Last Monday a Labrador Retriever died after being left in a hot car for hours while the owner attended the fair in Syracuse. New information revealed that bystanders reported watching as several people worked to gain entry into the vehicle in a fight against time. There was also some concerned discussion about the legality of breaking the car's window or finding other means of forced entry. Unfortunately, no one was able to act quickly enough; the two-year-old female Lab died a short while after police arrived.
The dog's owner, Patrick J. Oneill, was arrested and charged with animal cruelty, a charge that regrettably still falls under Agricultural and Marketing law and is only a misdemeanor. It is also regrettable because this man is still under investigation for 22 counts of animal cruelty for allegedly neglecting 26 horses on his property in May of this year.
This raises the question of legalities faced by those who try to rescue an animal under such circumstances. Consider the fact that dying in the confines of a closed vehicle that has reached 100 degrees is basically the equivalent of being slowly roasted alive in an oven. Sound heinous? It is. Now consider the fact that in some states a person trying to help may be charged with a crime for breaking into the vehicle to rescue the suffering animal. Unbelievable? You decide.
Last week's incident needs to be properly addressed. There is also more than one issue here. Many people are calling for Oneill to receive a stiffer penalty than the simple misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty allowed under the agricultural law. This would not likely be a problem if animal abuse fell under the jurisdiction of criminal law. Additionally, his name would automatically be added to the state's abuse registry - if there was one in New York. Remember, the Assembly voted down the formation of a statewide registry this past summer.
Another problem is the fear of retribution faced by would-be helpers debating what might happen if they take action. Was the life of a two-year-old dog worth a broken window and the possible repercussion of legal charges? Frankly, the need for such a debate boggles the mind. Hopefully there are few people who would stand by watching an animal in the throes of a fatal heat stroke and do nothing. How much precious time was wasted while that struggle went on? And why should there be any kind of struggle to do what is right? We need to get our priorities straight.
Mahatma Ghandi once said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Let's work hard together to forward our moral progress. Let's use this incident as an opening to educate, to prevent needless pain and to learn from our mistakes.
"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do." ~Edward Everet Hale~
Readers, I always welcome comments. What do you think?
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