ANIMAL WATCH-On December 26, at approximately 5:00 p.m., Fire Station No. 98 in Pacoima responded to a reported “pole fire” at 13462/13472 Van Nuys Blvd. Upon arrival they found that the wooden telephone pole was not burning, but the body of a small dog was engulfed in flames on the sidewalk, between the pole and the curb.
LAPD was notified, as well as LA Animal Services -- but the body was reportedly so charred that only one paw was fully identifiable. The responding Animal Control Officer was instructed to transport the remains to a location designated by the Animal Cruelty Task Force.
The first assumption, naturally, was that this was a heartless crime perpetrated on an innocent living creature, too small to severely threaten anyone and unable to escape or defend itself. But it would be unusual to risk torching a living animal in daylight on a heavily traveled street in a business district. That type of sadistic act is usually reserved for a Pit Bull that loses a fight and thereby “disrespects” its egocentric, vengeful, greedy owner.
Although unknown to emergency responders initially, the little terrier-type dog was not alive when it was burned. It was later determined by a necropsy that it had been killed by the blunt-force trauma consistent with being hit by a car. Several witnesses reportedly confirmed afterwards that the body had been lying by the curb for several days. This was still a crime; but it became arson, not animal cruelty.
This was the day after Christmas. It isn’t known if anyone had even attempted to have the body removed by the city. But does that make torching the little dead dog in the street morally acceptable?
One nearby resident said that he had seen “gangbangers” set a pile of trash on fire. The man was visibly disturbed when he learned it was a dog, and he pulled his own leashed pet a little closer.
The thought that a creature, living or dead, was obviously considered trash by those who turned its body into charcoal, caused me to ask seasoned Animal Control Officers who handle cases of animal cruelty and neglect daily, how they would feel responding to this call -- especially if they believed the dog was burned alive. All said it would be excruciatingly painful.
"When even your sickest people think it's okay to do something like this in broad daylight on a major street and have no fear of getting caught, something is terribly wrong,” one officer commented.
Another thoughtfully replied, “Going to a call for a dog set on fire would be my saddest moment, even after many years as an officer. Even when you get there too late, the poor dog’s face screams a painful death. I would feel I had personally let him down because all I could do was pick him up."
Asked if the fact that the dog was already dead would matter, they said that, although they would hope it had died instantly from the impact of a vehicle, it does not change the fact that a crime was committed. The ugliness of setting it on fire in the street is obviously an act of callous disregard, or even disdain, for an innocent being. There was also the intent to shock and cause emotional distress to drivers passing by or to other people who saw it.
“We have to decide how far we are going to lower the bar that measures humanity and compassion and conduct,” one officer passionately opined. Another asked, “If they do this to a dead dog, how do we know the next time it won’t be a live dog?”
Unfortunately, unlike most emergency responders, animal control officers rarely receive professional counseling to debrief them after a critical incident, and the internalized sadness turns into a sometimes-debilitating syndrome known as “compassion fatigue.” It is not strictly the result of a particular situation but the compounded tragedy (and futility) of trying to save the victims.
Another aspect of this disturbing crime that cannot be ignored is the dog’s owner who, by some act of irresponsibility, allowed or caused his or her pet to be in the street where it could be harmed.
Why was a small dog, which could not have survived long alone, out roaming on a busy thoroughfare? Was it abandoned and searching for food, or did it easily leave an unsecured yard? Could it have recently been a temporary foster or “free” giveaway by LA Animal Services, which eliminates the need to make either a monetary or emotional investment in order to “try out” a pet?
Many of the City’s policies are conducive to diminishing the value of the animals. They seek only to decrease the symptom (by discouraging impounds) rather than addressing the cause. The message that a pet is a lifetime commitment with serious legal obligations is not stressed -- and does not even seem to be part of the conversation. The focus on the “live-release rate” from shelters has obscured concern for the quality of life and safety of the animals, which often involves enforcing laws and penalties.
Of course, we need more officers to affect many of the necessary changes, but GM Brenda Barnette only tacitly recommended increasing ACO hiring recently. The imminent employment of 32 new officers was primarily the result of advocates’ efforts. Ms. Barnette advised the Council on the day of her confirmation that she intended to leave law-enforcement to LAPD. This caused a retort by then-Councilman Richard Alarcon that animal law-enforcement was her job.
In 2008, Animal Services GM Ed Boks issued a directive that officers would pick up any stray dogs as a priority for public and animal health and safety. Under GM Brenda Barnette, picking up strays (dogs running at large) is No. 18 on a priority list of 19 items.
However, if strays were removed from the streets, it would lessen the service calls that make up the first 17 priorities, which are … #1: Injured dogs; #2: Vicious animal (attacking); #3: Animals in distress; #4: Dog at/near a school; #5: Female-in-season (with male dogs packing); #6: Sick animals. And the list goes on.
Picking them up would increase the shelter population, which is the real reason they are left to fend for themselves until they fall into one of the above categories. It is also a reason thatmany people never find a lost pet.
Leash-law violation (without an officer observing) is #17. Requests for humane investigation, such as animals without food, water or adequate shelter, is #11 on the LAAS priority list.
The Mayor and Council have thus far ignored GM Brenda Barnette’s failure to vigorously protect animals. Only two officers, without backup at the shelter, cover all calls for the entire city from San Pedro to the West Valley at night, when many serious injuries to stray animals and wildlife occur and crimes are committed. There is no public report required on the number or prosecution of animal-cruelty cases. And, criminals or thrill-seekers believe they can burn a dog in broad daylight in Los Angeles without penalty.
If you have any information that can identify the persons who burned the body of the little dog on Van Nuys Blvd. on December 26, or if you have a security camera that recorded this crime, please contact the LA Fire Department’s Arson Unit, (213) 893-9800 and select Option 5.
(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue 4
Pub: Jan 12, 2016