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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.

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


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Submitted by erin | June 1 2009 |

The story about the officer leaving his dog in the car for three hours is very distressing to hear. I work at a local home improvement store and it is surprising how many customers leave their dog in the car, with no windows down, while shopping. Luckily, I work in an environment where the majority of associates see this as a problem. Not only do we page for the owner of the car to come to the service desk, but in the event that the customer does not come to the desk, the police are notified. I don't know if it is ignorance or just poor judgement on the customer's part. I strongly feel that if you would not leave a child in a car for three hours then neither should you leave a dog.

Submitted by Carolyn (with M... | June 2 2009 |

I agree with Erin, but having said that, unfortunately there are a few people who would leave a child alone in a car for 3 hrs. A guideline I use is to have as much empathy as possible for my dog (or any animal or person) in a given situation ... and try to look at it from the dog's point of view so far as possible while still being responsible and not endangering others. I think you need to make your decisions on a situation-by-situation basis. If you take into account the health, safety and happiness of your dog, yourself and the people you and your dog come in contact with and adjust your actions accordingly, you should have most bases covered.

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