Discussion: Animal Cruelty or Shelter Failure?

There is an interesting case in VA involving a dog owner charged and convicted of animal cruelty over his decision to euthanize his ailing dog.  He is appealing the conviction.  Please read the article and share your thoughts.  Some questions to help generate discussion:

Did the animal shelter staff adequately serve this member of their community who had no experience with end of life decisions for his dog?

How could the ACO determine how many seizures Buxton had and what, if any, amount of suffering he experienced during the 4 day period cited when no one outside the family had any contact with the dog?

Does an owner who sets up a chair in the backyard to stay with her terminally ill pet while he paces all night sound like someone AC should charge with cruelty?

Besides telling the owner he needed to be a county resident in order to have his dog euthanized at the pound and possibly telling him to take the dog to a vet, what else should shelter staff have done?

For those of you experienced with end of life decisions for your pets, have you encountered grey areas which caused you to struggle with the decisions?  Did you ever consider during these times that your local AC might charge you with cruelty?

(Thanks Lisa and Michele for the link.)

23 thoughts on “Discussion: Animal Cruelty or Shelter Failure?

  1. Shelter failure and another example of holier-than-thou people in power attempting to grind into the dirt any animal owner that doesn’t do it their way. Terminal humans are allowed to die at home and choose medications or not. Why shouldn’t an animal owner be able to do that for their pet? Disgusting. I hope the jury finds for the pet owner AND harshly rebukes the persecutors.

  2. I think the conviction is absolutely ridiculous … actually horrifying on a certain level. When I let my little Lucy dog go two years ago, I’m afraid I waited too long. I had gotten to the point where I was sleeping on dogs beds with her at night so I could comfort her and walk her outside whenever she wanted to go (we did a lot of pacing in the yard in the middle of the night). Finally one day I decided that I needed to ease her out of this life, so I made the appointment and asked a friend to come with. But before the appointed time, she went into acute distress and was crying in pain and losing control of her bowels. I rushed her to the vet, cursing myself for having waited too long. I told the vet that I felt awful for letting her get to that point, and he said it’s really common, because “we’re all always hoping for just one more good day with them.” There is rarely a “perfect” time to make that kind of decision, and even if you have been through it before it can be a very confusing and emotional time. I think this conviction is a horrible miscarriage of justice, punishing someone who wanted to do the right thing in a very confusing and sad situation.

  3. The prosecutors in this case probably have the same mentality when it comes to rape cases. Blame, blame, blame but what real support is in place? Yes, you can call a vet and take your pet in but there is a HUGE disparity in what individual vets may or may not recommend. It’s easy to talk about what SHOULD have been done but these people, just from the short quotes in the article, were probably doing all and the best that they could in their lives with their available resources at that time. They key is intent, and they didn’t intend to hurt or deprive their dog of care. Someone has bug up their butt about this.

  4. This is a lose-lose; shoulda-woulda-coulda-did. There is blame & shame to go around on this family and the governmental authorities. It was a capital failure for the dog. Did their dog suffer during those final days? Only those involved, as well as the dog (and God above) would know the answer. As far as prosecution for cruelty, I’m going to ride the fence on this issue as it is still viable in so many areas of the US, especially the south and it’s better than tossing them alive in a a dumpster or turning them out into the street when they are no longer healthy or wanted. This will go on until the prosecutor loses and spends more taxpayer dollars and it will not deter the next person to do the same. Final thought: No matter the outcome, I would/could NEVER euthanize my own beloved pet. The difficulty of being with them at the time is heartbreaking enough, but I cannot imagine the images haunting me for the rest of my life.

    1. Oh please ;’ those stupid cruel people in the “south” did you know many people think of Virginia as a “middle Altantic states\””? It is not the shelter directors job to tell people when to euthanize their dogs.. nor4 an ER vet clinic.. the dog is this mans PROPERTY.. It is his decision when to choose to end the pets life.. sound harsh.. well no more than having you sick animal taken from you because you are only a “guardian”. I agree .. there was no INTENT to neglect sort harm this dog.. .. a ridiculous case to begin with but we can expect more of this as the animal rights groups take our own decisions from our hands.. because you know THEY know better than you do what your pet needs and even when it should be killed… after all they do it so well

      1. It is difficult, to handle simply as property, a creature possessing passions and feelings […] The Moral and Legal Status of Companion Animals 0- Marquette Law Review, Vol. 86 No.1, 2002;
        This article first provides an overview of the philosophical basis of the allocation (or non-allocation) of moral status to nonhuman animals considering historical and modern views of animals. Second, it analyzes the legal status of animals under the current system and discusses the idea of extending legal personhood to such animals. Next it considers the common law and statutory basis for the current valuation of companion animals. Finally, this article supports and promotes the idea that there is a rational basis for changing the way that companion animals should be valued by the legal system and recommends the adoption of statutory provisions to promote consistency and certainty in these cases.

        This review is 60 pages. Have fun.

        My Own Personal Overview:
        There’s a subtle difference in a dog’s behavior when he is past the point of struggling to overcome illness or injury and is about to die. Was my dog in pain? The ability to breathe I personally considered. Breathing difficulties can be extremely painful. Did he have more bad days than good?

        Should the owner have been prosecuted? I haven’t studied VA laws on ‘sentient beings’, nor do I have the desire to do it.

    2. I’ve only once not been with a pet at the end, & that one time – I was in hospital, and it was time, time, & I didn’t want him to suffer waiting for me – haunts me, even though my husband was there. Yes, it’s difficult & painful, and I can see why you don’t want to be there, but me … I want to be there. It’s the last I can do for them, is the thing.

  5. I find it very interesting that the state’s attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia did not see fit charge Michael Vick with animal cruelty, but rather charged this man, who was just trying to do right by his sick dog. Unbelievable!

  6. The is so wrong on many levels. The Memphis animal shelter tortures animals everyday and gets away with it. The world is upside down.

  7. They’ve never done this before. They didn’t know what to do and apparently, there was no guidance on the shelter’s part.

    Is ignorance cruelty? Sometimes it is. But the shelter cannot claim ignorance. I think it will come down to whether or not they told these people that they needed to get to a vet.

    But without a necropsy, I very much doubt there will be evidence to convict.

  8. a VERY smart friend of mine said it best…Animal cruelty is when you CAUSE pain and abuse. Old age is not abuse; a pet owner does not cause old age or the ailments that come with it and there is no law that states you are required to kill a pet. This is a horrible precedent and it is NOT the first time I’m hearing of such a situation. Giving one’s pet every chance to die a natural death is NOT animal control’s business.

  9. Both the shelter & the vet clinic failed this family.

    No-one just knows when it’s time. We’ve all to learn, and like as not we’ve all waited too long at least once. It’s difficult to judge, and some cases are harder than others. Even vets get it wrong sometimes. Is it a failure on our parts, when we do so? Yes. Does it cause suffering? Yes, it can. But it’s also not intentionally neglectful or cruel, and from the information given, no-one helped this family learn, & make better decisions.

    What I’ve learned, has been because my vets have all been willing to discuss it with me, work with me, as much as hands-on experience. I’ve been sent home with what I need for palliative care, lists of symptoms, signs, and criteria for calling time, & phone numbers to call. I’ve been phoned myself every couple of days. My vets have all known how hard it is, and did their best to make it – not easier, no, but informed.

    At no point, with any of my dying pets, has it ever occurred to me that I might be second-guessed and judged guilty of cruelty for making a mistaken decision. This would be like … well. A good friend died of cancer this year, & because he lived alone in a fairly remote community, it took his family a couple of days to sort out home hospice care after he began to truly fail. It was a painful cancer & I’m sure he suffered, but is his family guilty of neglect & cruelty? The notion is absurd, obscene. They did the best they could in difficult circumstances.

    From what information is given, this poor dog’s family did the same. These weren’t people who didn’t care. They didn’t know. They made mistakes. The vet clinic, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have followed up, and the shelter staff? They don’t seem to have cared at all.

    More, I cannot imagine that such charges would do much of any greater good, unless the aim is to force everyone to euthanize their pets on diagnosis of incurable illness – and that, too, is apt to wrong sometimes. I imagine most of us have stories, of death sentences that turned out not to be, of what seemed like minor ailments that tragically weren’t, of cases that never did get a good diagnosis. Life is messy. We’re all fallible. Any attempt to legislate or prosecute away mistaken decisions will only result in more of them, and I wouldn’t even count on them being different kinds of mistakes.

  10. I’m also concerned about the idea of a seizure equaling suffering. Sometimes seizures are a reason to euthanize, yes (status, severity, etc.), but many epileptic dogs live with seizures every day. I have no problem believing that a dog who was seizing could then be walking around the yard and appear to be fine. To say that the family should have euthanized the dog after the first seizure is worrisome.

  11. This is inherently weird for me. Working at a vet clinic, I can tell you I’ve seen dozens of dogs and cats living months after the vets have recommended euthanasia. It hurts to see these animals with such a poor quality of life, but it never occurred to me that their owners could face cruelty charges.

  12. In the past year or so Stafford County Virginia has become incredibly stupid and rigid in its application of laws on it what it considers abuse. A friend of mine on another search and rescue team was written up for cruelty for having a dog in the car in the summer while they were catching something to eat after a tough day of training. Sounds pretty straight forward…BUT, the vehicle it was in (a Tahoe) had windows down, parked in the shade, dog in a crate with a full bucket of water, reflector blankets and two fans blowing on the dog. The dog was flat out asleep, not panting and not in distress. The dog was most likely hotter while it was working then while asleep in the truck. The only reason her’s got thrown out was she was a police officer in another jurisdiction.

    1. I now have to wonder, are they focusing on such cases? A family with a dying dog, another whose dog is comfortable in a truck … rather than cases of actual abuse?

  13. I think VA as a whole needs a re-boot politician wise. Just a few weeks ago a municipality passed an anti-tether law that (due to lack of definitions) could make it illegal to walk your dog on a leash for an extended period.

    No, as described I don’t see cruelty. Maybe they “should” have euthanized sooner, but that’s something that EVERY pet owner struggles with. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen friends and family baby a pet past the point where *I* would have made the decision to put the animal down due to pain and suffering. But lets be honest, when I made the decision to euthanize my elderly cat a couple years ago I was prepared to put it off by 24hrs if that was what it took for my husband to be present when she was put to sleep.

    And the “an animal that’s had ONE seizure needs immediate, emergency, medical care” thing…..I’ve seen the exact opposite advice from vets! Unless you can get the animal in DURING the seizure there isn’t actually much that can be done AFTER except for preventive care to prevent more seizures, and unless the animal is having repeated seizures waiting “a few days” to see the vet isn’t a problem as long as there aren’t additional seizures during that time. PLUS, many vets won’t even prescribe preventatives until the animal has had multiple seizures!

  14. My high school boyfriend’s family was nearly charged with animal cruelty while their dog was suffering from mouth cancer. She was on pain meds, and receiving chemo (which didn’t work unfortunately), but was out in the backyard alone and a neighbor reported her condition.

    They understood why animal control had to get involved but it was really emotionally difficult to have to deal with that while loosing their dog.

  15. Frankly this scares me. I am used to dealing with animals who don’t make it due to illness, animals that have to be euthanized due to incurable illness. but this scares me. wrong decision in the opinion of someone else could have horrible consequences. this sets a precedence that is horrifying. I have 2 beloved animals with end of life looming close. we are doing all we can to keep them comfortable and pain free.under veterinary supervision. when the time comes, i certainly hope i am not accused of cruelty for waiting until their condition progresses.

    its a catch 22 as i have heard of cases where people were accused of cruelty for putting the animal dow.n. I have heard of a case where a person was accused of cruelty for following her veterinarians treatment plan… accused by a shelter director. I don’t have the links to these stories, but i have read them.

    the decision to euthanize or not is hard enough without adding the fear of being charged with cruelty for either doing it, not doing it, or not doing it soon enough.

    I am monitoring my pets lives. are they free of pain? can they eat and drink and eliminate on their own or with some help from the humans? are they still somewhat engaged in life? do they comfort when they see us? do they enjoy some of their usual activities? Now i feel that i have to add, would animal control accuse me of cruelty for this pet for doing what i feel is proper?

    It boggles my mind, but I guess with the advent of more and more treatments for pets, such as cancer treatments, we as pet owners could be accused of cruelty if we don’t do everything possible. isn’t this what has happened to parents who refuse treatment for children? My dog has congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, his heart failure is left sided, which is the worst. he is on medicines – a regimen of 8 pills plus pain pills, for arthritis (he is nearly 15) yes, he gets short of breath, yes he sleeps a lot, but he is still engaged in life, he still wants to be with the family, he still can tell the other dogs that he is the boss! He has lived beyond his life expectancy (statistically, its 6 months from diagnosis – hes made it a year) The thought that someone could take this tiny one from me, because they think I should do more boggles my mind! (a heart transplant might help???) He sleeps with me, I wake up to check him during the night, he goes with me when i travel. He knows us, he responds to us, he still is part of our family. My vet says that he is here with us because of the quality of care we provide. she noted how much he is bonded to me and how he looks to me or touches me to provide comfort during the office exams….

    But to think that someone else could look at this, and see cruelty???? Wow!

    No one wants animals to be treated cruelly or neglected, but it seems to have gone way to far in this world we are in.

    I think these people made the best decision they could with the knowledge they had. simple as that.

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