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Please Stop Leaving Animals on Roadways

By Kim Everson, DVM

In the past two weeks at least five dogs have been abandoned near the intersection of Highway 41 and County Road N in the Town of Eldorado. Two of these dogs were exceptionally frightened and not easily rescued from the edge of the busy roadway. The most recently captured canine is recuperating in my veterinary clinic after receiving two terrible blows from tranquilizing darts today.

My staff has named her Penelope. She is fighting for her life. I am very angry.

Monday throughout the day, numerous clients reported seeing a dog on the side of the road a short distance from the clinic. Our local animal control officer was on the scene, offering food and attempting to lasso the terrified dog. All her attempts to lure or leash the stray failed, and at one point during the day the stray disappeared from the scene. This morning we received notice that law enforcement (who had been involved in the previous day’s unsuccessful rescue efforts) had requested the aid of tranquilizer darts to finally secure the stray. By this point a young lady had been sitting on the shoulder in the December drizzle for hours trying to befriend the stray with treats. Her hands were red and puffy from the cold; the stray was as uncatchable as ever.

With veterinary assistant Ashley at the ready with a rabies pole, the officer carefully selected his smallest dart and fired the tranquilizer, hitting the stray squarely in the

Dr. Kim Everson providing care for timid Penelope, the darted stray dog found near St. Bernard's Animal Medical Center
Dr. Kim Everson providing care for timid Penelope, the darted stray dog found near St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center

hindquarters. Adrenaline, fear and pain surged through the dog. She was not going to succumb without a fight. She leapt up and frantically sought an escape. Officers and bystanders shouted and argued about what to do next. Anxiety about harming the dog competed with terror that she might cause a tragic traffic accident if she ran into the highway. As she clambered up the gravel underpass leading to the median between northbound and southbound lanes of Highway 41, another dart was fired which hit her in the abdomen just behind the ribcage. Her momentum carried her into Ashley’s miraculously well-placed rabies pole loop. Secured, she finally dropped into a stupor allowing the officers to crate her for transport to my veterinary clinic.

On arrival the dog was dazed and bleeding lightly from two gaping dart wounds. After carefully arranging her in a warm, clean kennel, we discovered that she had a deceivingly deep wound into her abdomen from the dart. Although clinically stable, resting well and closely monitored, the poor dog may indeed be mortally wounded. Only time will tell if this stray has enough spirit to survive. She certainly has had the spirit to bewitch me and my staff –with her gentle brown eyes and slow-thumping tail. Even if she doesn’t pull through, she now has a name–Penelope–and a legacy–this blog.

Penelope’s sad story has inspired me to set down in writing the frequently repeated laments of the past few weeks. I do this in hopes of preventing a similar scene in the future.

1) If you find you can no longer care for your animal, PLEASE do not leave it on the side of the road. You may believe or hope your animal will be observed and rescued from the roadway, and many times they are. But the risk to animal and humans is tremendous. The obvious risk is the animal will be hit by a car and die. Most drivers faced with hitting an animal will swerve, increasing the chance of human casualty. A less obvious safety hazard involves potential rescuers on the shoulder or in the roadway. These Good Samaritans are often ill-equipped to control the flow of traffic and are far more focused on the animal than on their own safety.

2) While relinquishing an unwanted animal directly to a shelter incurs a sizable societal debt, abandoning an animal on the roadway exponentially increases the cost of care. Over the past 24 hours a number of private citizens and public servants spent considerable time, energy and taxpayer dollars trying to coax Penelope into captivity. Some readers may suggest these loose animals should be destroyed immediately to save time and money. However, we live in a day and age when such violence causes substantial outrage. I believe most people prefer a reasonable effort be made to safely secure a stray animal alive even though the cost is higher than a bullet.

3) While it is commendable that so many citizens want to lend a hand, recent events suggest that if there is already at least one person on the scene working to win the confidence of the animal it would be better to say a little prayer for her success and drive on. Several times during the attempted capture of Penelope and another timid dog in recent weeks, a well-meaning person stopped by the scene to offer advice or lend a hand–just as the leash was about to be tightened. The presence of the new person reliably startled the dog, thwarting the rescuer’s best efforts up to that point far and making it that much more difficult to catch the dog.

4) The rescue, care and rehoming of abandoned animals takes a lot of time, money and effort. Someone has to pay for it and it is not always clear who that person or entity is. Many people volunteer their time and expertise to help homeless animals, but food, shelter, and medicines take money. The best assurance an unwanted animal will receive proper care and find a new home is by surrendering it to the property authority–an animal shelter. Even if you can’t be on the front line catching stray dogs, you can help in an even bigger way by donating time, money and supplies to your local animal shelter.

5) The dogs found recently near our intersection have all been puppies or adolescents. Some appear to have been littermates. It is not hard to believe someone might be overwhelmed by the cost of properly caring for two or more unexpected puppies. The answer is canine contraception! Let us make an increased effort to spay and neuter our pets to reduce the number of unwanted animals out there in the world.

If this story has a silver lining it is that for every unthinking jerk who abandons an animal on the roadway there are countless concerned citizens who will endure discomfort and inconvenience on behalf of this unknown friendless animal.

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