Friday, November 6, 2015

Craig Ford: Animal cruelty and neglect are no laughing matter

  It blows my mind that we still have to deal with animal cruelty and neglect in 2015. But unfortunately there are still sad stories like the one that just came out of Walker County.

  A man there owned more than 50 dogs. When his house was foreclosed on, he took 11 of the dogs with him and the rest were left to fend for themselves. After two weeks, authorities were finally able to round up the surviving dogs he had left behind and take them to the local Humane Society. But by then, six of the abandoned dogs were dead while the rest had either been running loose or trapped inside the house. The situation had gotten so bad that one of the neighbors saw two of the puppies eating the body of one of the dead dogs while the dogs inside the house had eaten through the walls and furniture. The reports said there were “three or four inches of feces everywhere.”

  But the problem isn’t over just because the dogs have finally been rounded up. The Humane Society Center was already stretched too thin with 160 dogs, cats, kittens and puppies already at their facility. Now they have an additional 40 dogs to feed, clean and de-worm.

  Cases like this break my heart. But they also show how much work we still need to do to protect animals from this kind of neglect and cruelty.

  With more financial support and proper animal cruelty laws in place, perhaps this whole situation could have been prevented. At the very least, the local sheriff’s office wouldn’t have had to spend two weeks trying to round up 40 loose dogs instead of patrolling the roads and investigating local crimes. If Walker County could have a full or part-time Humane Officer to help with a hoarding problem like this, the neighbors wouldn’t be left to deal with these situations themselves.

  I know how much pets can mean to a family. Our dog Lizzie, an Irish Setter and Golden Retriever mix, was a part of our family for nearly 14 years, growing up alongside my children. Gwen and I often talk about moments from the kids' childhoods, with Lizzie right in the middle. Lizzie’s gone now, but we still have Volley, a sweet lapdog, and a cat.

  You don’t have to be an animal lover to see the benefit of properly supporting and caring for pets. For those in hospitals, dogs trained for therapy bring smiles, comfort, and sometimes assistance.

  On Saturday mornings, CBS airs a show called Lucky Dog, which each week highlights a family that is receiving a trained service dog. These dogs are not simply seeing dogs like many would assume--they are trained to help their owners walk steadily, pick things up and sometimes even interact with others. All of the animals selected for Lucky Dog are shelter rescues that are considered “hard-to-love, out-of control, untrained and unadoptable dogs” like the ones in Walker County.

  But with proper training and someone to love the dogs become a lifesaver for someone else. Imagine if that could happen for these dogs in Walker County. From being abandoned and left running wild, these poor dogs could be given a second chance to do something great!

  Even if you aren’t an animal lover, we can all agree that animal cruelty is not something that should be tolerated in this day and age. Yet here we are still struggling with what the laws should do to protect our pets.

  One example is bestiality. For years I sponsored legislation to make bestiality a crime in Alabama. Can you believe it wasn’t illegal here until 2014? Part of the reason of course is that no one really took it seriously. For example, in 2013 Sen. Cam Ward attached an amendment to the bill to name it after me.

  He did it as a joke of course, but because it was so late in the legislative session, the effect was that it killed the bill by forcing it back to the state House of Representatives for another vote without enough time to pass before the session ended. I love a good prank as much as anyone, but this story is just one example of how too many legislators have not taken animal cruelty seriously.

  I take animal neglect and cruelty very seriously, and am dedicated to working with the Humane Society to protect our pets and make sure that no animal is abandoned, neglected or mistreated in Alabama.

  About the author: Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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