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What Constitutes Cruelty?
Drawing the line between cruelty, neglect and ignorance...not so easy.

In April, I posted a blog about a new device designed to keep K9 cops from leaving their precious live cargo in hot cars. At the time, I was thinking this extra protection made sense since a police officer could easily be distracted on the job by life-and-death matters. But what's the excuse for an officer who leaves a dog in an SUV for more than 3 hours to attend a training session? The dog died. Didn't someone tell the officer about the dangers of leaving dogs in cars during his training?

 

The story isn't clear about the details and the officer is still subject to an internal investigation, but the incident raises interesting questions about what constitutes cruelty. Leaving a dog in a car on a warm day--cruelty, neglect or ignorance? Feeding a dog to the point of obesity--cruelty or ignorance? What about leaving a dog at home for long periods of time? How many dogs in a home is too many? Is it cruel to transport a dog in a car without proper restraint? What about an aging guardian who surrenders an old dog to a crowded shelter (where he's a longshot for adoption) because he or she can no longer take care of that animal? What do you call it if a dog is harmed because his guardian is trying to do right but is simply following bad advice? And what about differences in culture that make some acts OK in one place and time but not OK in another?

 

A story in the Spring 2009 Update from the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine raises many of these questions and lots more. When I move beyond the obvious--dogfighting, physical abuse, starvation--and ponder each specific question, I realize how hard it is to draw a bright line. And I wonder, when lines are drawn--who should draw them? The Update poses some very real examples of well-meaning acts with unhealthy consequences, such as all-meat diets, and offers specific alternatives, but it leaves the larger ethical questions unresolved. These are for us to consider every day we share our lives with companion animals.

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

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