This is an article written by a Veterinarian
who investigates animal cruelty cases. It has a happy ending but tells
a powerful story.
By Dr. Max Rust, D.V.M., Tulsa, OK USA:
I should warn you, I'm not James Herriott.
My dog's story is not of the warm fuzzy genre, but is illustrative
of a most pervasive problem....one which
too few of you are aware.
It is often said that veterinarians must have
an inordinate love for animals, but they also are often called
on to deal with the very harshest realities
of human and animal relations. If my dog tale lacks the cloying
sanguinity of "All Creatures Great and Small,"
hopefully it is not totally devoid of optimism.
A year ago in June, on a hot Sunday afternoon
as I lounged in torpid repose, Channel 2 News was airing a
story about dog carcasses found in the back
yard of a Tulsa residence. Two of the dogs were still alive, so I
knew I would be involved in the case.
"Maggots was workin' on three of 'em and the
fourth one's only been dead about two days." The sheriff's
lieutenant continued in an impassive voice,"it's
been alleged that they were fightin' pit-bull dogs in the
garage, and when one would get killed, they'd
just drag it out in the yard and let it deteriorate."
Feeling old, tired, and professionally burned
out, I wondered why had I volunteered for the grim task of
animal cruelty exams and necropsies. I guess,
as depressing as it was, it seemed like important work.
Maybe I just wanted something besides myself
to feel sorry for. If that was the case, I was about to get my
wish, IN SPADES.
The following morning after doing the spay
and neuter surgeries and rabies observations, I headed for the
pens housing the two dogs from the news story.
(It's hard enough for me just to walk through the rows of
dog runs at the shelter, knowing that most
of the animals will have to be killed....sometimes I get the urge
to open all the gates and set them free,
but that would not solve their problem.) They suffer from that
"most terrible disease," in the words of
Mother Teresa, "of being unwanted." It's sad to say, but as outcasts,
they are much better off in the shelter than
When I got to the first dog's run, it looked
empty. I'm used to seeing dogs with sad faces begging for a
crumb of attention or warily cringing against
the distal parapets. There was nothing so animate as either
in this run. When I first saw him, he was
curled up so tightly, he could have been mistaken for a water
dish. As he tried to stand up, I could see
the pitiful remains of a large pit-bull dog. Bones jutted out
everywhere. He looked like a skeleton with
hair, and what hair he had was in sparse, dirty little tufts
between numerous fight wounds, scars, and
mange. His ears had been clumsily chopped off and the
unhealed edges made him look like a macabre
Mr. Potato Head.
I recoiled in horror at the sudden thought
of what this poor, wretched dog had endured. What sort of
dissolute soul could do this to a helpless
After staring at him for what seemed an interminable
period, I realized that I had five more animals for
cruelty exams (each with another story),
so I had to move on
Driving back to my clinic, I thought how depraved
it was to treat animals this way.......was it sadism,
apathy, or stupidity? None seemed in short
supply. I kept seeing the pit-bull's face, a swarthy apotheosis of
the downtrodden. There are so many like him,
I felt powerless as I pondered the enormity of the problem
Animal cruelty is an epidemic that with only
the most egregious exceptions escapes the public's notice.
This poor dog had been beaten, starved, mutilated,
forced to fight for his life, and, worst of all, socially
Dogs are very social animals....more so, even,
than humans. How can humans be so inhumane? How can
humane people let such things happen? I resolved
to rescue him; even though it was a scratch on an
obdurate surface, a drop in a very large
I couldn't just leave him there to be euthanized.
That's the only way pit-bulls are allowed to leave the
shelter.....dead. I wanted him to experience
at least one good day on earth. If possible, maybe I could even
show him what it's like to be loved and wanted.
It would take some string-pulling from the
D.A.'s office before I could get him released from the
shelter......after all, he was a pit-bull,
the paradigm of canine incorrigibility. (That is what media mavens
would have you believe.) The truth is, pit-bulls
are the oldest registered American breed and have long
been favored for their courage, (fanciers
call it "gameness") loyalty, and intelligence.
Unfortunately, their fighting reputation has
made them very popular with a lot of unsavory characters who
have ushered in a spate of backyard-bred,
people-aggressive curs. Real pit-bulls are selected to be so
people-friendly, they don't even make good
watch dogs. But the newspapers are sold by grinding angsts,
not accentuating positives. Consequently,
people who wouldn't know a pit-bull sitting at their feet, still
consider them to be the snarling menace of
their worst nightmare. So torturing and killing them is, I
suppose, more acceptable, or at least easier
I'm NOT a pit-bull fancier. In fact, I'm more
of a cat person, but let us remember, as "Uncle Mattie" says,
"There are no bad breeds, just bad breeding."
We transferred the pit-bull to my clinic and started treating
his multitude of problems. I had no idea
what kind of dog he would be personality-wise, with all of the
abuse and privation he had suffered.
His stone face was inscrutable...blank except
for a sadness in his sunken eyes. He was easy to work on so
with considerable effort from all concerned,
along with lots of treats and loving attention added to the
antibiotics, vitamins, and medicated baths,
the 30-pound skeletal specimen was morphed into a solid
After a couple of months, a shiny coat hid
most of his scars, and the glum look on his face had been
replaced by an infectious grin that, adorned
by his chopped-off ears, was reminiscent of a happy face
drawn on a Pompeian ampulla.
Meanwhile, my jaded karma had been ameliorated
by his astonishing progress, not to mention his
buoyant, stiff-upper-lip charm. Somehow he
had managed to come through unimaginable hardship, not
only clinging to life, and maintaining a
positive attitude, which was to me, an inspiration. We named him,
Pete and I started going on daily walks, short
at first because he didn't have much stamina. Soon we were
doing three miles or more, and as we ambled
our way through the bosky recesses of Boman Acres, we were
getting to know each other pretty well. It
wasn't long before I was feeling better than I had in years!
Dog walking is very good exercise for man
as well as dog. Pete loves and is loved by all of the
neighborhood children, and for the most part
has even become a gentleman around cats and other dogs.
Transformed into a doting pet parent, I beam
with pride at any compliment directed at my charge. With a
cake and party hat, we celebrated Pete's
unofficial birthday in July.
I think it's safe to say that Pete has helped
me at least as much as I have him. When asked what breed he
is, I've been known to answer, with a slightly
cryptic grin, "He's my 'Healer.'"
So it was that Pete and I came to heal each
other and in the process, became bonded in lifelong friendship.
His case was not only a watershed to me,
but a source of encouragement to the cruelty investigating team.
Pete's previous owner is now serving six counts
of 5 years each. Judge Turnbull simply termed the case
"unbelievable." I wish that I could agree
with that assessment; but, although the brutality of Pete's former
life is now only a distant memory, many other
cases continue to pass through the shelter with oppressive
regularity. It is all too believable for
those of us that grapple with the gruesome, and often overwhelming
problem of cruelty to man's best friend.
If ever you find yourself in need of a cure
for ennui, or maybe just a dose of reality, I highly recommend a
trip to the city animal shelter, where you
will see that taking any kind of significant bite out of animal
cruelty remains a formidable, if not impossible,
Having learned from my friend Pete, I, for
one, have no intention of giving up.