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Animal cruelty raises our ire

Donnie Hobday had a perch on his sailboat for Beaker the macaw. They were regulars at the Wharf restaurant.

So it came as a surprise Wednesday afternoon when, police say, people saw the 58-year-old man punch Beaker, knocking her off the perch. He slapped her, beat her and swirled her around in the air until her squawking stopped and she died, police said. The attack took place in the 1900 block of Pass-a-Grille Way, right next to the restaurant the two often frequented.

As St. Pete Beach police arrested him on a felony charge of cruelty to animals, police say he said:

"She just died because she ate a bad olive or something. She's the love of my life. I love that bird."

As bizarre as that incident may be, strange acts of rage and cruelty against birds and animals have become unusually common in the Tampa Bay region recently.

Sandhill cranes have been shot and strangled in Pasco County. A Tampa man was arrested on charges he lured cats with food, then burned them with gas and a propane torch. Someone stomped 10 fuzzy ducklings in Brandon, leaving behind dead bodies, broken wings and legs.

Just a day before Beaker the macaw died, police broke up a cockfighting ring in Tampa, confiscating 60 roosters and a duck. And the Pinellas Sheriff's Office recently arrested a Clearwater dog groomer, saying he recently abandoned four show dogs, three of which starved to death.

Add it all up, and it's been a grisly few weeks for dogs, cats and birds.

Local authorities say the recent attacks are not indicative of any larger trend of violence. But they said the enormous attention and outrage generated by the unconnected attacks show that most people are less likely to tolerate animal cruelty.

"It's upsetting that (animal cruelty) happens," said Beth Lockwood, the executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Tampa Bay. "But if people see something like that happen, they're not going to sit still and stay quiet."

After all, people today live in an age of Animal Planet, resorts for pets, a "doggie dining" law, gourmet bird seed. The days of the barn cat and old farm dog are fading, as are the days of neighbors tolerating small acts of cruelty, let alone big ones.

"It's just the way that society has evolved for the moment," said Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Animal Services. "For some people, the pet is still the last trusting comfort we have at the end of the day."

Ryan and others take comfort that many of the recent attention grabbing arrests were prompted by the outrage of strangers or witnesses, who didn't keep quiet.

Police broke up the cockfighting ring after getting a tip. A bartender at the Wharf called 911 after watching Hobday, who police say may have been drinking. And a phone call from a concerned neighbor led to the discovery of the starving show dogs.

In other words, people spoke up.

Why?

Because, as Ryan said: "As a society, we are animal lovers."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Up next:Obituaries

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