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.
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?
“(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.
“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.
“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.