A Dog’ Life: Why are so many people so cruel to their dogs? This is the first question Gene Weingarten tackles in this week’s issue of The Washington Post Magazine.
The second implied question is: Who is working to end this cruelty? And the answer is: PETA’s Community Animal Project, the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund’s top grantee since its founding in April 2016.
Weingarten’s piece describes dogs tethered their entire lives in “the backyard of the backyard” — as far from their humans’ house as possible, as though their existence is a disagreeable inconvenience. He describes dogs who die of starvation after people sell their home, move out, and deliberately leave them behind. “It occurs all over the country,” he writes, “the pitiless 24-hour-a-day chaining of dogs to lifelong sentences of misery and madness. The practice is not the province of any race or any age or any nationality or any region of the country, though it is most prevalent, by far, in areas of rural America where resources are limited and opportunities are slender.”
Weingarten then goes on to document how PETA’s Community Animal Project helps these dogs. “PETA will take Dora and spay her for free, and then return her if she is healthy enough and emotionally sound. Then, PETA workers — they are jacks-of-all-trades, by necessity — will return with hinges and power tools and rehang the door. No charge. The dachshunds will at least get their porch space back. It is a shaky deal and depends on voluntary compliance, which is never assured, but it is something. On-site triage. A situation presents itself, and PETA solves it as best they can.”
Greg and I were first inspired to support PETA’s Community Animal Project in 2013, after visiting PETA’s Norfolk, Virginia headquarters and spending time with Daphna Nachminovitch who is featured in The Washington Post piece. We adopted Itchy that year, after Daphna’s team rescued him from at least seven years in a garbage-strewn outdoor pen. By then he was a senior dog with advanced heartworm disease — but we worked with our local vet to cure him, and he lived out four golden years.
While the Community Animal Project focuses primarily on dogs, it also rescues animals of many other species. In April 2014, Daphna’s team discovered two horses abandoned on a small plot when their owners moved away — and PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk reached out to us personally.
“I must ask,” Ingrid wrote, “if two horse friends who we just rescued from starvation are a forever possibility. They are vegetarians of course, and birds and deer all love and feel safe around horses! Just a thought, in case you are up for this. Otherwise, forgive me. I have to try as finding good homes for horses is tough. The story is below: With my best, as always, Ingrid.”
“Such a steep learning curve!,” was my first response in discussing this with Greg. We had the land and a barn, but almost no horse experience. Greg was always up for a new challenge, however, and so he — we — said ‘yes’ to Ingrid. In June 2014, we brought those two horses — Henry and Caroline — home to our then-residence in Middleburg, Virginia. I’ve moved twice since Greg died in 2015, but I continue to live with and care for Henry and Caroline. And in 2016 I adopted a third horse, Charlie, who was rescued through PETA’s campaign to end cruelty toward racehorses.
In April 2018, I was ready to adopt another dog — and I turned to PETA’s Community Animal Project again. PETA had just collaborated with the Virginia Beach SPCA to rescue Christopher — who much like Itchy before him, had spent years in an outdoor pen — after they encountered his then-owner in the final stages of moving and leaving the dog behind. Christopher, probably a lab/pit bull mix of some sort, had been covered from head to toe with bright pink bacterial, viral, and fungal infections — but after a month of veterinary care, he was on the mend. I traveled to Norfolk to meet him at Poochella, an annual adopt-a-thon that brings together rescue groups from across the region. The next week, I brought Christopher home — and after months of TLC, he blossomed into the healthy, exuberant dog he is today.
In 2019, I was able to go on ride-alongs with the Community Animal Project team in March and again in November, witnessing the types of situations described by Weingarten in this Washington Post piece. I wish more people could witness this for themselves — but for those who can’t, Weingarten’s vivid and empathetic writing is a great start.