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Archive for Sunday, March 18, 2007

Letter to the editor raises questions about preventing cruelty to animals

March 18, 2007

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Last month a letter to the Journal-World pointed out an incident that happened at the KUK-State game on Feb. 19, in which chickens were thrown onto the court. This is reminiscent of a recent Lawrence high school event in which a painted chicken was found tethered in a parking lot.

Where is the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the author wanted to know. Because the letter was written to our local newspaper, I assumed he was referring our town's humane society, which is the animal control authority for our county.

I'm not sure quite the best way to begin answering his question.

The event to which he referred happened in Manhattan, which is, unfortunately, out of our jurisdiction. This is not to say that the Lawrence Humane Society in any way condones the action or turns its back on the fact that it happened. Animal cruelty is a serious crime, as I have expressed previously in this column, on behalf of the shelter and of its board of directors. It is a symptom of the perpetrators' much deeper psychological problems, and in many instances it foretells of far greater acts of cruelty to come, likely to be committed against humans. Such behavior should never be tolerated in a civilized society.

However, reality requires that we deal with three significant facts.

First, the humane society works miracles on a daily basis using extremely limited resources. To be as vigilant as we wish would require finances beyond the reasonable ability of any city and its people to supply. We would dearly love to be able to send masses of fully trained crews out into the county to monitor every public event at which such an act might possibly take place. We wish we had the staff and vehicles to send people out into the countryside and into our own residential areas to watch for signs of animal fights, abuse and neglect.

But we just don't have the resources to do this. We can only do the best we can with what we have.

Second, we are not omniscient. We can't predict in advance what human beings will do or where they will do it. I'm quite certain that, had they known, the Manhattan area humane organization would have been on the scene with staff members to remove the chickens from the students who brought them into the building and to question those fans about where they had obtained the birds. I can assure everyone in our community that, were we able to predict acts of cruelty, we would make use of all our available resources to have staff on hand to stop the act before it even started. As it is, we must rely on members of the community to work with us, to help be our eyes and ears and to report to us acts of violence, cruelty or abuse against animals so that we can work to correct the situations.

Third, we are only as strong in preventing future acts of cruelty as our laws legally allow us to be. That is why, in lieu of our being present everywhere in the state at all times, the humane organizations around Kansas worked together to form a coalition - the Humane Kansas Legislative Network Inc. - that has been working for years to strengthen our laws against such acts of cruelty. These laws at least give us, with the help of others who have witnessed the crimes, the power to take these criminals down once they have been identified. You can learn about this group and support it by visiting www.humanekansas.org.

Quite frankly - and I speak now in this paragraph as a private, tax-paying citizen and not in any form as a representative of the Lawrence Humane Society - what I wish I could do to people who cause harm to animals or other people is not even printable on this newspaper's pages. I suspect a good many people feel the same way.

But as the president of the Society's board of directors, bound to our legal responsibilities and working within the legal limits of the real world, I would say to that letter writer and to all who would ask the same question that the local arms of SPCA-type organizations everywhere are right here in your communities. We are working behind the scenes within our defined roles and with as much of our personal financial resources as we can possibly give to make sure that such cruelty is dealt with as swiftly and severely as our laws allow.

But we do ask that the community help us accomplish justice. Phone us when you see or suspect acts of cruelty or neglect committed against animals. Stand up against the people who commit these crimes, tell us their names, report their abuses and then be willing to testify against them. Stay abreast of local abuse situations through the media and withdraw your business from those who work to acquit or otherwise assist people who are known to participate in or who have histories of participating in animal cruelty. Support legislation that strengthens our legal standing against these criminals. Write to your legislators and tell them that you support stronger laws and maximum punishments for the offenders. Use your vote to drive the point home.

Strength comes in numbers, and victories come with vigilance. Your local humane society comprises only a few people, but if we all stand together, we can stop such overtly vicious acts from occurring, or at least we can prosecute when such acts do occur.

Your local SPCA group is right here, working hard to curtail violence against animals. Please help us do our job even more effectively than we do right now.

- Sue Novak is president of the Lawrence Humane Society board.

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