Motivated by the fact that April is Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month, I have discovered hundreds of articles on the subjects, and have concluded that most people think of animal cruelty in terms of dog fighting and puppy mills. These are obvious examples of intentional cruelty, but there is also cruelty that is unintentional. Many people who are abusing their animals may not be doing so on purpose; they hurt animals because they are too busy , and simply don’t think about or realize what they are doing is neglectful. Neglect can come in many forms ranging from not providing enough food, water, shelter, or space, to simply ignoring the animal.
Some caregivers seem to believe that shouting or hitting an animal is an effective training technique, and believe that intimidation and punishment are legitimate ways to train their dog, not recognizing the fact that these methods will create fear and distrust, and are physically and psychologically abusive.
Another example of unintentional abuse is when humans take in more animals than they can afford or adequately provide for, which usually leads to animals living in crowded, often dirty environments . They had good intentions, but the outcomes are not good.
People who live on the edge financially sometimes cannot afford their pets when they go through a divorce, lose a job, have medical problems, or their housing cost goes up. Others may get sick and are physically unable to care for their pet, and need help from compassionate neighbors, friends and relatives.
The ASPCA stresses the importance of paying attention to a companion animal’s needs. This can range from making sure a collar is not getting too tight as the dog grows, or paying attention to any health need that might require vet attention. Nearly all of the people who unintentionally neglect their dogs can learn through education and an awareness of the needs of their animals. Without being judgmental, it is possible to stress the five freedoms that companion animals should be provided with:
- Freedom from thirst and hunger by ready access to FRESH water and a healthy diet. Many commercial pet foods are NOT healthy, and by teaching people to read ingredient labels and check on sites such as www.petfoodadvisor.com, many dogs would have life improved.
- Freedom from discomfort by providing appropriate shelter and a comfortable resting area. Dogs do not thrive if they are isolated in the back yard or tied up. It is almost always possible to find a porch or even garage area IF the caregiver realizes that is important.
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease. It is important for dogs to have regular veterinary care, rather than just waiting until a crisis to seek medical advice.
- Freedom to express normal behavior by providing both canine and human interaction . Often dogs are neglected simply because of the caregiver’s hectic life style, and if they realize the importance of companionship, they will find time to spend with their dog.
- Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental or physical distress. Sometimes caregivers are not aware that someone else is hurting the animal. More supervision or some changes may need to be made.
The bottom line as to the way in which people treat animals, and what they believe is an acceptable level of welfare, is the value they place on the animal. Attitudes toward dogs can be changed only if all of us take the time and effort to diplomatically show negligent caregivers that their animals deserve better treatment to lead healthy, happy, safe lives. Many have grown up with the idea, “He’s just a dog,” and honestly believe that humans are superior beings who have a right to use animals in any way they choose. Although dogs are not human, they certainly feel fear and pain, and are dependent on their humans who have accepted the responsibility of their care. As Maya Angelou explained, “People do what they know how to do. When they know better, they do better.”