I walk my dogs three to four times a day in my New York City midtown neighborhood and generally run across lots of other dogs, many of which I have dubbed my dogs’ “friends” or “boyfriends.” If I see a new dog, it’s typically because the dog is new in the neighborhood or is visiting, but for the most part we see the same dogs day after day, evening after evening.
The other day, I saw two men swaying toward me on the sidewalk, talking loudly, clearly under the influence of something. One of the men had a young pit bull at the end of two leashes, which were both attached to two different choker collars, one chain metal and one nylon. I hadn’t ever seen this dog before. The dog strained at the end of both of the leashes to meet my dogs, and I was more than happy to oblige. The pittie’s body language was good, friendly, soft.
At first the meeting went well, but then the pittie exploded. I didn’t blame him. He could barely breathe, was hacking and coughing under all of the stress on his neck. The man who held him pulled him back roughly, bent down into the dog’s face, and then screamed, at the top of his lungs, “No one wants to hear that from you!” Twice. The man screamed so loudly it sounded like he might lose his voice.
What do you do when something like this happens? I have stopped on the street to gently correct dog owners many times, but it’s usually when I can see an easy mistake. In this case, these drunk men were trying to control an energetic dog, and totally misunderstanding him. I’m old enough to know that there’s no sense in trying to reason with drunks. I stared in horror as the man pulled the dog away, and I could only imagine what that dog’s life was like at home. I envisioned the dog being dragged to the city pound in a few months, both choker collars cutting off his airway.
Many times, more than I can count, I have intervened on a pet’s behalf. I have even offered to buy dogs from people who were mistreating them. But in this case it didn’t seem safe. It was midnight, I had three dogs with me (my two and my foster dog), and it would have been very hard to get away should there have been an incident. I weighed the situation and had to just keep moving on, as painful as that was. Days later, I’m still thinking about that poor dog.
The other issue here is that what this man was doing was clearly animal abuse, but it wasn’t animal abuse as defined by my state. I couldn’t call the cops and say, “Please come right away, officer, there’s a man mishandling his dog and yelling at it.” Heck, if yelling at your dogs was animal abuse, most of us would be in jail. If pulling back on a pulling dog was animal abuse, all of us would be behind bars. But there are gradations of pulling and yelling, and that’s where the nuance of the law comes into play.
Animal abuse, as defined by New York State law, is based on Buster’s Law, a law that went into effect in 1999 after a teenaged boy purposefully harmed a poor cat named Buster. The boy was charged with a misdemeanor and received 3 years probation and a psych evaluation. After that, then Gov. George Patakisigned the bill into a law to make animal abuse a felony.
Here’s how some of the law reads:
The most egregious animal abuse cases, where a person deliberately tortures an animal, should result in the perpetrator being subject to stricter penalties than in existing statute.
Innocent animals have been subject to horrendous actions.
Given the growing public recognition of the rights of animals to be treated in a humane fashion, this bill seeks to ensure that these cases are not handled as petty matters by increasing the most flagrant acts to a felony.
Under the law, mistreating a dog because you are a nincompoop is not a crime, but we, the people who love and understand animals, know that it’s wrong. We know that when we see someone inadvertently choking a dog and screaming at it, that the dog’s home life is not pleasant, and that criminal acts may be taking place behind closed doors.
So, what to do when you see what you perceive to be animal abuse? I read a great blog on this topic lately. It’s scary to call the police on someone, but the fact is a dog can’t call the police for himself. There are also some great tips on signs you can look for to determine if what you see is genuine animal abuse. Click here to read it.
What would you have done in my shoes? Imagine that you weren’t walking three dogs – it’s just you and this man mistreating his dog, full daylight. He’s not breaking the law, but he’s breaking the code we animal lovers stand by – don’t hurt your dog.
I hope to see the guy and his dog again, in the daylight, by myself, where I can perhaps instruct him – or maybe even take his dog away. By the looks of it, he didn’t seem happy with the poor pittie, and the dog wasn’t too happy with him either. I’ve had people simply just hand me the leash and say, “You want him?” Yes. I do. And I will find him a good home.