By: Jeffrey Fulton
In 2006, Henry, a young Dachshund-Chihuahua mix, was tortured by a leaf blower which led to the loss of his left eye. A month later, he was placed into an oven at 200 degrees for five minutes, scarring the puppy’s paws and chest.
Animal neglect is a frightening reality here in the state of Utah, and is an issue that seems to not garner much attention. Many of the stories about these neglected pets can be disturbing and hard to imagine. Through some of these stories, changes in laws have occurred here in the state thanks to the pro-activity of the Humane Society of Utah. A lot of these animals also go to various shelters for refuge, rehabilitation, and hopefully adoption. For the pets that many of us dearly love, this exploration provides a deeper perspective.
According to a report by KSL News, Marc Vincent was found guilty of animal cruelty and sentenced to six months in jail for abusing his wife’s dog, Henry. This conviction, which was the largest sentence ever given for animal cruelty in the state of Utah, started the ball rolling on legislation for what is now known as, Henry’s Law.
This law did not come easy. In fact, it was denied by the Utah Legislature when it was first presented in January of 2007. Rhonda Kamper, the former wife of Marc Vincent, was the one spearheading the legislation. Another group, the Humane Society of Utah, played a pivotal role in bringing about “Henry’s Law”. Since March of 2008, it is now a third-degree felony to torture a “domestic dog” or “domestic cat”. Deann Shepherd, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Humane Society of Utah, explained that smaller issues of animal neglect oftentimes never get the coverage like the larger events do. No matter how small, it does not make this type of behavior okay.
“How we treat our lesser creatures is a reflection on who we are as a society,” Shepherd said.
She also said that there is a strong correlation between serial killers and them abusing animals. Through awareness, and reporting, these cases of animal neglect can greatly lessen; and through adoption, these animals can have a new life.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Humane Society of Utah had a large event where 130 animals were adopted and taken into new homes. HSU averages about 30 adoptions per day. It is usually bustling with dogs on leashes and smiling families. “We want this place to be a destination, not a dreary place,” Shepherd said. She explained how animal shelters usually have a stigma of being a “doom and gloom” place, because of things people see on TV or hear about it.
In the case of HSU, people have the opportunity to walk in and play with dogs and cats, and can even take them out on a leash and walk them. Shepherd said that when the animals stay at the humane society, it is like a brief hotel stay, with a later goal to get them into a loving home. According to the Humane Society website, their mission statement is to be, “dedicated to the elimination of pain, fear, and suffering in all animals.” This goal is a driving force for them as they fight for stronger animal cruelty laws in Utah.
According to the Animal Law Coalition, even with Henry’s Law making animal abuse a third- degree felony, it still leaves Utah as the state with some of the weakest animal cruelty laws in the country. Deann Shepherd stated that before Henry’s Law, lawmakers saw animals more as property than living creatures. Through the Humane Society’s constant push for stronger laws, it has put the ball in the court of the Utah Legislature. Other local animal shelters have yet to join with HSU in the battle against the “big dogs” on Capitol Hill.
One of the other issues that Shepherd and the Humane Society are taking on is that of euthanizing animals, commonly known as “putting to sleep.” Utah is one of only four states that still use gas chambers. The past two years, HSU has been trying to eliminate gas chambers in some of Utah’s shelters as a way to euthanize animals, and only use lethal injection. These gas chambers take several minutes to kill, while the injection puts them down in a matter of seconds.
In an article written by Rebecca Palmer for the Deseret News in 2009, she went into more detail about these chambers. Several animals get put into a chamber at a time, then it fills with carbon monoxide until it kills the animals. After waiting several moments for the gas to convert into carbon dioxide, they open the chamber up to release the gas. “The debate between gas chambers and poison injections centers partly on cost,” Palmer said. Since most shelters are tax funded, that becomes a big point of discussion. This battle of euthanizing methods is still ongoing. As for the non-profit Humane Society, they remain dedicated to improving animal welfare.
What can an individual do to improve animal welfare? Teresa, a local Utahan, shared her experience when she came across a neglected dog in Salt Lake County. She had been staying at a relative’s home and noticed at the neighbor’s house, that there was a dog covered in mud and looked pretty malnourished. She decided to feed the dog regularly and eventually explored the backyard where the animal was being kept.
Teresa explained, “One day, I opened the neighbor’s gate and went into the backyard to see if the dog was being fed. I found a bowl overturned and covered in mud. There was no food or water. The dog was being kept in a wooden box with an opening of about three by four feet so it was impossible to keep warm or dry.”
Through Teresa’s awareness and action, this dog’s life was saved. So, what can you do in the fight against animal neglect? “Speak up when you see abuse or neglect. If you can’t talk to the owner about it then call your local animal welfare agency for help,” Teresa suggested. Observe, then report. A pretty simple and easy way to put animal neglect in decline. Simply put, be smart with your own pets, and spread the news.
Deann Shepherd mentioned many things people can do to be more aware of their pets, and thus avoid neglect. Things like not leaving your dog chained up out in the cold, not keeping your cat locked in the car during the summer, and other similar actions. These actions may seem pretty obvious, but Shepherd said it’s a recurring thing that the HSU has to announce to Utahans because not a whole lot is changing.
Comfort. Happiness. Love. These things are the goal for these neglected animals. Whether it be through the efforts of a large non-profit organization like the Humane Society of Utah or an observant and concerned citizen, these creatures deserve a new life away from neglect.