In late June, English police-dog trainer Sgt. Ian Craven attempted suicide after learning that his charges, two Belgian Shepherds, had died after he left them in a sweltering car for nearly six hours. Worse, this is not the first time a dog has baked to death under his care. Also in June, a 19-year-old California woman left her young Golden Retriever to die in a mall parking lot while she shopped…for three hours. In May, a Florida woman did the same while visiting her mother on a college campus. After being alerted by security, she returned to her car to find the dog (Florida Times-Union, 5/22/11) “panting and unable to stand.” That dog, too, perished.
This past month, a Minnesota woman, who had just completed a vet visit with her two Terriers, stopped at a restaurant for lunch. She emerged 2 1/2 hours later to find the dogs dead. But within that same state, word comes of the heat-related deaths of roughly 105,000 factory-farmed turkeys and 1,500 cattle. No talk here, however, of animal cruelty charges, suicidal guardians, or angry citizens. Just money: “Minnesota Turkey Growers Association Executive Director Steve Olson says the 105,000 turkeys lost equals an economic hit of somewhere between $1.1 and $1.6 million.” This stunning incongruity conveniently ignores that dogs and turkeys suffer in an uncomfortably similar way.
Since a dog cools himself by panting, a hot, tightly-shut car quickly becomes a hellhole, even in milder summer temperatures. The process begins with rapid, frantic breathing (which further deteriorates the confined space) as his internal temperature climbs. He will then become unsteady and stagger, with vomiting and bloody diarrhea common. As desperate panic mounts, cells die, and the kidneys and brain begin to fail. Seizures and/or coma, then death. However, renowned veterinarian Holly Cheever told me that “heat prostration is much the same in most vertebrate species”; in other words, the turkeys and cows endured the same awful, and ultimately fatal, distress as those dogs. A distress, by the way, measured in hours.
So, why is one reported as cruelty and received with sadness, while the other a business misfortune? Simply put, we have long-acquiesced to a gaping hole in our moral reasoning. The pity and outrage we feel regarding the dogs is born of allowing ourselves an emotional attachment to them. Of course, the people responsible for those canine deaths will never be punished satisfactorily; we profess to care about dog suffering, but not enough to do more than merely inconvenience dog killers. On the other hand, the turkeys and cows, as production widgets, elicit virtually no sympathy upon news of their untimely ends. That is irrational, inconsistent, and very sad.