2018-01-10 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

It’s so hard for people who care deeply about animals to live near or witness those who neglect their pets, especially in harsh weather. Kind folks can’t ignore dogs or cats they see suffering each day. Often they take matters into their own hands.

I call this type of compassion the “Shiloh Syndrome” named after SHILOH a 1991 Newbery Medal-winning children’s novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor where an 11-year-old boy from West Virginia takes and hides a Beagle from his neighbor- the abusive owner. The boy calls the Beagle “Shiloh" and then must fabricate lies in order to keep the dog’s whereabouts a secret.

The book poses many ethical issues for kids. If we witness an owned animal being mistreated, and there are no authorities who can or will stop this torture, do we have the right to steal the animal to get it out of harm’s way? Or should we walk away and allow the owner to continue hurting the pet? Compassion for animals can be a real test of the question- do the ends justify the means?

Neglected Adonis cat viewing the snow from inside his new warm home Neglected Adonis cat viewing the snow from inside his new warm home When animal rescuers face this dilemma, they are often frustrated by their legal options to protect the animal victim. I must confess, at times, some of us have responded like the young boy in the book SHILOH. For several instances described below, the statute of limitations expired decades ago. Here are five “Shiloh Syndrome” rescues that improved the pets’ lives immensely:

*Break the chain- This took place over 30 years ago. Sadly, at the present time on LI, many more Pit mixes (with no fur to protect them) are tethered outdoors than there ever were chained Shepherd mixes with coats. A cat adopter became quite upset because a Shepherd mix puppy was chained in her next door neighbors’ yard 24/7. Her attempts to talk to them were fruitless. The puppy received no attention from the people. He was doomed. Early one morning my accomplice and I freed the dog, and found him a home through the now-defunct rescue I volunteered for then. We feared he’d be replaced on the chain with another dog victim, but at least this puppy had a chance at a better life.

*“I call her Sneezy”- A rescue friend lives in an area where proper pet care is not a priority. She makes it her business to help and educate whenever she can. While speaking to a neighbor blocks away, she noticed a calico with a severe upper respiratory infection on his porch. “I call her Sneezy,” the man said. When she suggested he take the cat to the vet, he responded, “She’s not my cat. I feed her but a vet visit is unacceptable.” She tried to explain that if he feeds her, she is his cat. Instead, she took the cat to the vet; then added her to the crew living rent-free in her downstairs apartment.

*Brutus & his bagel- Back up to the 1980s with the same friend. She and a late friend learned a male Rottweiler was living as a yard dog under a rat-infested trailer at a used car lot on Queens Blvd. The owner wasn’t interested in giving him better shelter. After a snowstorm, the concerned ladies went through the unlocked gate and liberated the dog from his dungeon. He became Brutus. For the rest of his life, he lived with my friend and accompanied her to work at an animal hospital each night where he’d hang out in the kennels. First they would stop so they each could get a bagel.

*Kitten named “Berrigan” after the radical priest- The tuxedo kitten’s namesake should give a time frame for how long ago this occurred. When I began volunteering in 1982, we screened adoption applicants but not as well as now. After placing this kitten with a young woman, I found out from her relative, she’d used several aliases to adopt other kittens. All had disappeared. I had to get Berrigan before he was next. I told her I needed to take him to the vet because he had something contagious. She gave me Berrigan. You guessed it. I didn’t give him back, and told her why. He went into permanent hiding with friends. My phone rang continuously with claims the police were at my door until I unplugged it. From then on, applicants had to provide their driver’s license or photo ID.

*Witness & winter protection program- The anonymous Adonis long-haired white cat spent most of his life outdoors even though he had owners. Ironically, he looks like he’d be a pampered cat. Far from it. The whole neighborhood got to know him as he wandered, and some offered him food. Sometimes he’d vanish, and no one would know where he was. Rarely did his owners look for him. If they did, it would be after he was gone for weeks.

One person in particular took him under her wing. His welfare was her constant concern. She placed an insulated cat shelter on her porch, provided meals as well as vet care and spent as much time as possible, giving him the loving attention he craved. When the weather was bad, she’d coax him into her finished basement because her resident cats were not as welcoming.

Months before last week’s blizzard, she felt he was ill from neglect which was confirmed by vet tests. His kidneys were failing and he had a heart murmur, so she kept him inside despite his vocal protests. Her cats- well, at least one- are slowly becoming more accepting. He has full run of the house and has adjusted his volume.

Most important, she is making progress convincing his owners it would be best if she assumed his guardianship. Sometimes animal angels must spread their wings. She can’t undo the cat’s physical damage caused by years of indifference and neglect. But his animal angel can turn this gorgeous cat into a pampered pet for the time he has left.

Babylon Shelter Adoptables (631-643-9270) Lamar St., W. Babylon: “Bella” 17-740 is a young German Shepherd Dog with a congenital heart condition. She will be having corrective surgery through the shelter. More info soon. “Flame” 7-507 is an outgoing, male orange kitten, greeting you in a comical way.

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