Animal cruelty reports increasing

His whine is piteous and filled with all the suffering an animal can bear. His howl, filled with desperation, speaks of hunger and thirst, of exposure to the elements, and his brown eyes beg for assistance …

“Oh, Jack, for heaven’s sake.” I slide open the back door. “You’ve been out there for all of two minutes. You couldn’t have even GONE yet…”

But Jack, tail stub wiggling, just grins and bounds in, headed straight back to the comfortable nest he’s made on the bed in the guest room.

Yeah. Duped again.

But I really don’t mind.

I’m glad to offer door service to any animal in my home. Unlike my other dog and two cats, who are Lawrence Humane Society alums, Jack was a direct rescue from a farm in central Kansas, but I know they all needed homes equally. No animals are really saved until they have families to call their own.

Our city, however, still has some work to do on that front, and we’re starting to witness a backslide. The number of animals we see at the humane society each year is increasing, and more disturbing is that the number of cruelty calls we’re receiving is rising at an alarming rate. My Jack may “cry wolf,” but for a lot of animals, that misery is their reality.

It’s hard to say what’s causing the problems, although I’d wager a guess that our economy is causing a lot of stress. Of the cats we’ve handled each month, somewhere around 50 percent have regularly been owner turn-ins, but just last month this number jumped to 65 percent. Costs of food, litter and veterinary bills could be to blame as pet owners on limited budgets start to worry about their financial futures.

The rise in cruelty cases, however, should concern us greatly as a community. After the 2004 anti-tether law passed, the shelter received fewer cruelty calls, and the state’s 2006 felony cruelty bill helped as well. “That’s a good law,” says Midge Grinstead, shelter director. “When a person is convicted with cruelty, the law now requires a psychological evaluation and psychological counseling along with mandatory jail time. It also states that the felon cannot own or harbor an animal for five years after the conviction.”

But for whatever reason, the shelter is lately receiving more calls about abuses that can be charged under this law. “It’s not just from the veterinarians,” Grinstead said. “They’re on the lookout, and they turn in two or three cases a year to us. But now we’re getting a lot more calls from regular citizens who report the abuses.”

Cat abuse cases account for many of the calls, and the shelter has also seen a sudden resurgence of dog fighting during the past six months. “We see and take away a lot of dogs with fight wounds,” Grinstead said, “and we have our own dog-fighting laws in Kansas.”

Nor are abuse cases limited to small animals. The Lawrence Humane Society has stepped in on horse abuse as well. “Horses are expensive,” Grinstead said, “and if the owners can’t afford to feed them they just don’t, or won’t treat any injuries the animals sustain.”

The cases the shelter sees are heartbreaking. One recent rescue involved an animal being purposely starved to death. Another involved one individual who severely beat several animals. (All the victims are currently being nursed back to health.) In another case, an owner tried to neuter a pet at home. And just a week ago, staff members recovered one severely injured and two dead animals, all of whom had been attacked with the same weapon.

“The hard part is that, until they’re actually convicted, we can’t touch the offenders,” Grinstead said. “We currently have four cases pending on one person. We take his animals and he just goes out and gets more and hurts them. All we can do is keep taking them away until he goes to court.”

With a shoestring budget and a small staff, Grinstead has a mountainous task ahead of her. “We’re taking so many animals away from so many people,” she said. “Usually we do about 10 a year. Right now I have 18 in my files, and it’s only September. And that’s not counting the ones that have already been settled this year. It’s alarming.”

The answer? There is none right now. “We used to go out and proactively target areas that were problems,” Grinstead said. “We could check on suspected dog fighters. Now we’re call-driven. We just can’t keep up. But we still want people to keep reporting abuses to us.”