Davis’s owner believes in miracles. And that, she says, is why she took no action to ease her dog’s unthinkable suffering during the last four months of his life.
On May 17, an eight-month-old Pit Bull was brought to the Espanola Valley Humane Society, the shelter where I volunteer. Even the seasoned administrators say Davis’s condition was the most devastating they had ever seen. Born a normal puppy, the dog’s hind legs were now mere stumps. Flesh, bone, and muscle lay exposed and decomposing.
His owner, a local woman, claimed Davis was shot in the back last winter. (By whom and for what reason is unknown — reports and charges were never filed.) At that time, she brought him to an area animal hospital where vets determined not only was the dog in a great deal of pain, but his hind legs were paralyzed. Unless Davis’s owner had access to vast resources for rehabilitation, medication, a specially constructed wheel chair, and around-the-clock care, euthanasia was the only humane choice, clinicians advised.
Davis’s owner seemed to understand and told the staff she wanted a bit more time with the dog. She left the clinic with a few days’ worth of painkillers — though paralyzed, his legs were not without sensation — and said she’d be back in a day or two for the procedure.
Instead, the woman brought Davis home and waited for her miracle.
What happens next isn’t entirely clear. By some accounts, a neighbor called Animal Control (a government-run agency) to report a dog in horrendous condition at the house next door. The agency has not been forthcoming as to whether they ever received such a call or whether an officer was sent to visit the home. What is clear, is that by this time, Davis had been dragging his useless hind legs behind him for months. He had literally worn them to the bone and licked away the remaining flesh. (Warning: Extremely graphic photos; view at your own risk.)
Animal Control Officers’ jurisdiction varies within each state. In Rio Arriba County here in New Mexico, an ACO has authority to round up stray dogs and cats. But he has no power to fine or even cite residents, let alone remove an animal from a home, no matter how appalling the situation. In order for an animal to be seized by reason of cruelty or neglect, a warrant from the sheriff’s office must be obtained.
In her years as Outreach Director for the Espanola shelter, Nina Stively has never known Animal Control or the Sheriff’s office — either separately or in cooperation — to seize an animal in jeopardy. Cruelty victims are only identified when found as strays or when their owners surrender them. On a national level, it would be like waiting for bin Laden to drop by the Department of Homeland Security. (The shelter, a privately-funded nonprofit, has no more legal authority to act than a private citizen.)
Among the unknowns in this story is why Davis’s owner chose May 17 to ask for help. I was reminded of Jack, the Heeler who was delivered to the shelter in similarly abominable circumstances about a year ago — like Davis, the Heeler’s gentle demeanor belied his gruesome injuries. Our staff veterinarian had been so struck by Jack’s ordeal (and performed two operations to save his life), she ended up adopting him. I can’t imagine what went through her mind when she saw Davis, so similar to Jack, yet his wounds even more horrendous.
Frankly, she probably didn’t have too much time to think about it. Davis’s situation was so dire, he was immediately given painkillers. The medical team then began evaluating how far into his organs infection had seeped, where amputations could be effectively made, and whether there was any way to save this dog’s life.
There was not.
Instead, Davis was made as comfortable as possible. He was cooed and fawned over. At long last, an absence of pain for the puppy who’d spent half his life in a state of devastation. Though reprieve was short compared to the months of agony, at least these were the last feelings he ever knew. In the truest sense of the word, Davis was euthanized.
So why am I telling you this story if there’s no saving this animal?
Because rarely is anyone held accountable for the suffering cruelty victims endure. In Jack’s case, his former owner was never tried, let alone convicted or punished. Not one policy was changed nor one law amended. And now, nearly a month after Davis’s case has become public and his owner identified, officials have yet to announce they will press charges.
I’m telling you this story because you can take action. You can help prevent such a thing from happening again (and again and again). Call the sheriff’s office. Let them know how important it is for Davis’s owner — who still has another dog living with her in the home — to face justice.
Call the county manager and county commissioners. Tell them it’s essential that our Animal Control officers are imbued with the power to take action in cruelty and neglect cases. And in the meantime, demand full accountability from those officers. Pretending that calls were not received or visits were never made simply because following up takes too much effort is unacceptable.
Don’t live in northern New Mexico? Great. We need your voice too. Let these agencies, and the people running them, know that the eyes of the entire country are following this case.
Rio Arriba County Sheriff:
Rio Arriba County Manager:
Rio Arriba County Commissioners:
Davis’s owner believed in miracles. But I believe the only fix to this broken and ineffective animal protection system is drastic change — and it must be brought about by humans. I suppose, in some ways, that would be a miracle.
In closing, a salute to the women who encounter these situations regularly, who care for these animals day in and day out, and whose livelihoods depend on strength drawn from god knows where. Gretchen, Nina, Lisa, Jenna, Linda, Barbara, Shawna, Sabrina, Patty: thank you.