not even mentioned in Rescue Dogs because there was no need to drag readers through the memories of so much cruelty, when one story alone could make the point. It was painfully difficult to select which dogs would be used in stories. In every investigation I’ve done, whether of a puppy mill, factory farm, slaughterhouse, or commercial fishing boat, there are victims whose stories are never told publicly. Often, it’s that there’s so many victims that it’s not possible to concisely explain what happened to them all in a video or interview. Other times, it’s that some victims are part of a crime that is irrelevant to other evidence the press or a client wants to focus on. If you ever see a video about an animal cruelty case, you should know that you’re not seeing half of what happened. You’re only seeing enough to try to keep your attention so you can then read about what you can do to help without shutting the video off.
There are so many dogs I want to mention whose individual stories are not told in Rescue Dogs that I feel like I’m suffocating under them. However, the reality is that I’ve tried to tell those stories to people. I’ve tried writing about them, explaining them in person, and discussing them in interviews. It’s simply too much for people to handle. It drags people through emotional turmoil and isn’t necessary to make them understand a subject.
The problem I have is that while undercover, I very rarely get an opportunity to help animals. I have seen many dogs suffer and die without saving them. For so many to be lost in a bigger picture, without their stories told, I feel like I’m betraying them and not giving them the final dignity they deserve. I have been in so many morally ambiguous situations that shame and pride have often been synonymous for me. Choosing which victims will have their stories told is another one of those situations, but I believe we chose well in Rescue Dogs.
I imagine you have testified numerous times regarding your investigations. Do you feel the legal process works to hold breeders accountable or is the system (and laws) not in keeping with public values?
You may be surprised to learn I’ve rarely had to testify in court. Most of the time, when a defendant has so much evidence piled against them that they are dead to rights, they plead out. That said, I’ve testified in front a jury, without a jury, in front a grand jury, and dealt with both good and bad law enforcement at the county, city, state, and federal level. Here’s the short version: The system doesn’t work for animals.
Here’s the longer version: As written, most cruelty statutes make causing unnecessary suffering a violation. You’d think that would make it pretty easy to bust breeders who don’t treat dogs’ wounds, leave them to the elements, or let their teeth rot in their heads. The problem is that culture supersedes enforcement. The vast majority of breeding dogs are in commercial kennels, and the vast majority of those kennels are in rural areas where commercially bred dogs are treated as livestock. In fact, dogs are often seen as an alternative livestock that can be more profitable than other animals. Compared to hogs, for example, puppies are more profitable by the head and you can keep a larger number of breeding stock in a smaller amount of space. Most states have exemptions to cruelty statutes if an act that would normally be considered illegal (such as mutilating an animal without anesthesia) is a routine operation on a farm. The difference between legal cruelty and illegal cruelty becomes so difficult to discern that cruelty laws are rarely ever enforced on farms. Since puppy mills are seen by farmers as the same as hog farms or dairies, local law enforcement typically ignores cruelty complaints about puppy mills just as they do hog farms and dairies.
Furthermore, many commercial kennels are licensed by the US Department of Agriculture. The same agency that inspects slaughterhouses inspect dog breeding kennels. That agency has a dual motive of enforcing regulations while promoting the industries they license. The more enforcement actions they take, the more they are cracking down on an industry they want to promote. Therefore, the USDA notoriously lets violations go. I’ve seen USDA inspectors ignore dogs dying in cages and even warn people ahead of time they will be inspected. Many inspectors prefer to be friendly with breeders instead of confrontational with them. To assist inspectors, the USDA has a policy called “teachable moments,” allowing inspectors to tell the breeders to fix violations on their own instead of them even been written in a report.
When desensitization to animal cruelty, law enforcement corruption, and government corruption come together, I call it a “culture of cruelty.” Commercial dog kennels often exist in this culture.
I have been unapologetic in my criticism of rescue groups that buy dogs at auction and call it rescue. What do you think about rescuers and rescue groups that buy dogs at auctions and make it sound like they have done something good (while showing no regard for the dogs who will take the place of the dogs they paid for)?
I applaud your criticism. Activists buying dogs at auctions provide funding for puppy millers to buy more dogs and keep their operations going. Many puppy millers have rescue groups take their spent breeding dogs, but breeders will have no incentive to do so if they can profit from selling the dogs instead.
What is the single most important thing you think people need to know about commercial dog breeding operations in order to deter them from buying dogs in pet stores?
I have two single most important things to mention. For commercial dog breeding kennels, you should know that most of them are worse than you’d imagine. For pet stores, you should know that most lie to you about their breeders in ways that are bold and ridiculous, but clever.
Even commercial dog kennels that are clean and have few dogs frequently have problems such as severe dental issues for dogs. Dogs also frequently suffer from anxiety being kept in cages and pens. There is no part of the Animal Welfare Act (USDA’s standards for licensed puppy mills) that has anything to do with dogs’ psychological well-being. It covers cage size, cleaning regulations, and even regulations for lighting, but even puppy mills that follow the standards have no rules make sure their dogs are actually happy.
Pet stores frequently show videos of breeders with dogs and puppies running in exercise yards, and point to a part of the Animal Welfare Act that says breeders have to regularly exercise their dogs. The closest I’ve ever seen a breeder come to actually following the exercise regulation is to occasionally put dogs into pens larger than the dogs’ cages or runs. Pet stores show videos of dogs running through lush green yards, which if dogs were to actually be in every day, would be worn down to dirt. Pet stores will lie and say their breeders keep dogs in their homes, have only a few dogs instead of hundreds, play with the dogs all the time, and treat the dogs like family. Most customers don’t know how to disprove photos and videos shown to them as though they are fact, or to contradict someone who says they personally visit breeders selling to a store. The simple reality that I’ve seen, as evidenced on the website for the Companion Animal Protection Society (caps-web.org), is that pet stores lie.
A writer once told me that there will always be a need for large scale commercial dog breeding to meet demand and that if we want breeding communities like the Amish to do a better job caring for dogs, we should be prepared to put money toward their operations to raise standards. I could not disagree more. My position is that if they cannot properly care for dogs, they should raise another “cash crop” instead. What do you think?
Saying there will always be a need for commercial dog breeders because of customer demand is like saying there would always be a need for cigarettes because customers demanded them. The cigarette industry is thankfully dying, because it exploited people for profit. The puppy mill industry is dying, because it exploits dogs and lies to people for profit. If we want dogs to be treated better, we shouldn’t subsidize an abusive industry. We should abolish it. I agree that breeders can transition from raising dogs to another business. Ingredients for plant-based foods are diversifying, and I would prefer tax subsidy shift from supporting animal agriculture to supporting farmers whose operations are better for the environment and free from animal cruelty.
Much of your book is devoted to helping people learn about rescue dogs so they will be informed and will adopt. What do you think people misunderstand the most about these dogs in need of homes?
People often think that if they get a rescue dog, they won’t know how the dog will behave. There’s more foster-based rescues and shelters that take time to train dogs now than ever before. Shelter workers and volunteers spend time with dogs to learn their personalities, likes, dislikes, and teach them how to navigate the normal routines of living in a home if they didn’t already know it. Raising a puppy, you can’t guarantee your training will mold the puppy’s personality into who you want. You simply don’t know who you’re getting when you buy a puppy from a breeder, but you are much more likely to know who you’re getting if you adopt a dog from a shelter.
People also often think that dogs are dumped at shelters because something is wrong with them and that they all have separation anxiety. That’s simply not true. Most of the time, dogs are given to shelters by people who can’t afford vet bills, won’t take the time to properly train them, are moving and can’t take animals with them, or who found stray animals they can’t keep. There’s nothing wrong with dogs at shelters. In fact, overcoming adversity have can make them better at dealing with change.
I believe a time will come when our tax-funded shelters no longer destroy healthy and treatable pets because the public will no longer tolerate the old catch and kill model of sheltering. Do you think this is possible for our future?
I think it is possible. The fact that the term “rescue” refers to an adopted pet, and not just an animal taken from an abusive situation or as a stray, is part of a cultural shift that the publicly increasingly recognizes the need to adopt animals instead of purchase from breeders. There is a stigma beginning to be attached to people who buy purebred and designer breed puppies, and a mark of respect for people who adopt. Momentum is building for pet stores to be shut down in the U.S. Welfare legislation, too strict for the worst puppy mills to stay in business, is gaining footholds. Municipal shelters are increasingly working with local rescues to decrease euthanasia rates.
The fight against puppy mills is multi-pronged, and we’re seeing every effort have impacts in the entire process. When pet stores ban selling animals from breeders in a major city on the coast, puppy mills in the Midwest start to go out of business when they lose their main market. When false rescues are shut down, the same thing occurs. All of this makes me optimistic.
Your book was published in October of 2019. What has the feedback been like?
The main responses are that readers have learned a lot about the puppy mill industry in ways they haven’t before, particularly in understanding how puppy mills operate in ways that are hidden from us. Other readers have noted being happy with the amount of information on how to rescue dogs, with different people noting different sections of the book as most useful, which is ideal for me. I wanted a book that reaches out to everyone involved in dog rescue, and I think we nailed it.
There’s been no major controversy I’ve detected in the rescue community about the book, but from some feedback and interviews I can tell that my advocacy against domination-style training and against purpose-driven thinking are the most controversial points. Rescue Dogs explains why dogs view us as equals, and why they respond best to positive reinforcement-based training, as opposed to punishment that includes shock collars or reprimanding dogs verbally. I stand by this way of thinking, and I should note that many dog trainers advocate it. Personally, it’s helped me rehabilitate some terrified dogs into being comfortable members of loving families.
I believe my stance against purpose-driven thinking, also known as teleology, is most controversial. In Rescue Dogs, I counter the idea that dogs are here for us to fight, race, or breed in a manner that goes against their psychological and physical well-being. However, the idea that a dog was born with the purpose of racing for our amusement is no different than the idea that a dog was born for the purpose of being loved. Both rest upon the notion that something gives a purpose to dogs outside of our control and beyond our judgement. Dogs have no inherent purposes. We give them purposes, with some of us doing so for our own benefit, and others to benefit individual dogs. If we don’t rely upon science, ethical considerations for dogs’ well-being, and the history of how dogs have come to be so exploited by people, we end up relying on justifications that dogs are used by us because, “That’s why they’re here.” I’m adamant against teleological thinking because I’ve found it is the most common justification for abusive acts I’ve seen.
(video courtesy of the Companion Animal Protection Society; mill images courtesy of Pet Shop Puppies)
If you consider yourself and animal person, you are probably more aware of how other people treat their animals that some people. You notice the dog chained to a tree. You see the skinny cat which belongs to your neighbor. You lament the dog you see living in a pen 24/7/365 with no human interaction. Some people can see these things and simply tell themselves that it is none of their business and not their responsibility to remedy or fix. Others of us lose sleep over these animals. We tell ourselves that there must surely be something we can do to make their lives better. Surely there are law enforcement authorities who can help.
Yes. And no.
Most of us will see something or become aware of a situation in our lifetime which we consider animal abuse, neglect or cruelty. The reality is that whether or not what we see is illegal is a different question entirely. Each state has state laws regarding animals, some of which are strong and some of which are not. Many municipalities have their own laws regarding treatment of animals and yet other municipalities rely on the state laws for standards. The only federal law related to animals is the Animal Welfare Act which was enacted in 1966 and which regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. The point is that what is illegal in one place may be perfectly legal in another place and there is little you can do about it. What you see may bother you and keep you up at night, but it is entirely possible that law enforcement authorities cannot do anything about it at all.
We have legal principles in our country which are understood by most people as a result of public education, through some personal knowledge of the legal system, from awareness of current events or just from reading books or seeing movies and television shows. We are all familiar with the concept that people are innocent until proven guilty using our legal system. Most of us are also familiar with general principles of due process and probable cause. In order to pursue a criminal case against a person for a wrong, they must be breaking an existing law and there must be a way to prove that using evidence, normally in the form of first-hand testimony and exhibits. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that someone committed some wrong. We learn of situations all the time when some crime was committed, but it cannot be prosecuted because those with direct knowledge refuse to testify about it.
The same is true regarding animal crimes. If you see something you don’t like, you can submit an anonymous report in many areas of the country. But almost all of those places which allow for anonymous reporting also require the complaining party to testify if an actual criminal case moves forward. Only those people with first hand knowledge of the abuse, neglect or cruelty can provide evidence - in the form of testimony - in support of a criminal case. This responsibility cannot be passed along to a third party or to animal control personnel.
Some instances of abuse, neglect and cruelty are self-proving. For example, if you live in a community where it is illegal to chain a dog to an object (like where I live), you can call and report a chained dog to local law enforcement. They can then go to the location, see the chained dog for themselves and issue a citation about it. That may lead to further legal action. In my city it is a misdemeanor offense to chain a dog or fail to care for a dog who lives outside. People are given an opportunity to comply with the law first but then are subject to criminal penalties if they do not comply or if they repeat the offense.
Other situations are not self-proving and require you to become personally involved. You may see something day after day which bothers you. A cat who is being physically abused by being kicked or thrown. A dog who never has water or who has no shelter. If authorities go out to check it, it is entirely likely the animal owner will either deny the allegations or will claim the situation just arose. The water just ran out. The shelter was there an hour ago. In some cases, authorities will have to have a search warrant to investigate abuse and neglect which has been issued by a judge as a result of a showing of probable cause. In many cases there is little authorities can do about the abuse, neglect or cruelty absent your willingness to speak up for the animals who cannot speak for themselves. You are the one who must break the he said/he said stalemate by reporting what you know, by being prepared to file a formal complaint, by being prepared to testify about what you know and perhaps even by providing photographs you took or video you have recorded (while doing so in a manner which does not amount to trespassing or harassment of the animal owner).
I got into an argument of sorts with some rescuers recently who are upset about how a man is treating his dogs. They have been told numerous times by authorities that they must file a formal complaint in order for criminal charges to be considered. They must have evidence of what they allege has occurred even if that evidence is only in the form of personal testimony. They simply refuse to do so. They also refuse to meet with authorities to talk about their concerns or about to keep track of what they see in order to develop evidence. Their opinion is that it is the job of the animal control officer in a particular county to handle the situation without them having to be involved. Our legal system simply does not work that way in cases that are not self-proving. They can complain about the ACO all they want, but it does nothing to help the dogs they claim are being neglected in some way. Animal control officials have been to the property multiple times, have spoken with the owner multiple times and have found no “actionable” neglect or abuse. They have even gone so far as to persuade the owner to surrender some of his dogs to rescuers and to allow rescuers to provide dog houses for his dogs in an effort to improve their quality of life. Is the situation perfect? No. But what is happening on the property that is within view of officials is not illegal and the people who claim to have knowledge of neglect refuse to step up and report what they know formally.
If you see something which bothers you so much that you loose sleep over it or you feel compelled to get involved, please be prepared to own your outrage. If you think the animal owner is approachable, try direct contact first. There may be circumstances going on of which you are not aware. If the person is not approachable and you really want something done by someone, remember that the someone is you. If you have time to complain about the situation on social media, you have time to channel your energy into positive action. Stand up for what you believe and speak for the sake of the animals who cannot speak for themselves. If you won’t do it, who will?
Other information on this topic is found on these pages here:
Animal Cruelty in Your State
Who to Contact and What to Report
Reporting Mills, Dog Fighting or Hoarding
Using Common Sense Regarding Animal Cruelty
(images courtesy of Chris Haight Pagini and Tamira Ci Thayne)
When I first became an advocate and started doing volunteer work to help rescuers years ago, my presence was simply a Youtube channel. I stored my slideshow projects there and I still do, even though I have moved my voice to this website and to the other websites I manage related to my advocacy.
One of my early projects was a slideshow simply called "Find Me." I used a Fisher song which was unreleased at the time and which was written about the disappearance of Natalie Holloway. Although I have reworked a number of my slideshows over the years to keep them fresh, I have left Find Me as it was originally created. I put it together at a time when I was incredibly frustrated and exasperated and it is one of my darker projects. My thought now is that there is enough negativity "out there" related to issues about companion animals and I'm better off taking a more educational or positive approach. I know how I react when a commercial comes on TV for the APSCA or the HSUS. I just don't want to be seen in the same light. They can keep the doom and gloom approach and I'll try to reach people using other methods. One of the recurring frames in Find Me is the traditional see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil image which is ordinarily associated with the Three Wise Monkeys.
I was interacting with a contact of mine with No Kill Houston recently and she let me know she had been contacted by a filmmaker after reposting an old "rant" of mine about shelter volunteers who enable failed shelters through their silence or who otherwise defend the destruction of savable animals. The documentary film is called Silent Shelter and it is currently in production. What caught my attention about the film was not only the image which leads off the trailer, but also the subject of the film itself: the rights of volunteers who help in animal shelters related to their free speech.
I am the first to admit that I have very little tolerance for people who volunteer for or otherwise support shelters where healthy and treatable animals are destroyed. There are proven programs to end the killing and they have been known for about 15 years. My own advocacy has been made more difficult not only due to shelter leaders and employees mired in a dysfunctional system, but also by rescuers and volunteers who refuse to speak out about what is broken. Some of the most toxic opponents of my no kill advocacy have been rescuers and volunteers who spend their time defending the killing and enabling the process when common sense would dictate that they would work just as hard as I am to end the needless killing. I cannot count the number of times I have been told by volunteers that they essentially "go along to get along" so they won't be "cut off" from helping animals. I've never really understood that position at all. If you really want to help animals, then look further than X dog or Y cat to resolve the systemic issues which cause them to be destroyed in the first place. Your silence is, ultimately, your approval.
In spite of my criticism for enablers and apologists, I know of numerous other people within the system who have spoken about about wrongs they have seen, heard and experienced only to be banned from a shelter or told they must sign some type of document saying they will not criticize the shelter. Is it this subject which is explored by the film and for that I am thankful. This subject has been covered by a lot of people a whole lot smarter than me so I won't go into detail on the issue here. The bottom line is that shelter volunteers and employees cannot be silenced because doing so violates the free speech provisions of our Constitution.
I look forward to seeing the film. I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch the trailer. If you are a volunteer or employee at a shelter where bad things happen, I hope you will take some time to educate yourself on no kill philosophies and issues related to free speech.
If you don't speak out for the welfare of animals in shelters, who will?
They call me “the dog lady.” That’s not my name, of course, but that’s what my contacts at the Department of Transportation call me. I contact them so frequently that I really don’t even have to use my name.
I was driving home from work in October of 2006 when I experienced a life-changing and very unexpected event. I was cruising along, decompressing from my work day, when I saw the dead dog in the middle of my lane. I had a vehicle to my left, a vehicle riding too close on my tail and I just did not process the information fast enough to get over into the right side shoulder. I drove over the body of the dog, thinking I would clear it. I did not. I’m not really sure how I managed to get home after that. I remember screaming and crying as my heart raced and I yelled at people who could not hear me in my anguish. To say I was hysterical is probably an understatement. I cried for days about that dog. It took years before I could drive home each day and not relive the event. I know that probably sounds theatrical, but it’s true. I just could not get it out of my head and when I think about it today, I get choked up.
I will never know how long the dog had been there or if he was loved or if he was missed. All I know is that he should not have been there and that it is entirely possible that his family never knew what happened to him. I do.
I now have the phone numbers for five DOT offices on my phone’s speed dial settings. When I see a dead dog in the roadway, right-of-way or median, I call for help and ask that the dog be removed. The DOT folks tolerate my frequent calling because removal of the bodies is a public safety issue, but they know that I call because it is an emotional issue for me. Seeing them upsets me and seeing them deteriorate upsets me even more. I cry for dogs I have never known simply because the loss is so tragic and so preventable.
I know I live in a state that has a bit of wild west in the culture. People let their dogs run loose even though it is both illegal and incredibly dangerous. When you let your dog out to roam, do not presume that he doesn’t go very far. Do not presume that each person who encounters your dog has experience in dealing with dogs. My mom was deathly afraid of most dogs due to an event in her childhood and no amount of logic or immersion with dogs ever really changed that during her lifetime. Do not presume that your dog is smart enough or fast enough to win in a battle of car v. dog or truck v. dog or 18-wheeler v. dog. He will not.
If you love your dog or even if you just value your dog, please. Keep him or her safe. Do not let your dog roam like this is 1870 and your dog can just trot to town on a dirt road traveled by horses and wagons with no risk. If your dog has a tendency to get loose, take steps to keep him safe by keeping him inside your home or inside your fenced yard.
I saw a little dog on my way to work today. He probably weighed all of 20 lbs. and was wearing a little light blue harness. As he stood on the side of the road, confused as to where to go. It was in a 65 mile per hour zone during peak travel times. I took the next possible U-turn and went back to look for him, but did not see him. I hope he made it home. And I hope that I won’t see him this afternoon or tomorrow or the next day. Or that I am forced to call and tell Danny that I need help with a dog near mile marker 304.
They call me the dog lady. Please keep your dog safe.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson