Part of what living more thoughtfully involves is a respect for other living beings, whether they come in the form of your neighbor, the sea turtle you protected by cutting up your plastic bottle rings, or even the kitten you saved from discomfort and respiratory distress by cleaning their litter box twice a day. I had a blog post lined up about homemade pickled radishes (one of my favorite vegetables, pickled or raw) that I had stirred up yesterday in my free time between repainting my kitchen cabinets and cleaning the living room. However, after the events that transpired this morning, I thought this topic was more significant.
It feels more like July than the last full week of May up here in Vermont. We’re experiencing mid- to high- 70-degree weather in Burlington this week, pushing 80-degrees starting tomorrow and lasting through the weekend. Today, I was twenty minutes late for work due to the weather and – on a more substantial level – one persons’ thoughtlessness. On my late-morning commute into town – heading toward the gallery – I was walking by a car with cracked windows. It was 11:55, only five minutes shy of the suns’ highest (and hottest) point in the robins’ egg blue, cloudless sky, and there was a husky sitting in the back seat looking out at me. It was around 70-degrees at that point and inside a car in direct sunlight, the temperature could easily rise to 120-degrees within an hour.
A quick Google search with parameters as simple as “dog in car” will bring up article upon article of people leaving dogs (and babies!) in their cars for extended periods of time. Some of the animals (and children) have perished due to being locked inside vehicles for extended periods of time. Only last week, a pet owner left their animal in their car for five hours, resulting in the fatality of the dog (not to mention the immense amount of pain that the dog suffered before passing due to dehydration, nerve, brain and heart damage).
I grew up with dogs; my parents have had one or two dogs ever since the beginning of my memory. I spent time every day of my childhood with a dog by my side, either out in the backyard, at my feet at the dinner table, or snuggled up with me on the rug in front of the television. The picture here is of my recently deceased pup, Zeeka, who lived to the ripe old happy age of 14. His family miss him dearly, and we are so blessed to have so many wonderful years with such an amazing soul. We never once left him in a car on his own. To my family, it is as simple as this; if you have your dog (or animal), you don’t have “a quick minute” to do anything else – take him home before you shop for groceries.
I couldn’t have been more blessed as a child to be given the gift of reading, to be able to absorb the knowledge of someone else and replicate it in my own life. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is commendable in many ways, but one quote comes to mind when I think of what I experienced today: “If you want to know what a man is like, take a look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” After approximately 200,000 years, you would think (or dare to hope) that humanity might have discovered that we cannot own living things. Sure, you might pay a breeder to bring a dog into your family, you might owe a rescue fee for taking a cat home with you, but that living thing is not bought and paid for as property.
Experiencing first-hand the sorrow and loneliness that my parents’ younger dog felt when Zeeka passed away only a month ago could have been enough for anyone to see that animals do experience deep and interpersonal emotions, similar to humans. I could see that the husky locked inside the car was agitated, another trait that animals and humans share. I waited 10 minutes for the owner of the car and family member of the husky to return, and when they didn’t, I called the local police department, only a handful of blocks away.
I volunteer at a local rescue center who take in dogs from all over the country, but especially those midwestern states where neglect and abuse are more common. I donate my time, energy, and resources so that these animals understand that while their experiences leading up to now might have been rotten, frightening, or downright violent, they deserve to be treated with love and respect. For someone who has deliberately chosen to adopt an animal – like the husky – into their family, but then neglect and mistreat it so unjustly really wounds me. I would use the “you wouldn’t do that to your child” fallback statement – except for the fact that, all over the country, people are choosing to leave their children in their cars alongside their animals. This is not a criticism of individuals, but a critique of our culture: we need to change our collective perspective on treating all animals – not just cats and dogs, but wild animals, too – with the respect we as humans have openly demanded for thousands of years.
When the police arrived, they assured me that they would do all they could to contact the owner of the vehicle and call them back to their car to take care of their animal. They intimated that the dog could be taken to a shelter or foster depending on the circumstances when the person arrived back to their car. The ASPCA representative on the scene told me that, while the husky was indeed agitated and warm, he was not exhibiting any symptoms of the health problems that can arise when animals are left in sunny vehicles, he was only agitated by the lack of his human companion and the curiosity about the world outside his car window. The police reassured me that, should the dog begin to show signs of emotional or physical distress, they would take immediate action to extract him from the car.
While I admit I was angry with the owner of the car in the moment, and still upset hours after the event, and still affected enough to come home from work eight hours later and write a blog post about it – I wouldn’t wish ill for that person. My only hope is that their dog – their family member – is well taken care of from now on. Whether that happens to be with their original family or a new one, as long as that sweet pup is taken care of, I can rest a little easier. Animals deserve our respect, they are our neighbors in this world, we live side-by-side, and should be regarded as living beings, the same as we are.
I am happy to say that police and officials are stepping up their presence when it comes to basic animal rights. California has even introduced Bill 797, or the “Right to Rescue Act”, that would allow a passerby – like me, today – to break into a car (by means of smashing a window or otherwise – in order to rescue an animal in distress. While this bill is far from law, taking these steps in the right direction is encouraging.
Today has been a great reminder as to why living a purposeful life was the best choice for me to have made for myself. All the small things I like to do – especially for my fur-babies – to create a better and more comfortable life makes all the bills and hard work worthwhile in the end. Because, as I’ve already iterated, your animals are part of your family, not a possession to be discarded or treated inhumanely. Happy tails, everyone!