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"A society's treatment of animals
is a measure of its civilization."
Banner's first three years have been rough. His history is similar to many of the 8-12 million animals (dogs, cats, etc.) that enter shelters nationwide every year. That Banner is a typical adoptee does not make his story any less compelling, however...nor less tragic. If anything, the fact that Banner's story is so typical of shelter animals only serves to heighten the tragedy. (Read The Plight of Shelter Animals for more information)
Banner first arrived at the Plattsburgh, NY, shelter as a 6-week-old puppy. He was soon adopted out to a couple with a 3-year-old child and his future seemed secure. However, the couple was also expecting a second child and during the last couple months of the pregnancy it became too difficult to care for both Banner and the 3-year-old while the husband was at work all day. Banner was thus chained in the backyard. A dog on a chain is a common occurrence, yet we do not always understand that this is the worst kind of abandonment for a dog. Dogs thrive on routine, and for the first seven months of his new life with this family, Banner's routine seemed to be a happy one. Then, suddenly he was chained outside with no exercise and no attention except for feeding. Why? He could still see and smell his family, his old routine, continuing as normal in the house...but he was no longer a participant. Banner's only crime was being a creature who needs love and attention. A chained dog quickly becomes bored, and a bored dog barks, digs, chews inappropriate objects and thrashes at the end of his chain. Invariably, the dog learns that such actions can earn him attention...perhaps not the loving attention of his former life, but better than nothing. Neighbors began to complain about Banner's barking, and eventually the owners called the shelter to ask how he could be made to stop. The shelter asked that the couple surrender Banner--he was not adopted out to spend his life at the end of a chain--so after nine months, Banner was returned the Plattsburgh shelter.
Having interacted with the staff of the Adirondak Humane Society, I believe that Banner was very well cared for during his time at the Plattsburgh shelter. However, an animal shelter should only serve as a "halfway house" between abandonment and a loving home. In a shelter, an animal simply cannot receive the kind of focused attention and love from a stable family that it requires and deserves. After being returned to the shelter, Banner spent almost a year there before I arrived, a year of living in a small pen, sometimes with another dog, surrounded by the noise and confusion of other dogs barking, different staff and potential adopters coming and going, and once again a dirth of attention, exercise and opportunities to run free in the sunshine. Over the past couple years, Banner has lost a great deal of his trust in human beings, and it will be a hard road to rebuild that trust.
Interestingly enough, I do not blame the human beings Banner has interacted with in his life. It is important to note that Banner does not seem to have been a victim of explicit cruelty or physical abuse from human beings, and I suspect that this also is typical of many (perhaps most) animals that are surrendered to shelters. It is more a case of lack of awareness and understanding of the needs of this tender emotional being and the behaviors through which he expresses these needs. Yet, it is apparent to me that Banner has suffered deep mental and emotional injuries during the first few years of his life, thus I consider neglect in the form of lack of awareness and understanding to be just as harmful as physical abuse. If we are to take responsibility for the lives and health of our companion animals, then we must also strive to better understand their needs and natural animal behaviors.