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SPCA investigation invites look at other forms of animal cruelty

Niagara Falls Repoerter

January 31, 2011

From the publisher Frank Parlato Jr.

There is, of course, a lot of controversy and indignation over the alleged improper and excessive euthanasia of cats and dogs at the Niagara County SPCA.

Their executive director, John Faso, has been accused of running a shelter where animals are put down too hastily and this -- the cruel treatment of dogs and cats -- is something everyone in America can agree is deeply maleficent.

It has been said that the SPCA controversy has sparked an outrage unlike anything anyone has seen in this community in many years, if ever.

In early January, 300 people went out to protest the SPCA and demand Faso's removal, chanting, "No more killing" and "Faso has blood on his hands."

Town halls have been filled with angry pet-lovers and politicians speak out boldly on this safest of topics: to condemn cruelty to dogs and cats and pledge to protect them.

It was reported that 470 cats and 100 dogs were euthanized since Oct. 1 -- many, it was alleged, with conditions that were treatable, like allergies or diarrhea.

They were put to sleep -- or, more accurately, given an overdose of a barbiturate that caused a cessation of breathing and cardiac arrest.

As the burgeoning story developed, the Erie County SPCA conducted an investigation on the Niagara County SPCA to quell the rising tide of criticism and prevent the extinction of donations altogether. Confidence had to be restored, the true nature of the problems identified and corrections made.

After all, the SPCA -- a not-for-profit corporation -- depends on donations from a public who believe in their cause and their methods.

Along with members of the council, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster joined the rising number of elected official weighing in, and aligned himself, it turned out, with the animal/pet rights group Animal Allies of Western New York, saying there was an appearance of conflict in one SPCA investigating another.

But Barbara S. Carr, executive director of the Erie County SPCA, made her investigation anyway, and produced a report that -- if you get past the more sensational elements, of once-used but discontinued painful methods of euthanizing, and instances of apparent animal cruelty and apathy, and the more mundane but important specifics surrounding the need to correct management and organizational problems -- revealed that the Niagara County SPCA has a conflict of purposes, inasmuch as it operates somewhat as both an animal protection shelter and animal (population) control center.

Indeed Niagara Falls, their largest municipal donor, gave $82,000 last year to the Niagara County SPCA -- for animal control services, not animal protection. The money is paid to get stray animals off city streets, not to feed and house them.

Some SPCAs, of course, have veered away from animal control, relying more heavily on donations meant for animal protection. Yet it does appear that, while the Niagara County SPCA's rates of euthanizing (versus adoption) are high, it may not be much higher than the national average.

According to the official website of the ASPCA, "approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats)."

And by no means is destroying healthy animals unique to the Niagara County SPCA. It is the norm.

According to ASPCA estimates, in the 5,000 animal shelters in the USA, 80 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats destroyed were healthy, destroyed because there was no space and no one to adopt them within the time perimeters set by the shelters and sometimes by law.

It may be unreasonable to think that any of this will change without a tremendous amount of additional funds from animal lovers and, perhaps, much larger shelters -- which, one suspects, might become long-term retirement homes for stray cats and dogs -- for many, if not most, may never be adopted.

It is, perhaps, impossible to determine how many stray or feral, ownerless or abandoned dogs and cats live in the United States, but estimates from the ASPCA and other sources suggest that for cats alone there may be as many as 70 million. With 85 million owned cats in the USA, if the 70 million figure is accurate, it means that 45 percent of cats living in America are feral or stray.

Who will adopt all these?

Without offering any opinion on the Niagara County SPCA, or what it needs to continue to function, this controversy made me wonder about the entire issue of how people treat animals.

The first thing to draw my attention to the topic was when Dyster ventured out onto the animal rights platform, since the mayor and his wife are both deer hunters. I understand the mayor killed two, not one, this past hunting season.

Not that I am against hunting. There is something deeply esoteric in the mystery of the hunt and its virile award for success, but I think it's nevertheless a fascinating aspect of the human psyche, and by no means unique to the mayor, that one can kill deer and try to save cats and dogs at the same time.

Certain animals -- those we have invited to live with us in our homes -- provoke our deepest desire to protect, while others, who live outdoors or those we love to eat, do not.

Is our compassion self-serving?

It is not that we care about the animal or cruelty to animals, but rather that we care about cruelty only to those animals that please us?

If we genuinely cared about cruelty, naturally we would not want it to occur to any creature.

Those who have studied the social life of deer know it is a familial breed. It's been demonstrated that deer remember each other and feel affection and emotions toward one another.

After rutting, bucks reunite with the same bachelor group year after year, and does raise their fawns and reunite with their extended family every winter.

The hunter puts a bullet into one, breaking up the family forever. Hunting proponents say it thins the herd and prevents overpopulation, a kind of animal control philosophy. But the doe that lost her sister must feel differently.

Is it cruelty or human endeavor?

On the kill floor at the live hangar chickens often miss the killing machine because the line runs fast and they are scalded alive. The chickens flop, scream and kick. Their eyeballs pop out of their heads. They come out of the killing machine with broken bones, disfigured, missing body parts, because they struggled in the tank.

This method helps keep the price of chicken meat down.

Egg producers remove a hen's beak with a hot knife to prevent cannibalism that occurs when hens are starved and overcrowded.

Without a beak, hens bleed, dehydrate and cannot eat or drink properly. This is profitable, since when hens almost starve, it helps them molt and jump-starts a new egg-laying cycle. Eggs are produced more cheaply because hens have their beaks removed.

Much was made of the Erie County SPCA's report about a painful but legal type of euthanizing used for a time at the Niagara County SPCA, where the animal is given a shot in the heart. Carr held back tears when she described it.

The human mind is fascinating. No one would shed a tear for a deer bleeding to death from a badly aimed shot. Funny, too, deer live on herbs and harm no creature.

Cats, on the other hand, can be cruel. Have you seen them playing with a mouse, a one-sided play where Puss enjoys giving the mouse alternate hope and despair as she lets him escape, then catches him again, instead of eating him at once.

Is there a selfish advantage in that mingled fear and hope and dashed hope of a mouse frightened to death, perhaps encouraging a release of hormones (a painful euthanizing) that makes the mouse more delicious?

Where there is no cat at the country home, squirrels play, birds sing and chirp and land anywhere, and the groundhog comes out of her den. Enter Felix, and every small animal has worriment. Birds watch warily. The groundhog hides. Rabbits flee.

The cat is sovereign over a cruel territory. But if someone is cruel to the cat, we are outraged.

Animal cruelty seems entirely subjective. Like the meat-eating animal rights activists protesting women wearing furs. They care about minks but not cows. They don't wear fur, but love beef.

It's hard to argue cows are not treated as cruelly as minks. But where's the outrage? Cows can live 25 years, but on modern dairies, they are slaughtered after four years and used for ground beef. First she gave us milk, then we ate her as hamburger.

The cow is a maternal animal. Yet often, within moments of birth, male calves are taken from their mothers and loaded onto trucks. When the calf is taken, the mother bellows in grief and will run after the cattle truck that takes her baby away.

The calf, confined in a crate two feet wide, chained by the neck to restrict his movement, cannot turn, stretch or lie down comfortably. This makes the meat tender since his muscles cannot develop.

Calves are fed an all-liquid, milk-substitute diet deficient in iron and fiber, intended to produce anemia and the pale-colored flesh fancied by gourmets.

At 16 weeks and near death, they are slaughtered then marketed as "white" or "fancy" or "formula fed" or "special fed" veal.

If people ate cats and dogs in this country, I wonder if they would care at all about societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

According to published reports, Peru has its cat "fricassee," Brazil its "churrasquinho de gato." The rural Swiss cooks cat with sprigs of thyme. "Cat in sauce" is eaten in the Basque country of Spain. Millions of cats are eaten in China every year, a form of animal control. There are some who love cats, but not for the reasons we do.

In Mizoram and Nagaland in India, dog meat is a delicacy. Much like we call cow meat "beef" or pig meat "pork," in Taiwan, dog meat is known by the euphemism "fragrant meat."

Native American tribes such as the Sioux and Cheyenne ate dog. The Kickapoo included puppy meat in their traditional festivals.

Dogs are eaten in Nigeria, and rural Poland still has old farmwives who use dog fat as lard and believe it is good for the lungs.

Dog meat is believed to bring good fortune in Vietnam. In urban areas in the north, there are whole sections of town where dog-meat restaurants thrive.

In South Korea, according to a published survey, more than 20,000 restaurants serve soups made from dog meat. During summer, dog is roasted or prepared in soups or stews. The most popular is bosintang, a spicy stew meant to balance one's "ki" or vital energy of the body.

In the end, the question I debated was how deep and genuine is our desire to be kind and protect animals?

Is it genuine compassion?

Everyone wants to protect the household pet. Few care about other animals treated equally cruelly.

It was said that St. Francis, having been told by Clare and the Brother Silvester that he should convert many to the faith, preached to the birds and reduced to silence the swallows.

And in the city of Gubbio, Francis resolved to go and meet the wolf, and the wolf walked by his side as meekly as a lamb. Birds perched attentively when he told them to sing the Creator's praises.

Francis released a rabbit from a trap, and the rabbit followed him and jumped in his lap.

And at Lake Trasimeno, Francis threw back a pike a fisherman had given him, and the fish followed him around the lake until Francis gave him a special blessing.

If Americans were to follow other cultures and whet an appetite for dogs and cats, would they care about cruelty if it allowed them to get canine meat cheaper?

We can always hope.

Without passing final judgment on the Niagara County SPCA, or suggesting that its seeming failures are emblematic of a widespread, national disease, maybe in Niagara, where people fight for dogs and cats as if they were almost human, the spirit of the fight may lead to changes in animal shelters elsewhere, as well as here, and then -- who knows? -- to fighting other kinds of animal cruelty, including that which is of the most importance, more important than cruelty to cat or dog, and is exclusively fought with compassion -- by the human animal toward the human.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.