Nearly a year ago in the BC Lower Mainland, a dogwalker  named Emma Paulsen left her 6 canine charges in the back of a canopied pick-up truck to basically boil to death.  It was about 20C outside (70F) and the dogs without question suffered immeasurably as the temperature went up in that small space, and the available airflow decreased.  It was not, according to people who were close to Paulsen, the first time she had left her clients’ dogs in the back of her truck while she went socializing, or rode her horse, or shopped.  But this time they died – and from all accounts, they died horribly, several of them found with chunks of blanket stuffed down their throats, maybe from thrashing around in the throes of pain and terror.  Nobody will ever really know, because they can’t tell us.

When she discovered the dead dogs in her vehicle, she drove about two hours outside of the area, heaved the bodies of the dogs in a ditch in a remote location, and then drove back to Langley and concocted a story about how the dogs were stolen from her truck while she used the bathroom at a local dog park.  What followed was a media and social whirlwind of frantic owners looking for their “stolen” dogs.  Paulsen was seen countless times on tv sobbing as she embraced an owner of one of the “missing” dogs, holding up “stolen dog” signs, and pontificating about how low someone could be to steal these dogs.  The dogs’ owners, though devastated, were supportive of their walker – their walker who, court documents later revealed, tried to extort money from them during this time for lost wages.

Rumours went around that this dog was seen in this shelter, or that dog seen in that person’s yard.  With every phone call we fielded in the shelter where I work, we frowned at one another skeptically.  As an Animal Control facility we are involved in all kinds of “missing dog” scenarios – dogs stolen from yards, lost dogs picked up by people who live by the ‘finders/keepers’ code of ethics, dogs sold to acquaintances for drug money … but 6 dogs stolen from a truck in the parking lot of a busy dog park?  No, we told one another.  This did not happen.  There is mischief afoot, we whispered among ourselves.

Because it didn’t.  Within days, the owner of a local lost-pet finding business leaned on Paulsen with his similar suspicions and she eventually came clean to him, and to the RCMP.  She showed them where she had dumped the bodies, rotting pitifully in the heat and stagnant water of a nowhere place.  An ignominious end for six lives of six beloved family members, the end of a shameful, deceitful and callous path trod by a monster.

Paulsen received a sentence of six months in jail and a ban on pet ownership.  It’s the most significant sentence delivered for animal abuse in BC, a province within a country that has a notoriously poor record of prosecuting animal abuse.  Many would argue that the sentence was not enough.

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A few days ago, a little local newspaper ran an “opinion” piece on Paulsen’s sentencing.  It starts off being dismissive, circles around being downright callous and seeps down the drain of humanity with a fading rally cry of “think of the children” a la Maude Flanders.

When I first read the “article” my brain said Clickbait.  Asshole.  Douche. Pathetic excuse for “news”. And I dismissed it.  But it still bothered me.  I shared it on FB, and several of my friends burbled up with the outrage I couldn’t muster myself over what MacNair had written about the “inconsequential” loss of these six dogs’ lives.  They wrote impassioned letters to the editor about how they would never again read the publication and would not support advertisers who paid to be featured in it.  And they were not alone.  Comments on the “article” itself – those comments now removed by the online publication – ranged from people who fervently hoped MacNair understood how inconsequential he was, folks who purported to feel not anger but pity for his lack of humanity, and some who hoped he’d burn in a truck canopy-shaped hell for eternity.  Some even offered to help him get there sooner rather than later.  I understood all of their feelings, in some cases quite keenly, but something else continued to nag at me.  Something entirely separate tugging at my soul.  I couldn’t pinpoint immediately what it was, and I had to lay abed that evening mulling it over in the dark as I fought with Wootie for the covers, a little terrier ball of Spring pressed against my back, TWooie snoring into my feet and FaeFae wrapped around my hair.

When it came to me finally, the thing that was bothering me, I decided that in the morning I would share my thoughts with MacNair.  But before I was even fully human again after my second mug of coffee, it was already too late.  The editor of the paper had hit the phones early, personally calling everyone who had contacted him about this rubbish clickbait to apologize for the insensitive tone of the whole piece.  The paper posted an apology for the article deeming it insensitively expressed and probably not worthy of publication.  Then it published a lovely little puff piece from another writer who disagreed with MacNair about the “value of life.”  At this point, adding my voice to the choir seemed redundant.  And realistically, working as I do at one of the busiest animal shelters in the province, I didn’t have time to sit down and sort out my thoughts in any cohesive or meaningful fashion anyway.  There’s simply too much to do right in front of me, all day long.

And there is something else that is right in front of me, all day long.  It sits on my chest and threatens to squeeze the life out of me sometimes, like a trapper standing on a fox.  It’s the unseen force that makes it difficult, sometimes, for me to even lift the fork to my mouth at dinner time.  It pokes a hole in the fabric of my life and tries to drain all the joy right out of me.  It’s called “Whatever, Just A Dog” and it’s the reason I, and my 9 staff members, have a (difficult, sad) job to every day.  Whatever, Just A Dog is that thing that pays my bills and the reason I get up in the morning.  Because Whatever, Just A Dog crawls over and through my professional life like a worm in a rotting log.  It’s the reason that so many shelter workers, APOs and ACOs suffer from something called Compassion Fatigue, or the “cost of caring for others in emotional pain.”

Whatever, Just A Dog is a philosophy embraced by the humans charged with “caring” for so many of the horribly neglected, mistreated and abused animals that we in turn care for every day.  Whatever, Just A Dog saddles those of us in the shelter system with a tax on our empathy, takes a toll from our good night’s sleep, robs us of our ability to leave our job at the building when we go home of an evening.  Whatever, Just A Dog brings pain, suffering and misery to the dogs, and leaves its taint in the hearts and minds of the shelter staff.

Whatever, Just A Dog – “easily replaced …  at the local shelter for $350.00”  What amount of money is going to compensate that shelter’s staff for the value of the heart-sickening, gut wrenching images that burn into our brains every long day?

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“(After treating) this poor guy, I went home that evening and curled around my dog on the sofa in a fetal position for the entire evening.” ~RVT at the shelter

When MacNair devalued the lives of the Brookswood Six in his “opinion” piece, he did more than just spit in the faces of the owners grieving the loss of their family members.  He has the right to feel that dogs aren’t family.  He did not need to share that opinion – sharing it was not consequential to this world.

When MacNair devalued the lives of the Brookswood Six, he did more than reveal how narrow is the sliver of humanity in his soul.  I do not feel pity for a man who purports to not understand love for a dog, nor do I feel hatred.  I feel nothing.  I have nothing left to feel for MacNair, because Whatever, Just A Dog has stolen all my feelings, again and again and again.

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“This is his FOOT. The entire paw pad just sloughed off in a cast of rotting skin, feces and dirt when I soaked it.”  ~RVT at the shelter

When MacNair alleged to feel sympathy for Paulsen because “she might be suffering from mental illness” (yellow journalism at its finest; there is no medical or professional conclusion that Paulsen is mentally ill in any way whatsoever) he forgot to feel sympathy for the dogs and what they suffered.  He forgot to feel sympathy for their owners, and how they’ve suffered.  And maybe he forgot that his words were going to be read by real people, with real feelings, who do value the lives of animals.  Or maybe he just didn’t care.

When MacNair wrote his “opinion” piece, he devalued me, my staff and the hard work that we do every day.  He embraced Whatever, Just A Dog and became part of the endless cycle of dismissive cruelty, the wheel that we shelter workers are lashed to and tortured with in an endless, spinning array of abuse, neglect, pain and horror.

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“Just elephant tusks.  The nails.  There’s no other way to describe them.  Some had to be cut out of his paw pads, they’d grown right around again.” ~RVT at shelter

A wise woman (Beatrice Evelyn Hall) once said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  A wiser ‘journalist’ might have thought to himself “is every thought in my brain worth saying aloud?”  And a truly wise editor should have said “This is garbage, go back to your desk and write something that isn’t pseudo-existentialist refuse.”

One of my friends received a reply from MacNair himself, in which he told her “I love dogs” and sent along a couple of nicey-nice videos he’d made of a senior dog rescue and a local animal shelter.  What MacNair was admitting was that instead of being a journalist, he was being a troll.  This wasn’t clickbait, it was just bait.  MacNair was operating on the same level and principles of your average Craigslist forum basement-dweller, under the thin guise of an editorial.  MacNair trolled me, even if he didn’t mean to.  And it worked.  His entire “article” laughed at my pain, dismissed my sorrow and ridiculed my professional integrity.

That hurts.  Hurt compounded on countless other hurts.

                     

When the time comes that humanity invents something that replaces the holes these dogs, and others like them, have burned through my very soul, maybe I’ll forgive Adrian MacNair for telling me my pain is meaningless.  Until then, I will continue to value the lives of dogs, I will continue to believe they are consequential, and I will continue to suffer right along with them.  Because they matter.  Our species needs people who like me who believe that they matter.  Or else we are just as inconsequential as MacNair claims dogs to be.

Comments

  1. Excellently said. And when we devalue the lives of others, we lose a piece of ourselves. We forget that empathy is a vital part of our make up, that it helps us relate, to become better, to be human.

  2. Bravo

  3. Thank you. Thank you for caring, thank you for all you do, and thank you for sharing.

  4. alittlediamond says:

    Wow. I had not heard this story before. Thank you for bringing it to my attention and thank you for your spot-on thoughts about the follow up article. This situation has the same ring as our Gilbert 23, except our perpetrators got away with no punishment. They put 28 dogs in a tiny room with no ventilation and no water and all but 6 died. They then called the owners and told them their pets escaped. http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/gilbert/2014/10/29/green-acre-court-appearance-abrk/18112045/

  5. Thank you Sheena for being such a great advocate for rejected, abandoned, lost and abused animals in every corner of your life. The work you do does make an incredible difference and I know how difficult it must be sometimes. But you, unlike this MacNair person and Emma Paulsen, have both a soul and integrity. You are appreciated and you do make a difference.

  6. Thank you for caring so hard and so much. I have no other words to express my feelings over this post and your passion for what you do every day. Thank you. Thank you. For all the people who never say it…thank you, thank you, thank you. Maybe 1 bazzillionth of what you deserve to hear in thanks.

  7. Its not easy to put into words how you feel, but your post helped me put words to my feelings.Thank you to you and your co-workers for the care and compassion that you give the dogs and all the animals that come into your shelter, at least at that point they have a chance regardless of how they ended up there. Its too bad you didn’t send in your letter to MacNair because I’m pretty sure yours would have stood out from the rest. Thank you for not giving up, thank you for being dedicated, thank you for being you.

  8. Thank you, your staff and all those drawn to you. Your ability to give, care and heal is immeasurable. Thank you

  9. Very Well stated you hit the nail right on the head said everything many of us would have liked to have said and then some. We value everything you have done and will do for the dogs who can’t speak for themselves. I couldn’t do your job it would kill me. I admire what you and your staff do and pray most of those wonderful pets find loving homes eventually thanks you all of you.

  10. You are incredible. I came to your website for your amazing pictures but I’ve kept coming back because it’s clear that you Love Dogs and do things for them far beyond what I can ever do for mine.

    I had never heard of this case, and I now think the dogwalker and the columnist need to burn in a special hell for people who abuse animals.

    I need to go hug my dogs right now and spoil them. And try not to think of what inhuman things I would do to someone who would do them harm.

  11. Thank you.

  12. You are awesome, thank you!

  13. Very well said. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  14. Very well put! Sadly there will always be people who just don’t get it. They never will. They must have a really big empty spot in them. I so admire what you do. It isn’t a job you can just leave at work. If you could, you wouldn’t be any good at it. The thing is, it hurts. You have a wonderful crew at home to help you feel better. Thank you for every thing you do. Please know that there are some of us who have some understanding about what you go through….what you feel. Hugs

  15. I too was disgusted with The Now for letting such sh*t be printed, and the fact that this troll is on their payroll. I can’t imagine what you and your staff must go through on a daily basis, seeing the abuse and what some people are capable of doing against animals. But know that they are in the minority and that there are so many more people out there that love their pets as family and unconditionally. Thank god for people like you Sheena and all you do.

  16. Gonna be nine years I’m reading you. This is why.

  17. This was excellent. Thank you.

  18. wow. powerful piece. you have exposed your soul and the soul of animal shelter volunteers and workers everywhere.

  19. Maria Shanley says:

    Scum like this dogwalker and McNair – I can’t call them humans – are partly why I no longer work as an AHT. It would be so tempting to make such sociopaths disappear permanently. Just remember that many of your readers do know what it costs you to do this work, and understand how important it is. They are NOT “just dogs” or “just cats”, and how we treat them is a reflection of what we ourselves deserve. Someone should remind the public that it’s a short distance from “just a dog” to “just a person different from us”. So many atrocities have been justified that way.

  20. Janice in GA says:

    I love you for saying this. I already loved you for your blog and your dogs and your love for them. I just love you a bit more now.

    Thank you for all you do, in real life, and here in the blog world. Thank you.

  21. Hooman, Mitzi, sage, and pickles says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. For bringing this terrible situation to light for me. For so eloquently stating, well, everything. And for having the strength and courage to care as much as you do, and do the work you do. I will never understand how someone can consider themselves alive and treat the life of another with such disregard. Human or animal, life is life-and to find any life inconsequential is to find all life thus. No one should have the right to treat another’s life so horribly.

  22. thank you to you, and to shelter workers everywhere for all you do. i currently have three ‘rescues’ which is about all i can take in. but this reminds me that it’s probably time to rustle up a financial contribution for my local shelter. as for paulsen and macnair … they are too callous to understand what love is, but i hope they are feeling the full weight of so many people dumping on them.

  23. WELL SAID!

  24. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your eloquence and compassion speak volumes. I’m in tears and awe.

  25. *applauding*

    Thank you for the work you do. Thank you for your compassion to the animals you help. And thank you for this post. I share your grief for animals who have suffered abuse or neglect, and your anger with people who treat those animals’ pain as if it is unimportant.

  26. Very well written. Thank you.

  27. Heartbreaking.

  28. I have been a fan of you and your blog for a very long time. Rare are the writers who can put words to feelings the way you can. It’s a gift. Thank you for indulging those of us who come to your page time and time again to grab laugh as well as for those times you literally punch us in the gut.

  29. clairesmum says:

    Big Valentine’s Day head pats and tummy scratches for all the four pawed folks at Casa de Food Lady. And a big virtual hug of gratitude for you, Sheena, for all the good that you do.

  30. Nice article. I’m thinking he should be banned for life from owning an animal too. Clearly he is too stupid to have the privilege.

  31. Tina Higley says:

    OMG! I am in tears reading this! My heart aches, my stomach hurts, and my soul is horrified that we, supposedly the most evolved species on the planet, can be capable of such extreme cruelty and callous bravado. This article is so poignant on so many levels. It takes a special kind of person to do what you, and so many others who work in shelters, do. I know for certain that I just could not do it. doG bless you, dear Sheena, for your work, your compassion, your incredible talent, and yes, your sacrifice. I am lying in bed with my own rescued BC and, rest assured, he is getting extra snuggles and butt-scratches in response to this heartbreaking, soul-bearing piece. And in the morning? You can bet I’ll be making a fatty donation to my local animal shelter in remembrance of Oscar, Teemo, Salty, Molly, Mia, and Buddy.

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