Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Few Words on the Law and Pickup Trucks

My friend over at The Endangered Owner brings a bit of underreported news to light regarding what an officer may consider grounds to pull over a dog owner here. The gist is, a woman and her daughter were pulled over for having a few Parson/Jack Russell Terriers visible in the back of the pickup truck under a camper top, and the officer was concerned for the dogs' well-being. Endangered uses the word "criminalized," which I find a bit strong considering the woman appears to have been charged with neither crime nor misdemeanor, merely inconvenienced and perhaps a bit frightened at being pulled over. However, it's a little worrying that in cool weather a police officer would be concerned about dogs in crates and under cover. If he was a bit strict with them, rather than being Andy Griffith, recent incidents such as the shooting of the Baltimore animal control officer or the shooting deaths of four might explain why our policemen aren't so mellow as they may or may not have been in the good ol' days.

However, one way and another, this raises a different question for discussion. When would the officer be justified in pulling over a dog owner out of concern for the dog? I've seen dogs dying of heat stroke in the back of pickup trucks, clearly a matter of owner negligence, because someone didn't think about how in the summer a truck bed is a perfect frying pan. One fellow sitting at a gas station ladling ice over his German Shepherd's head looked genuinely regretful, and probably wouldn't have minded if a cop had pulled him over half an hour sooner -- his dog would have had much better odds of survival than she appeared to. Other owners seem to feel their dogs will be fine if crated, but the crate isn't secured or doesn't provide shade or both. The breeze in the back of an open-topped truck just carries away the dog's moisture the faster, making him dehydrate sooner. It exposes him to all the fumes of the great outdoors on a highway -- exhaust, gasoline, and the vapors of hot pavement, all of which can ruin his scenting ability when you arrive where you're going. If he's not tethered or crated, he can fall out; if he is leashed down, he'll get decapitated in an accident or hanged if he does try to jump and the tether is a little too long. So, gentle readers, DON'T PUT YOUR DOG IN THE UNCOVERED BACK OF A PICKUP. Save yourself a heartbreak or an animal cruelty charge, or quite possibly both.

The camper-top helps. It provides shade and keeps the worst of the weather off. In conjunction with crating and with the windows open, it keeps the dogs pretty safe from the outside world of climate and injury. Personally, though I've hauled a dog that way a couple of times, I hate it. If the dog isn't sharing the passenger compartment with me, I don't know how hot she's getting, whether she's complaining, whether she's knocked her water bucket around or vomited on herself, or any of the other things I can keep track of fine by ear and nose. At that level, it's a personal choice. The good part about the camper top is that you don't have to leave your passenger compartment so wide-open when you park for lunch; you just have to get the back of the truck in the shade.

This discussion suggests another question, though: that of ownership versus guardianship. As best I understand the distinction, I own my stereo but have guardianship over my child, as in "This note must be signed by a parent or guardian." The stereo, or anything else I own, I can treat however I wish: it is a thing without its own interests. If I wish to take it out back and beat it with a sledgehammer, that's my right. My child, on the other hand, despite being mine, I genuinely believe is better off living in a society where his parent can do no such thing without severe punishment. Should we own our animals or be their guardians? I consider them to be beings with interests, and so vote for guardianship. This doesn't mean they'd have the right to vote (for instance) any more than my infant does; it just means their interests can be taken as existing for legal purposes. They cannot be beaten, starved, electrocuted, or what have you by the people they live with.

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