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Tag: task force

100 slain sled dogs to be exhumed this week

With spring’s thaw, forensic experts will begin exhumation this week of a mass grave in British Coumbia as part of an investigation into the slaughter of 100 sled dogs last year.

Details of the killings last April surfaced in January after sled dog tour operator Robert Fawcett filed a disability claim saying he suffered post-traumatic stress from shooting and slitting the throats of about 100 dogs, under orders from his bosses.

The dogs were dumped – some still alive — in a mass grave north of Whistler.

The British Columbia SPCA announced Sunday it would begin a week-long investigation aimed at finding out whether the dogs were killed inhumanely, said Marcie Moriarty, the society’s animal cruelty investigation manager.

“The scope of this investigation is unprecedented in North America,” Moriarty told The Province. “We owe it to those 100 dogs buried in that grave to ensure that this kind of tragic incident never happens again in B.C.”

Exhuming the dogs wasn’t possible until now because of frozen ground.

Eight forensic experts will take part, including veterinarians, archaeologists and anthropologists from across North America,  many of whom have volunteered their time for the effort, Moriarty said.

After the mass killing was reported, a provincial task force was formed  to review the incident, leading to recommendations for tougher animal cruelty penalties and new regulations that required the sled dog tour industry to establish humane euthanization policies.

Moriarty said all the dogs would be given a respectful and humane burial after the investigation.

A cat named Mittens, a dog named Phoenix

As the case against two brothers accused of setting a pit bull named Phoenix on fire unfolds in a Baltimore courtroom, a cat named Mittens is nursing both her kittens and the wounds she received after being set on fire in the city.

It may not be raining abused cats and dogs, but this — one case entering the public consciousness before the other has a chance to clear it — is how a reputation gets made. And if Baltimore doesn’t do something — something big, something quick — it stands in danger of becoming known not as the city that reads, or even the city that bleeds, but the city that torches, and tortures, its pets.

Whether it deserves that label more than other cities is arguable. It’s also not the point. The point is the torture of animals is a big flashing neon sign, reading ”Address This Issue.” It’s a highly visible symptom of an illness in society that, even though it has been diagnosed, is largely being ignored.

Baltimore has no monopoly on animal torture — and it’s not the only city that’s failing to fully address it. In cities across the country there are pockets of misguided youths who have either failed to develop any compassion, may never have been taught any, or have had it snuffed out of them.

Attacking the problem is something that should be done not just for reasons of image, but, much more importantly, because it has been well documented that children who take pleasure in torturing pets often grow up to inflict harm on fellow humans. Pick a serial killer and you can, almost always, find animal abuse in his past.

If how a society treats its animals is a barometer of how civilized it is, Baltimore needs a massive injection of civility — stat — some large doses of empathy and compassion, best administered during childhood.

The saddest irony of it all is that animals are one of the best ways to administer that, to teach children a respect for all living things. Instead, dogs and cats, who we have so much to learn from about life, love and happiness, time and again in Baltimore are serving as the victims for those seeking sick thrills or acting out their inner hostilities.

Mittens, according to officials at Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS), was placed into a milk crate by a juvenile who doused both the cat and the crate with lighter fluid, struck a match and threw it into the crate.

In flames, the cat broke free from the milk crate and ran from the yard, running in circles until the fire was extinguished, BARCS said. She then returned to the kittens she had recently given birth to at a home on Saint Ambrose Street. (St. Ambrose, for some more irony, is considered the patron saint of domestic animals.)

That incident came to light after the first day of testimony in the trial against teenage brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson, who are accused of dousing Phoenix, a pit bull, with accelerant and setting her on fire on May 27, 2009.

On Friday, Baltimore city police detective Syreeta Teel tearfully described finding the pit bull on fire on a West Baltimore street and running from her squad car to smother the flames with a sweater.

Despite her quick and heartfelt response, one thing that’s becoming evident during the trial is that the police department doesn’t take torturing and killing animals as seriously as some other crimes.

Teel, according to testimony, left the sweater, which might have provided traces of accelerant, on the sidewalk. The scene was never secured, and the police crime lab was never called. “The Baltimore City Police Department completely botched this,” said Assistant Public Defender Karyn Meriwether, who represents one of the brothers.

The death of Phoenix drew national attention, leading to thousands of dollars in donations to a reward fund and the creation of a city-wide Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, which issued a report last year that found numerous flaws in the city’s response — particularly that of law enforcement — to incidents of animal abuse.

According to a Baltimore Sun report, the prosecution’s evidence is limited in the Phoenix case, and relies largely on unclear surveillance video and the word of witnesses — including a woman who the defense says came forward once the reward topped $25,000.

Phoenix was burned over more than 95 percent of her body. Veterinarians would later find that her corneas had melted, and the inside of her mouth was scorched. She’d lost her footpads to the flames, but she kept fighting until, with her kidneys failing, she was put to sleep five days later.

“On a scale of one to 10,” her pain level was “10,” said a Pennsylvania veterinarian who treated her. Phoenix also had puncture wounds on her neck and leg, indicating she might have been in dog fights, but throughout her treatment she showed no aggression.

The Johnson brothers both were initially charged in juvenile court, but were later indicted as adults on the animal cruelty charges, which carry a maximum prison sentence of three years. Testimony is expected to continue this morning.

Animal advocates in Baltimore are watching the case closely, and hoping that, if found guilty, the twins receive the most severe punishment posible.

But as the weekend’s developments show, as Mittens reminds us, a strict sentence is not the entire solution. It’s reactive, and while it may send a needed message, the city needs to do more, in a proactive way. Investigating, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning animal abusers all need to be done, and done properly, and taken seriously, but what’s even more vital is preventing it from happening in the first place.

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Our favorite reader comment: ”Kindness and concern for animals is going to have to be taught in elementary school. It’s the only way to stop this problem in its tracks.”

Baltimoregal

To see all the comments on this post, click here.

Future looks bleak for Baltimore’s animals

phoenixWhat is the city of Baltimore doing in light of an animal abuse task force study that showed animal welfare and animal control agencies were underequipped, understaffed and underfunded?

Underfunding them a little more.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has proposed a preliminary 2011 budget that would reduce both the grant the city gives to Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter and funding to the city’s Bureau of Animal Control.

Despite the lip service the mayor’s predecessor, who created the task force, paid to stamping out animal abuse, the new mayor, faced with difficult choices and huge deficits, has proposed a budget that ensures few of the task force’s recommendations — at least those involving expenditures — will be met anytime soon.

So don’t be surprised to hear more stories like that of Phoenix (top), the pit bull who was doused with gasoline and set on fire a year ago, christy1[1]or Gabrielle, the 8-month-old cat set on fire twice by two boys last summer, or Christy, the pit bull pelted with bricks and rocks by a group of youths on Easter Sunday.

Don’t be surprised if the success BARCS has achieved in reducing the euthanasia rate since the former city shelter became a non-profit agency, starts regressing as well.

And don’t be surprised when the kind of senselessly violent behavior unleashed on animals — left ignored — escalates to violence against humans, as it almost always does.burnedcat

Under the proposed budget, BARCS would see its annual grant from the city cut by $120,000.  The Bureau of Animal Control, already woefully understaffed, would lose two positions.

“I don’t see how in God’s name they can cut Animal Control any more,”  Bob Anderson, who retired as director of the bureau late last year, told the City Paper . “How can they say ‘You’re woefully understaffed’ and then say ‘OK, we’ll cut you back.’”

As for BARCS, it is already “extremely understaffed,” according to Jennifer Mead-Brause, executive director. The shelter, which turned non-profit five years ago, has reduced its euthanasia rate by almost 60 percent since then.

About 40 percent of the 33 animals it takes in each day end up being euthanized, compared to as many as 98 percent in recent years. But, Mead-Brause noted, the budget cuts could mean the percentages will rise again.

Task force chair calls Vick’s award a disgrace

The chairperson of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force says bestowing an Ed Block Courage Award on Michael Vick is “premature at best and disgraceful at its worst.”

In a letter to Sam Lamantia, Jr., CEO of the Baltimore-based Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, Caroline A. Griffin, head of a task force charged with reducing animal abuse in Baltimore, expresses “grave disappointment” with the decision to honor Vick with the reward. Vick was unanimously nominated by his Philadelphia Eagles teammates.

Vick’s award, scheduled to be presented in March, is also being protested in the form of  a petition drive.

Here is Griffin’s letter, as it appears on Mayor Sheila Dixon’s website, in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Lamantia,

On behalf of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, we wish to express our grave disappointment and concerns over the decision of the Philadelphia Eagles to nominate Michael Vick as the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.

We believe that this nomination is premature at best and disgraceful at its worst. It is ironic that Mr. Vick’s teammates have selected him to receive an award in honor of a man who extolled that mankind should “work toward alleviating suffering and especially to alleviate the suffering of those who cannot help themselves.” Yet in response to this nomination, Mr. Vick seemingly laments only the hardships that he has endured as a convicted felon rather than those he imposed on the many victims of his crimes.

Mr. Vick apparently acknowledged, by virtue of his guilty plea, that he engaged in a cowardly and sadistic criminal enterprise for more than six (6) years, which terminated not because he saw the errors of his ways, but because he got caught. To date, we believe that he has done nothing more than fulfill the terms of his federal sentence. Aside from demeaning the memory of Mr. Block, there is a risk that bestowing this award to Michael Vick may unwittingly glamorize the brutal crime of dogfighting rather than deter it.

While we question the wisdom of this decision, we commend the Philadelphia Eagles for initiating a Treat Animals With Kindness (TAWK) program, which educates children and adults concerning animal abuse and dogfighting. Mr. Vick has several teammates who have voluntarily advocated against violence and abuse and who would appear to be more suitable candidates for such an honor. We believe that Mr. Vick is neither courageous nor a role model and that he remains an inappropriate recipient of such a prestigious award.

Very truly yours,
Caroline A. Griffin
Chair, Mayor’s Anti-Animal
Abuse Task Force

Task force on animal abuse calls for changes

phoenix3Baltimore could be doing a far better job of protecting its pets and animals, a task force appointed by Mayor Sheila Dixon concludes in an interim report released this week.

Its recommendations include stiffer penalties, stronger laws, greater police involvement, a larger and better equipped animal shelter, improved coordination between city departments and a greater effort to increase public awareness about the problem.

The task force was created after a pit bull was doused with gasoline and set on fire in West Baltimore in May, 2009.

Police Officer Syreeta Teel observed the burning dog on the 1600 block of Presbury Street and extinguished the flames with her sweater. The dog, who was subsequently named Phoenix by her caretakers, suffered severe burns over 95% of her body and died four days later.

The task force was charged with looking at ways to eradicate animal abuse, and dogfighting in particular, in the city; increase awareness of animal cruelty laws; legislation to protect animals and prosecute abusers; and how animal control and law enforcement could better handle animal cruelty cases.

“Our examination into these subject areas has not been all bleak,” the task force reported. “While the Department of Animal Control is in urgent need of assistance and reform, other systems, such as the current system for tracking animal related concerns, operates fairly effectively and needs only minor revamping to track animal cruelty cases.

“And while additional legislation should be enacted to prosecute abusers, on a positive note, the State’s Attorney’s Office of the City of Baltimore has shown great commitment in the prosecution of Travers and Tremayne Johnson, the defendants charged with aggravated animal cruelty in the burning death of Phoenix.”

The report adds: ”The public response to the work of the Task Force has been positive. Public sentiment is changing and a “no tolerance” policy toward animal abuse is emerging. Moreover, it is well recognized that animal abuse is a precursor to violent crime against people …

“If the City of Baltimore seeks to eradicate drug violence, gang violence, child abuse and spousal abuse, it must also eradicate animal abuse, for when one encounters animal abuse or dogfighting, one of the former scourges is likely to be present. Stamping out animal abuse is one of the most effective crime prevention tools available to law enforcement officials.”

You can find the full report on the mayor’s website.

Recommendations in the report call for a better system of reporting and tracking animal abuse, beefing up Animal Control staff, better communication with the city’s social services department about animal abuse cases, and assigning three police officers to work full-time with Animal Control.

Currently, there are no officers assigned to work with the department and no liaison between Animal Control and the Baltimore City Police Department, and no channel of communication to discuss ongoing investigations, the report says.

Animal control officers have no authority to make arrests or carry guns, the report notes, and “must call for police backup when investigating dogfighting or crimes in progress against animals.” Police response times can vary, but can be as long as 40 minutes. “In the interim, witnesses flee, crime scenes are not secured, and evidence degrades.”

Maryland has recently dropped into the bottom tier of states in terms of the strength of its animal cruelty laws, according to the report, which calls for stiffer penalties for animal abuse.

Here is the complete list of recommendations:

Read more »

Brothers accused of setting fire to pit bull will be tried as adults, judge in Baltimore rules

Two brothers accused of burning to death the pit bull who became known as Phoenix will face felony charges as adults.

Travers Johnson and Tremayne Johnson, both 17, appeared Tuesday in juvenile court in Baltimore, where  a judge ruled they will be tried as adults, WBAL reported.

The teens are charged with dousing the dog with gasoline, then setting her on fire on May 27 in the 1700 block of Calhoun Street in southwest Baltimore. The 2-year-old pit bull suffered burns over 98 percent of her body.

The dog, rescued by a police officer, died four days later at a Pennsylvania animal hospital. Her death led to the formation of a city task force to review animal cruelty laws.

Attorney Caroline Griffin, who chairs the animal abuse task force, observed yesterday’s court proceedings.

“What impressed me was how seriously the state’s attorney’s office is taking this case, as well as the court. The court listened to testimony for hours,” she said. “Juveniles who commit these type of crimes are just so much more likely to commit violent crime in the future, and I think people are aware of that, and that’s why this case is so important.”

Prosecutors said both brothers were involved with gangs, had chronic truancy issues and previous probation violations. Both also face drug charges.

Assistant state’s attorney Jennifer Rallo told the judge that video and witness accounts prove the brothers tortured and mutilated Phoenix. She said the brothers used a vacant home at 1616 Gilmore St. to keep pit pulls, and that police found signs of dogs and gang activity there.

Defense attorneys wanted the case to stay in the juvenile system, where they said rehabilitation services and programs were available. They argued that Tremayne Johnson has health issues and suffers from depression and brain tumors for which he recently underwent brain surgery.

Anti-animal abuse panel hears from public

About 75 people showed up for the first public meeting of Baltimore’s newly appointed Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force tonight, with many calling for improved education, harsher penalties for animal cruelty and creative measures to instill empathy for animals among young people.

Others ideas included bringing pets into schools; recruiting local celebrities, such as Ravens players, to become role models on how to treat animals; hiring an investigator trained in animal abuse cases for the police force, beefing up the 16-member staff of the city’s Animal Control Office; and mandatory spay/neuter laws to cut down on the number of homeless animals that often become targets for animal abuse.

The task force was appointed this summer after a pit bull puppy, later named Phoenix, was doused with gasoline and set on fire. The dog’s injuries were so severe he had to be euthanized a few days later. Since then, several cats have been discovered tortured, burned and abused.

The panel is expected to make recommendations to Mayor Sheila Dixon next July.