Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lamenting Lennox

While we at Red Dog Central Command generally steer clear of controversial topics and focus instead on canine cancer treatment and prevention - along with the occasional foray into family fun - the furor surrounding Lennox the Dog compels us to speak.  For those unfamiliar, Lennox was a family pet confiscated due to Northern Ireland's ban of "Pit Bull Type" dogs.  Whether he was a pit bull or not was in some dispute dispute, but at least one magistrate believed otherwise.  Although his ultimate fate was decided today, his saga is emblematic of a much bigger ongoing problem.

Having spent more than ten years in animal care, as well as half-a-decade directly in the shelter world, I have developed some thoughts on sheltering, breed-specific legislation and societal responsibility.  Although mine is only one opinion, I've visited the front lines and worked both in a shelter and with the public in need.  

The problem is the overabundance of unwanted pets; the cause, sadly, is us.  From witnessing haphazard and sometimes idiotic breeding practices focused on maximizing profit with little or no concern paid to the health of the mother or her offspring, to moronic and self-serving justifications as to why a person won't get their pet sterilized, to pathetically rationalized reasoning as to why it's ok to "get rid" of a pet, I've seen and heard a lot.  Too much, probably.

An essay I originally began two or three years ago, what you will be reading is as much introspection and catharsis as it is a personal call for action, so please consider it both within the context of my particular life experiences as well as in conjunction with the horribly sad story of Lennox.  I titled it "Today They Stilled the Heart of a Champion."  It contains some painful truths, along with many admittedly emotional opinions, so all I ask is for you to think about what you might do to help solve a little piece of this issue in your part of the world.  It may not be much, but each small act can add up to something grand.

Dedicated to all the dogs in shelters that will never again sniff the fresh air of freedom, the workers and volunteers whose kindness and compassion are often the last thing these dogs will experience, and the rescuers and reformers, whose tireless efforts may yet create that grand change.

Today they stilled the heart of a champion. 

By Brian Douglas

Today they killed the finest of dogs, a dog whose only crime was looking like a member of a notorious breed, a “bully” with a huge head, and a heart to match.  A massive animal whose lumbering gate and gigantic jaws belied a child-like soul and eagerness to please that was almost comedic to see.  Today, cowards in control in Belfast and around the world ordered it done, and there's little doubt they lacked the stomach to watch. 

On a cold concrete floor, for the remainder of his short lifetime, that dog’s championship heart struggled to beat, struggled in vain to stay alive, while every other sign of life ebbed from his muscular body.  Pupillary reflex, gone.  Respiration, gone.  Pulse, gone.  All signs of life, gone from his empty shell, save the final one:  his mighty heart. 

This was a tragedy that didn’t have to happen.  This was a tragedy in which we all played a part.  Whether through bloodlust, fear, greed, ignorance or apathy, our actions as a people doomed this noble creature to the most ignominious of ends, expiration on a concrete floor in the back of a charnel house no amount of window-dressing can hide. 

Every day, in too many shelters worldwide, dogs like him meet their fate with dignity and grace, or with submission and fear, but with finality all the same.  They die, just because of who and what they are.  They die in spite of the fact that gallant people in a broken system destroy themselves in a vain effort to do the right thing, while weak-willed politicians and self-described experts do “what’s best for the community.” 

These same weaklings, who will move the very heavens and the earth ten times over for causes they deem worthy of their attention, do nothing, other than pass laws or sign death warrants, and then let others do the deed.  No amount of rationalizing will ever change that fundamental truth:  This death, just like all the others, is on their heads, a stain on their souls no amount of spinning or politicizing can ever erase.   Every life has value; every preventable death is a tragedy.

They can build all the buildings they want, their temples to ego and self-aggrandizement, but the fact remains that while they clap each other on the backs in that self-congratulatory way, the unwanted and unvalued continue to die.

Today, they stilled the heart of a champion, and now his body lays stiff and cold, awaiting a trip to the landfill where he will be forgotten.
...But it didn’t have to end this way. 

From court systems that fail him and his kind, where judges and juries refuse to find guilty or appropriately punish the people who chain them, starve them, torture them, fight them, and ultimately abandon them, to unscrupulous breeders who crank out litter after litter just to make a buck, to animal welfare organizations and government bodies so dedicated to “doing the right thing” that when reputable rescue groups or adopters offer to take and place them into forever homes, even homes without other pets, without exploitation or appreciable risk, those same gutless “leaders” refuse, instead falling back onto the comfortable canard that the best decision is the easy one, that killing these dogs is justified, a service to the community, a community they purportedly serve.

This is about justice, about right and wrong, about a world where style and appearance trump substance and mettle, where having the wrong genetic code predisposes one to an early demise at the hands of the ones who are supposed to care, the ones who are supposed to help, the ones who are supposed to serve, the ones who ultimately are failed by a system beyond repair.  

It is only when we stop, as a society, accepting that killing is the only answer, that real change will be made.  When we demand our elected leaders make commonsense decisions based upon science and facts rather than hysteria and hyperbole.  

It is only when we stop breeding dogs for status, fun and profit, or through ignorance, carelessness and neglect, where the excess numbers become grist for the mills of death, that shelters will stop being killing fields for so many. 

It is only when owners, as human beings and members of a supposedly “higher” species take the responsibility of pet ownership seriously, and stop dumping animals at the drop of a hat, without so much as a second thought, that real progress will happen. 

It is only when all our local humane organizations work together, instead of engaging in petty squabbles and pathetic power plays while thousands of innocents die, that our communities will emerge from the horrible conditions in which so many are mired.

It is only when all of us take responsibility that real change will be made.  When we hold ourselves accountable, just as we clamor to hold our shelters accountable.  When we no longer blame “them” for killing the animals without looking in our mirrors first to see what we have done to help create the problem, and what we can do to help solve it.

Today they stilled the heart of a champion, and it will beat no more.  Weep not, then, just for him, but for the countless, often nameless others that have gone to their unmarked graves before, their only crimes that they were unwanted, forgotten, surplus in a throwaway society where hysteria and sensationalism take precedence over right and wrong, where today’s fashion soon becomes yesterday’s news, where appearance is more important than substance, where we move on to the latest thing without thought for the consequences. 

Today we’ve lost a friend, and we’re all the poorer for it.

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