Animal abuse is in the news these days

Just look at the story of Sadie, the German shepherd from Ecorse who was tied to the railroad tracks and left to die. People were outraged on behalf of the dog's owner. Even a police officer suggested, "She should sue them." Sadly, that's not as easy as it sounds.

Most states, including Michigan, set the legal value of an animal at whatever its price would be on the open market -- racehorse or goldfish, champion bull or fireside pal, all are considered no more than personal property. If someone causes the death of an animal, all the owner can ask for in damages is its fair market value -- "less depreciation," as one especially hard-hearted claims adjuster suggested. Sentimental value doesn't count; no matter how long you and your dog have been together or how much your cat means to you, if it's killed, you can't sue for more than you could sell it for.

Once upon a time, this approach made sense. Most animals worked for a living or were food producers more than human companions. But in contemporary society, things just aren't the same. By some estimates, there are over 100 million pet dogs and cats in this country. Some dogs guard their owners or hunt and some cats still catch rats and mice, but there is no denying that it is the social and psychological benefits of pet ownership that keep pet stores prosperous and veterinarians in business.

As I heard in a vet's waiting room: "Of course we brought her here; she's a member of the family!" Indeed, one survey found as many as 80 percent of pet owners describe their animal companions like that. Science has begun to recognize the strength of the human-animal connection. Since the 1980s, a host of studies have established the importance of the bond between people and their pets. One of the first found that people who owned dogs were more likely to survive after a heart attack. More recently, larger-scale studies have confirmed the association between pet ownership and better health.

The effect is particularly pronounced among elderly people. Pets alleviate the loneliness of the widowed, for example, and pet visitation programs in nursing homes make residents less depressed and more receptive to treatment. One assessment found a decreased need for medication, reduced tensions between residents and less staff turnover in a nursing home where animals were abundant and part of the center's daily routine.

Alzheimer's patients also benefit from contact with companion animals, and a 1990 study found that Medicare participants who owned pets made fewer doctors' visits.

When a pet dies, the bereavement process is similar to that of the loss of a well-loved human being. The evidence is abundant. At least 19 cemeteries (and two crematoriums) in Michigan are devoted exclusively to pets.

Across the country, grief counseling hot lines provide help to owners who have lost their pets. At the University of Pennsylvania, social work services have been available to bereaved pet owners since 1978. A modern bookstore features half-a-dozen volumes on coping with the death of an animal.

Why, then, does society persist in pretending that a poodle is the same as a piano? In Koester v. VCA Animal Hospital, Michigan's Court of Appeals recently agreed with a veterinarian that she should not be liable for the psychological loss to an owner whose dog was choked by a too-tight bandage. Although the judges were sympathetic, they declined to change the rule. The dog's owner has appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, but it has not yet decided whether to hear the case.

It is not so long in human history that women, children and others were seen, in legal terms, as merely property. We like to think that society has evolved since then. It is time we acknowledge that animals, too, are worth something more than their price at auction. Let's not let Sadie be forgotten.

BARBARA H. GOLDMAN is an attorney with the firm of Lopatin, Miller, Freedman, Bluestone, Herskovic & Domol in Southfield and a former chairperson of the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.

Twelve Days of Horror For Pets In England

Set on fire, mutilated and scalded - just some of the fates experienced by animals in England during a shockingly violent period this fall. A string of brutal attacks from 25 September to 6 October has horrified England's RSPCA inspectors. Among the victims was a spaniel who captured the hearts of the UK public after her body was thrown in a river with a 10kg weight around her neck. RSPCA chief officer of the inspectorate Andy Foxcroft said the sudden escalation in violence had troubled staff and he urged the public to respect animals and report abusers. "Although we investigate a number of brutal incidents each year, this sudden glut of violent cases is deeply troubling," he said. "It is dreadful to realise that we live in a society where some people feel it is acceptable to harm animals in such vile ways.

RSPCA Web site "Everyone has a responsibility to protect animals from harm and prevent cruelty. We are asking the public to make a stand and to contact us or the police whenever they witness or suspect animal abuse is taking place," Foxcroft said. The shocking recent incidents included: 25 Sept - Cat's ear cut off and posted through (guardian)'s letterbox, in Liverpool 28 Sept - Body of weighted-down spaniel thrown in river, in Southampton 1 Oct - Kettle of boiling water poured over 12-week-old kitten, in Somerset 1 Oct - Youth caught on CCTV apparently kicking hedgehog to death, in East Yorkshire 2 Oct - Half a sliced cat placed on school steps, in Rotherham 3 Oct - Sheep possibly bludgeoned, legs bound and dumped by road, in London 3 Oct - Black Labrador allegedly shot with nailgun, in Nottinghamshire 4 Oct - Cat doused in petrol and set alight, in Bath 6 Oct - Cat killed by trauma to head and hung from tree, in Chichester 6 Oct - Teenagers inflict massive head injuries on elderly cat, in Somerset.

RSPCA director general Jackie Ballard said it was impossible to provide a clear explanation for this sudden escalation in violence, but warned against the possible dangers of animals being demeaned in entertainment. She said: "On our televisions we now see so-called survival shows where a chicken will be killed by amateurs for no other purpose than entertainment. We have celebrities eating live insects and crawling through tubes filled with rats. "We believe that at best this is demeaning to animals and at worst can involve suffering. Our fear is that people will become desensitized and feel it is acceptable to abuse animals for any reason." "While we have not yet proved a scientific link between the two, it cannot help our message of promoting kindness to animals," Ballard said. From January the RSPCA's education team, which helps teach children the value of respecting animals, will refocus its work in the parts of England and Wales where inspectors are at their busiest. Reproduce this Article on a Web Site or in Print Up to 25 education officers will aim to build stronger relationships with schools in these areas in an effort to target their work more effectively, helping teachers to integrate the animal welfare message into Britain's national curriculum.

12 Things You Can Do To Help Animals

1. Keep Animals Off Your Plate

Every year in the U.S., billions of chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs are raised in miserable, filthy conditions—cramped together without access to the outdoors, denied their most basic instincts, mutilated without painkillers, and crudely slaughtered. Billions of fish and other aquatic animals die in fishing nets and fish farms. There are virtually no laws to protect animals raised for food, and the incredibly high demand for cheap meat, milk, and eggs makes offering individual care to billions of animals virtually impossible. But animals aren't the only ones who suffer at the hands of factory farming. Our society's consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products is directly linked to serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and more. Raising billions of animals for food also devastates wildlife and the environment. Millions of tons of fecal waste contribute to soil erosion, water pollution, and ozone depletion, and vast amounts of wasted grain, water, land and pesticides are expended in farming animals. Over-fishing and aquaculture are equally devastating to marine ecosystems. To get started, find some vegan (no meat, dairy, or eggs) recipes on the Internet or pick up a vegan cookbook, and try out some new foods at a local health foods store. With so many delicious vegan foods available, you'll be surprised how easy changing your diet is. Remember that each time you eat a plant-based meal, you are making a difference for animals, the environment, and your own health.

2. Choose Cruelty-Free Products

Many consumer products, from cosmetics to cleansers, are tested on animals. When we choose cruelty-free products, we support ethical companies that know pouring toilet bowl cleaner or nail polish down rabbits' throats or in their eyes is neither ethical nor reliable for establishing a product’s safety. Take a moment to look for the statements “Not tested on animals” or “Cruelty-free” on the packaging. Otherwise, assume the product was tested on animals. Visit www.idausa.org for lists of companies that do and do not test on animals.

3. Don’t Wear Animal Skins

Animals are not fabric! Animals killed for fur, leather, suede, wool, angora, down and silk suffer immensely and unnecessarily. Boycotting these items reduces the demand and withdraws financial support for industries that profit from them. Fabrics not made from animals, including comfortable, fashionable non-leather shoes, are readily available from many mainstream and specialty stores and via online cruelty-free shopping sites.

4. Be a Guardian — Not an Owner

Much animal exploitation stems from the outdated belief that animals are our property and we are their owners. A simple shift in words can combat this harmful mindset. Calling ourselves animal guardians signifies a higher level of responsibility, respect, and compassion for him or her, and brings about a more humane world by modeling respectful language and behavior. Several cities have changed their legal ordinances to reflect this important distinction. Are you an animal guardian? Spread the word. Where you see or hear the term “animal owner,” introduce the idea of animal guardianship by speaking up or by writing to columnists, editors and publishers. For more information on how your community members can become official animal guardians.

5. Rescue, Adopt, Spay and Neuter

Each year, millions of cats, dogs, rabbits and other companion animals are killed in shelters because there are far more animals than adoptive homes for them. By rescuing or adopting instead of buying from a breeder or pet store, you can make a difference for an animal in need. Prevent shelter overpopulation by spaying (for females) or neutering (for males) your animal companions to ensure that they do not reproduce. IDA’s public service announcement, “Adopt and Save a Life,” has aired on CNN and on stations across the country. Contact IDA if you’d like to get this PSA aired in your community.

6. Boycott Animal “Entertainment”

Animals in circuses are trained through pain and intimidation, and spend most their lives cramped in cages while being transported from one location to another. Cruelty to animals is the main attraction at the rodeo, where severely injured animals are often denied painkillers and taken straight to the slaughterhouse. Zoos deprive animals of their most basic social and environmental needs, teach visitors little about animals, and are ineffective at preserving endangered species. Similarly, captive dolphins and whales suffer and often live only a fraction of their natural life spans. You can make a difference by boycotting animal “entertainment” and educating others to do the same.

7. Donate to Cruelty-Free Causes

Most universities and health charities use animals in research (called “vivisection”) that causes severe pain and death, even though there are many non-animal-based technologies that are cheaper, more reliable, and more humane. Because different species respond differently to diseases and drugs, data from one species cannot be reliably applied to another. Encouraging preventative steps to promote good health and strengthening and enforcing environmental regulations would do far more good for human health. Next time you are solicited by a health charity that funds vivisection, instead of sending a gift, write a letter urging the group to switch to non-animal-based technologies.

8. Protect the Environment

Because animals live in trees, on land, and in water, they rely on a stable climate, habitat, and food chain. One cannot protect animals without also preserving their habitats. By making environmentally conscious choices, we can make a difference for all species. Taking public transportation or driving more fuel-efficient cars reduces our contribution to global warming and, along with going vegan, is the best way to lessen our impact on the environment. Since all consumer products are made from the Earth’s resources and eventually end up in a landfill, reducing the number of products we use, reusing products when we can, and recycling products we cannot reuse significantly lessens our impact on the Earth.

9. Learn More

The more you know about issues affecting animals, the more effectively you’ll advocate for them. There are many books, magazines, and websites that can bolster your commitment to animals with a philosophical framework, facts and statistics.

10. Spread the Word

Talk to your friends and family about how they can help animals. Writing concise, polite letters to newspaper and magazine editors (be sure to include your contact information), requesting more vegan options at restaurants or supermarkets, and urging companies to adopt animal-friendly policies, make a big difference. IDA would be happy to send you materials to distribute. Leaving brochures in cafes, doctors’ offices, animal shelters, or other places is easy and effective. Get involved with a local animal rights group, or consider starting your own with a few friends. Be creative! Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to speak out for animals at a school, festival, house of worship, or community center.

11. Lobby Your Legislators

Legislators need to know that your vote depends on their opposition to animal suffering. Local animal groups and the offices of your state representatives can tell you what bills are pending and to whom you should write. Visit the Government Guide to find your legislators’ contact information.

12. Support the Animal Protection Movement

Volunteer your time, talents, services, and funds to IDA or other animal protection organizations. In order to be successful, the Movement must have the resources to bring animal issues to the public’s attention. Contact IDA for information about volunteer opportunities and giving options such as our monthly pledge or car donation programs.