It's important to realize when you're getting in over your head with a pet. It's just as important, at that point, to do the right thing. Not everyone does, as we saw in the headlines last week. Authorities were trying to find the cowardly motorist who was caught on video as he abandoned a dog near the busy intersection of North Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The sight of the animal running after the car is heartbreaking.
In Lutz, dozens of cats were found dead, dying or neglected at a home whose occupants had been involved in animal rescue and care. It was a horrifying scene. A week later, authorities still were investigating to determine whether criminal charges will be filed.
As sad as these cases are, it's even sadder to know that they didn't have to happen.
"We are open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and we do not turn dogs away," Roger Mills with Hillsborough County Pet Resources reminded the Tampa Bay Times in a story by staff writer Samantha Putterman.
Short of giving up a pet, many people who feel in over their head might find they just need a little help — the kind of help that Pet Resources or bonafide, private animal-rescue agencies can provide. Advice on feeding, for example, or veterinary services.
If money is a concern, Pet Resources can point pet owners to a veterinarian who can provide spaying or neutering at minimal cost — just $10 for those who qualify. Application forms are available at the agency's website.
People who fail to avail themselves of these services, from the individual who dumps an unwanted pet to well-meaning but negligent collectors of troubled animals, deserve whatever the law throws at them.
Because doing the right thing is more than a moral imperative. It's also required by statute. Florida and other states have rightly taken steps in recent years to increase protections for animals, partly out of altruistic concerns for creatures whose well-being rests entirely with humans but also because of potential links between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people.
In the past year, Hillsborough County commissioners have taken the lead on the issue — first by adopting an animal abuse registry for people convicted of harming animals, prohibiting them from adopting or working with animals, and second by banning the opening of any new commercial operation selling cats and dogs.
The chapter in the Florida statutes that deals with the issue, titled "Animals: Cruelty, Sales and Animal Enterprise Protection," generally doesn't address the intent of the offender, just actions and their consequences. There are provisions for those who fight animals or who kill them illegally for their skins, but leading an animal to a cruel death of any kind can constitute a felony — whether the offender was evil or stupid.
Aggravated animal cruelty is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
A Hillsborough animal cruelty case from March 2015 drew national attention and offers a lesson to anyone who may think they have nowhere to turn when they have problems with a pet.
A teenager shot a dog that had been bred for fighting, tied it to railroad tracks in Sulphur Springs and left it for dead. Tried as an adult, the boy was sentenced to seven months in jail plus probation and ordered by the judge to stay clear of animals — "even a fish." Three others were sentenced to probation.
The case brings to mind an observation attributed to several French men and women of letters through the centuries, most succinctly perhaps to national hero and former President Charles DeGaulle: "The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs."
Tampa police called that poor, abused, mixed-breed mutt Cabela. A local veterinary clinic volunteered to provide emergency care and managed to save a leg that it feared would have to be amputated.
Requests to adopt Cabela came pouring in.
We'd like to think, and the evidence seems to show, that for everyone who would harm a pet, Hillsborough County is blessed with many more who would give all they could — offered the chance — to help it.