I met Mikey yesterday at the S.P.C.A animal shelter in Gander, Newfoundland. He's an orange, tabby tomcat. He got his name from the "Mikey'll-eat-anything" commercial, because when this cat came to the shelter, he ate anything and everything. You see, Mikey's not your average stray. He didn't show up one morning on someone's doorstep looking for donations. He showed up in a backyard in Glovertown and was more concerned with first-aid than a bowl of milk.
When Mikey was brought to the Gander animal shelter, Betty Suley--president of the local S.P.C.A. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)--and her staff assessed his injuries. They found multiple wounds, including gashes on his leg and shoulder indicating he'd been hit by buck shot. There was a ring of bare, scarred skin around his neck that Suley, having seen this type of wound before, immediately recognized as a "snare-induced wound." One of Mikey's eyes were damaged and scratches ran the length of his body. He was sick and dangerously underweight.
Unfortunately, Mikey's case is not an isolated incident. In fact, Betty Suley says such cases are commonplace. Cases of animal cruelty not only cover physical abuse; they also include incidents of neglect and abandonment. Suley can rhyme off stories of starving dogs too weak to stand, of kittens thrown down a set of stairs, and of a dog found abandoned and frozen into the ice-covered surface of a lake.
When asked why there is such an abundance of animal cruelty, Betty fingered two main problems: ignorance and a weak Criminal Code concerning the rights of animals. When animal owners are ignorant of the needs of their pets, they may be cruel without realizing it. Most S.P.C.A. cases involve dogs left out in the cold without proper shelter or dogs lacking adequate exercise. When owners are confronted with the problem and advised how to properly care for their animals, they usually will take note and not re-offend.
However, there are people who are cruel to their animals, knowing full well that
what they are doing causes the animal to suffer. This is often the case when animals are
starved, abandoned, or physically abused. These owners do not care about their animals and
are unlikely to change their ways, even when confronted.
It is for such owners that the Canadian Criminal Code introduced an article concerning cruelty to animals. It states that an owner is guilty of an offense if he or she "wilfully causes or, being the owner, wilfully permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or bird." The problem with this Criminal Code article is that its vague wording makes it hard to prosecute a case. The article raises such difficult questions as "Is there such a thing as necessary pain?" and "What exactly is suffering?"
Even if an owner is found guilty of cruelty, the severest penalty he or she can receive is a $500 fine and/or a six-month jail term along with the order not to own an animal for up to five years. This is hardly enough to deter a would-be offender, who most likely feels that he or she will not be caught.
Obviously, the current Criminal Code article is not enough. Betty Suley, the S.P.C.A., and other humane societies across Canada are fighting for radical changes to the weak legislation now in use. They propose rewording the article to clarify its meaning and toughening the penalties in an effort to deter other offenders.
Thanks to the Gander S.P.C.A. Mikey is now healthy, healed, and fat as a cat should be. Adopted by Betty Suley, he is now a permanent resident of the shelter. Readers who would like to provide similar happy-endings for cruelly-treated animals can contact their local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.).