No Less Than What We Would Want For Ourselves

Sometimes, reading the news, one can get the impression that bad things happen somewhere else. Where you live isn’t that dangerous or chaotic, and while it’s not beyond improvement, at least it appears to be more or less under control. Indifference to life and overt cruelty are found in other places.

Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Where I’ve chosen to live, it’s normally quiet, located as it is away from traffic noise and other houses. Quiet that is, until on way too many Sunday mornings, an unidentified person in an unidentified location decides to fire as many as a hundred shots, some in rapid succession, producing a virtual storm of nearly non-stop noise until the shooter runs out of ammo. The result is the shattering of what used to be a day of rest and peace, affecting both humans and animals, both of whom wonder why the culprit doesn’t realize or care that other folks live nearby. It’s too bad there’s no law against being inconsiderate because in this case it would be very appropriate.

But forget about the noise. What about safety? Judging from the sound, the shots could have been a fairly large caliber, but even if they were smaller, they can still be lethal. A box of .22 long rifle bullets cautions that they’re dangerous within 1 1/2 miles because once a cartridge has been fired, its exact path or trajectory is subject to all kind of variables, from a deflection by a tree branch to a ricochet off an unseen rock or a nearby stream. Admittedly, the likelihood of being struck by a stray shot is small, but it’s not impossible, especially since the location of the shooter is unknown and whether or not he -and it’s generally a ‘he’- is using a suitable backstop.   All in all, with other houses and people relatively close by, shooting seems like a dangerous practice, regardless of what the law may allow.

But what if indifference elevates to cruelty? A case in point recently occurred in Mid Coast Maine as reported by a local newspaper. A man (possibly the same one already mentioned) apparently decided that the best use of his time was to shoot chipmunks using a pellet gun, therefore depriving them of the same life that he would not like to be deprived of himself as well as inflicting pain that he wouldn’t like to experience either. He then allegedly shot his own dog and sat by without getting medical assistance for the animal for approximately 45 minutes while the dog suffered. Not surprisingly, it died of internal bleeding.

Initially, the man claimed that someone else had shot the dog, but the story changed with the man admitting to shooting the dog accidentally while firing at chipmunks. He will be charged with aggravated cruelty to animals and may be charged with making a false report.

For those who are not appalled by the fate of the dog in this story, thinking that, after all, it’s only a ____________, be advised that whatever completes the blank following ‘it’s only’ is a term of belittlement which tends to minimize the pain of the creature involved, not to mention the well-established link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans.

Also be advised (and this is something you may not know} that the law in this state, as the newspaper reported, allows the owner of a cat or dog to shoot and kill their cat or dog, but the owner must use “a weapon and ammunition of suitable caliber and other characteristics to produce instantaneous death by a single shot.” In other words, no watching the animal die slowly for nearly an hour.

It also means that a reason to destroy Fido and Tabby is not required probably because, in legal terms, they are considered chattel (i.e. a movable possession) as opposed to a non-movable possession (e.g. real estate). This instance – and possibly a few others you might think of –  is a good example of what Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist meant when he famously said “ the law is a Ass.”

After all, not many people with confuse their cat with a chair or their dog with one of the kids’ bicycles.   Among lots of obvious differences, neither chairs nor bikes have a life as we know it, nor do they experience any of the emotions we do. When you get tired or bored with the animals who’ve shared their lives with you, the law says you can end them, just as you might discard those old lawn chairs out back. At least there are laws against cruelty to what might be called ‘living chattel’ though why owners are allowed to kill their pets is not clear. It’s one more example of the difference between what’s legal and what’s right.

Assuming that a dog or cat is terminally ill, it would seem that a prognosis would have been reached by a medical professional, and if there is no other recourse or treatment, being ‘put to sleep’ (not a euphemism but an accurate description) is the least traumatic for the animal – certainly less so than the shock and noise of a misplaced bullet and the suffering as well as a prolonged struggle to survive that might well ensue.

Death is not easy for anyone, and if we had a choice, we’d no doubt skip the whole experience. However, since we don’t, let the end be with compassion and as pain free as possible.

Animals who’ve been welcomed into our homes with love and care which they return with affection and companionship can represent the very best of who we are and the values we hold. They certainly deserve no less than what we would want for ourselves.



For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.

Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

Don Loprieno is a student of history and a published author.