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From 28 March 2004 Issue

The Active Activist: The Bullies Are Winning
By Michelle A. Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

A year or so ago the animal-advocacy community was up in arms over the savage killing of a kitten by placing her on a barbecue in the presence of a bunch of drunken twenty-somethings who thought it was funny to torture a small animal. The next door neighbor was a hero in the eyes of the nation as she ran to the kitten's rescue, gamely removing the kitten from the coals with her bare hands and rushing her to the vet only to be humanely euthanized. The perpetrator was arrested and all was right with the world again. But we were shocked to learn that the charges against this monster were dropped because of threats to the hero neighbor. She refused to bear witness against him because he and his friends threatened her, her children and her animals. Bullying prevailed.

Last week, I received a late night phone call from a distraught acquaintance who said that her friend had called her to tell her that the night before she had heard a dog screaming from within someone's house. The next day, she saw the dog with a severely mangled leg dangling from his body, and a huge knot over his eye. "What should we do?" asked the acquaintance (who happens to be a seasoned veterinary technician). I explained that her friend SHOULD have called the police as it was happening, but failing that, if she would get me the street address I would call the police myself immediately and get the dog some help. She said she would get the address and call me back. I waited until the wee hours and still no phone call. The next day, I went to see her and asked her for the address, still thinking of the horrible pain and suffering this dog must be enduring. "Well," she said somewhat sheepishly, "My friend won't give me her address or the dog's address because she is afraid that the people will find out it was her who told and they might do something to her."

???????

This way of thinking is hard to comprehend for those of us who throw caution to the wind and scream from the rooftops with righteous anger when we see something we feel is wrong, especially where animals are concerned. Yet, the bullies win when we sit silently by in fear for our safety and that of our animals. The oft-quoted Edmund Burke said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good persons to do nothing." This is a succinct and constant reminder that speaking up in the face of wrongdoing is a noble and vital undertaking.

So what do we do if we fear retaliation from the bully? How do we respond to the wickedness and then the threat of further wickedness when animals lives are depending upon our speaking up? We find the courage somewhere, and we find allies.

First, be the "go to" person in your community so that those who know of such deeds will call you for help. Become knowledgeable and friendly with local police and animal control agents. Know that your state statutes are on your side and know that the police absolutely have the power to investigate and prosecute cases of animal cruelty. They may tell you that it is not within their jurisdiction, and you need to call the local animal control agencies, but don't you believe it! The police are every bit as able and capable of handling animal cruelty cases and are given that authority by state statute. When they tell you to call someone else, they are simply passing the buck. Don't let them get away with it!

Meet with your local sheriff or municipal law enforcement agency and ask them to set up a special animal cruelty tip line where folks can call anonymously and report suspected animal cruelty. There are Crimestoppers lines already set up in many areas, why can't they be used for felony animal cruelty cases? Look into it. The sheriff in Palm Beach County, Florida set up an anonymous tip line and tied it in with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) $2500 reward.

Counsel others to step forward. Tell them that if they are worried about their safety, imagine how vulnerable the animal is. Remind them that animal cruelty is a predictor of child and spousal abuse and that the animal may not be the only one in danger. Not that this makes it more important, but it may be of more interest to child protection agencies and police. Agencies make every effort to protect witness identity because they know that retaliation is a very real threat to some people.

What if the police don't take you seriously? Demand that a report is taken and record names, dates and badge numbers of all officers with whom you speak. Know that state laws are on your side.

What if you are wrong about what you suspect? Unless the animal needs emergency medical attention, nothing will happen immediately anyway. Your information will help to build a case, and once an investigation is underway, the evidence will reveal itself.

We cannot let the bullies prevail. Time and again when I hear a case of animal abuse and ask "Why didn't you call the police?" I hear "They aren't going to do anything about it!" Is that ok? Can we let that pass unchallenged? Let's raise the bar for animals and force the police to take animal abuse seriously. Let's make criminals accountable for each and every crime that they commit. People who hurt animals and other vulnerable populations are dangerous, psychotic and downright mean-spirited. We want more for our future. It is time to make animal cruelty a reportable crime and teach others, children and adults alike, that it is NEVER ok to watch or hear an animal in distress and not help out. The animals need your voice to make their own voices heard. Don't let them down.

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