Falling Through the Cracks of Animal Services

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This
is not an article about how great my dogs are, even though they
are. Nor is it an article about how great a person I am for having
rescued a couple of them in my life, even though I have. This is
a story about how great are the obstacles government bureaucracy
will place in front of people trying to do the right thing.

The
story starts in 2002 when my wife had a project working near Alachua
County Animal Services. She would go out there periodically and
would always take a few minutes to look over the dogs available
for adoption.

One
day a beautiful German Shepherd male was there. Now, let's clear
something up, I was in no way looking for another dog. We had two
at the time, along with three cats and were living in a small house
(1100 sq. ft. on 1/3 of an acre) in Gainesville, but neither were
effective watch/guard dogs. Phoebe is a wonderful dog but a coward,
and while Random was the cutest thing, and certainly game, he was
not much of a threat (35lb Border Collie/Beagle mix). So, while
I didn't want another dog, the wife did and kept coming home and
talking up this German Shepherd out at the pound. My wife, part
of the County Survey Crew, was able to get a little information
from one of the people who worked out back who told her that he
was both an owner turn-in and heartworm positive.

During
one of her lunch breaks, my wife went inside to inquire about the
dog only to get rebuffed immediately. No information was forthcoming
from the person behind the desk about the dog. You see, he was in
the "Stray Dog" area as opposed to the "To Be Adopted"
area. They didn't give out information on Stray Dogs. But, this
was not a Stray Dog. He was an owner turn-in, which are usually
gassed immediately. So, now nothing about this dog made any sense.

Why
was he in with the Stray Dogs? Because he was heartworm positive
and it is against policy to adopt out heartworm positive dogs. So,
he was being held in purgatory, too adoptable to kill but not adoptable
enough to be treated for his worms and malnutrition. My wife told
me all of this and I, of course, got really angry. Here was a dog,
whose irresponsible owner used the County Animal Services to dump
his problem off his back onto that of the taxpayers. Moreover, the
dog was being badly taken care of and pretty much left to die.

This
is the fulcrum of the story. How many people would not make the
emotional decision to get a dog if there was no easy means of disposing
of their potential mistake? How many people would work harder to
find homes for these unwanted animals if they had to pay directly
to have the animal killed and disposed of? Stray animals and irresponsible/abusive
owners exist regardless of county animal control services. So, institutionalizing
the system only makes it worse. The taxpayers get sold pet registration
on the idea that it will be a check on abuse and a mechanism to
remove dangerous animals from the area, among other things. All
of this is funded by general taxation (and a minimal registration
fee) so there is no direct link between the services provided and
the funding received. The whole scheme undermines the property rights
of the county residents, extending governmental control while diminishing
individual responsibility. The people who work there hate that they
have been turned into concentration camp oven-tenders and the public
never really gets the message that little Fluffy is going to be
little Ashie after they turn their back to go home. It's a disgusting,
socialist model that obfuscates the value of animal life to the
point where it eventually reaches zero.

Moreover,
the County can't use any judgment. A private rescue would have recognized
the dog for what he was, wormed him and fattened him up with both
his papers and reproductive organs intact, preserving both his life
and the efforts of the breeders who produced him. Animal Services
had just enough leeway to keep him alive until he starved to death
or was eventually gassed. The rules and laws governing animal services
are designed to remove judgment, flexibility and, most importantly,
liability, all of which is at the expense of the animal they were
empowered to protect.

The
very thing that animal registration was supposed to combat becomes
its primary function.

As
a libertarian I get accused regularly of having the overly charitable
view that people are inherently good (whatever that means). That
is not in any way true. I simply believe that given the opportunity
to shirk a responsibility people will tend to do so and the state
does nothing except define the parameters of shirking. Ultimately,
animal services, much like child services, becomes nothing more
than a mechanism for someone else to relieve us of the burden of
our bad choices.

Okay,
then. Rant over. Let's get back to the incarcerated German Shepherd
wasting away on death row. After my wife's initial inquiry about
the dog, and another conversation about him, we took a trip out
there one Saturday morning to see if we could get anywhere. We snuck
around back so I could see him (which I hadn't), and he was, indeed,
an absolutely gorgeous animal, 25 pounds underweight, but very handsome.
There's little doubt he had papers. Long story short, I got the
same treatment from the desk clerk that my wife had gotten earlier.
They were not allowed to discuss the "Stray Dogs." I tried
to cajole and wheedle the person but no dice. He was unavailable.
If I wanted a dog there were plenty out back to be adopted. In other
words, "Get the hint, stupid, we decide who gets to live and
who gets to die. Not you." Angry, we left. I fumed that they
were trying to kill this dog. We didn't think at this point there
was any hope of getting him and half-seriously discussed getting
some bolt cutters and breaking into the compound.

But,
I really didn't want to take in a third dog, and at the same time
I knew I couldn't let him die either. The great injustice of it
all made me so angry, and my wife used that against me perfectly.

That
Monday morning I get a call from the wife. She said that if I wanted
the dog there is a way. You see, my wife talked with her co-worker
who gave her the rest of the story. This woman was on the "No
More Homeless Pets Coalition" (a coalition of private rescue
groups and Animal Services) and she had been there when the dog
was dropped off by his owner and spoke to him about the dog. It
was because of her efforts that the dog was still alive. Apparently
Animal Services was trying to get him taken by a German Shepherd
Rescue in Ocala but the rescue didn't want him. It was my wife's
co-worker who insisted that he be made a part of a "Special
Needs Adopt-a-thon" that "No More Homeless Pets"
held just after his drop off and which pre-dated our involvement
with him. Animal Services didn't want to include him in this event,
and for the life of all of us we could not understand why. Why keep
him alive if you're not going to let anyone adopt him?

We
were out of town the weekend this event was held, and we wouldn't
have gone anyway as we didn't even know it was happening. He had
been adopted there but kept jumping his adopter's fence and was
returned. This is why he was u2018available' the morning of this phone
call.

To
get him, all I had to do was lie and say that I saw him at the Adopt-a-thon
and give the Disposition Number to the clerk (the same woman I'd
talked to on Saturday, by the way) and he would be mine. My wife
then told me, "Ball's in your court. It's your decision."
(yeah right!)

Well,
suffice it to say when I went down there with a co-worker and said
the magic words, the gatekeeper changed from being an obstacle to
an enabler, and the process of my acquiring the dog began. It took
a while to find his paperwork as it was misfiled and in the exact
wrong pile. After that was found, she then had the god-forsaken
gall to demand the registration renewals for 4 of my other animals
(2 dogs and 2 cats = $80 total) that I would have to rectify before
I could have the dog, which was on top of the adoption fee of $30.
I guess, no good deed truly does go unpunished. Lastly, I had to
sign a contract stating that I would begin the heartworm treatment
within 10 days of receiving him or be subject to fines and imprisonment.
All of this I did with only minor hesitation (and a bit of invective).
They gave me a small bag of dog food, which I threw back in their
face. All of our dogs are on a proper diet of raw meat and bones.

Finally,
I got him out of the building and to my truck. Now I had the problem
of getting him into the bed of my pickup. He and I have no relationship
at this point. He doesn't even have a name. I had no way of getting
him into the truck short of picking him up and hooking him to the
harness. I looked at my friend and she looked back at me and we
thought about it for a minute. Then I just bent down next to him,
stroked his chest and quietly told him that as long as I was good
to him and he was good to me that we'd have a great life together
and he would never want for anything. "Is that okay with you?"
I asked. He licked my face once.

"Well,
then, get in the back of the truck," I said. To my amazement,
he did. I get a lump in my throat every time I think about that
moment. It was honestly one of the most surreal things I've ever
experienced.

The
next hurdle we crossed together was that first trip to the vet.
The dog not only had heartworms, but hookworm and Coccidia
as well, which had to be treated first. That bill was $140+. The
heartworm treatment would cost over $350. Also, in hindsight, he
should not have been put through the heartworm treatment so quickly
as he was very unhealthy and weak. Animal Services had had him for
weeks and he was still emaciated. They feed all the dogs the same
regardless of size or condition. [For those who don't know, the
treatment for heartworms involves giving the animal enough arsenical
poison to kill the worms but not the animal. Then you keep the animal
sedate for 6 weeks while the worms dissolve and are removed from
the bloodstream. There is always the danger of a piece of dead worm
clogging the heart or the aorta and killing them. We found out during
this time (my wife is a phenomenal researcher) that the active ingredient
in most Heartworm prevention medication, Ivermectin, acts to kill
the immature worms and prevent reproduction. What should have happened
is that we took the dog home, put him on Ivermectin for three months
to improve his health and then have the heartworm treatment done.]

As
it was, the treatment nearly killed him. If he wasn't such a young
dog and so strong-willed, I don't think he would have survived.
The first day after being treated he coughed up blood and looked
just awful. We had to get him prednisolone to counter the massive
inflammation in his lungs and dull the coughing. I would not have
been shocked it he'd died that day. It frustrates me to no end that
the County would remove the decision as to when to start treating
the animal out of the hands of both the adopter (one footing the
bill) and veterinarian (one with the expertise). But, remember,
they have liability issues from which they have to be covered that,
obviously, are far more important than the health of some animal
and the money/time of the person who adopted them. And, you better
believe that I got a threatening phone call a week after I adopted
him following up as to whether we'd started the treatment.

I
named him Benedict (from Roger Zelazny's classic sci-fi series,

The Chronicles of Amber
, Master of Arms, the most feared
by an entire pantheon of gods.). Of course, in time, as he healed,
his true personality came to the fore. And, when I drive up every
night to see him prancing goofily around on his line after a hard
day chasing bees and bugs, all I can think of is that great scene
in the movie Patton, where he introduces his dog as "William"
after William the Conqueror. I think to myself, "You're not
a Benedict… You're a Bennie!" He's a big, sensitive, strong-willed
survivor, somewhat insecure, a little needy, intensely loyal and
all male. Kinda like his pop.

I
wouldn't have him any other way.

But,
I also remember what I went through to get him, and the twists and
turns of a story that should have been as simple as, "Dog needs
good home. Please take him," and I get angry and sad all at
the same time. He looks at me in that undeserving way that dogs
do which reminds me of the saying "Please let me be half the
person my dog thinks I am."

I
get asked pretty often why it is that I take such a hard-line stance
on the use/abuse of state power, and all I do is point to Bennie.
He is a constant reminder of the state's indifference to life and
prosperity, to all that humans strive and sweat for. I used to say
that the state was good at one thing, "Killing People!"
I have now revised that to say, "Killing Everything."

Ta.

April
1, 2005

Thomas
Luongo [send him email]
is a professional chemist, amateur economist, and obstreperous Southerner-in-training
in North Florida. See
his website
.

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