Economic crisis and pet animal abuse
For the last seven years Greek society has been experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis. Those involved in this crisis characterize it as multidimensional as its consequences have affected almost every Greek citizen in all parts of their personal and social lives. These consequences have affected residents of large urban areas to a different extent to those living in provincial areas.
The current article aims to highlight an aspect of the crisis that, to our knowledge, hardly anyone has ever discussed before, not because it is of minor importance, but because it is not readily apparent in our everyday life. Unfortunately, I refer to the way people treat companion animals, especially cats and dogs. These animals experience particularly brutal and cruel mistreatment on a daily basis, which, most of the time, is fatal. Apparently, this type of treatment is not linked to the living space of these animals, or to any specific individual characteristics of the people inflicting it. In particular, and as far as the first case is concerned, such instances have been observed and concern both pet and stray animals. It means that there is not any category of animal that can be excluded from such cases. Of course it should be noted that the increased number of stray animals (as a consequence of the economic crisis) creates a category of animal that is at high risk of mistreatment by people who feel threatened by their presence (sad, but true). This perceived threat can result in people resorting to violence. As far as the second parameter is concerned, the unfortunate fact is that, the off enders are people of all ages, often above all suspicion, having a different level of education and social and occupational activity. The above mentioned conclusions have been obtained from the database kept at the Necropsy room of the Department of the Pathology of the School of Veterinary Medicine (Faculty of Health Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki).
According to these data, in 2010, a total of 123 dogs and 25 cats presented dead. After a set of diagnostic tests were conducted to verify their cause of death, the following results emerged: 12 dogs (9.75%) and 3 cats (12%) died after human mistreatment. In particular, by the administration of toxic substances and the use of a fi rearm or other lethal weapons. These data do not seem to be different from the corresponding results from previous years.
In contrast, the results of the year 2016 showed that, of a total of 102 dogs and 47 cats, 24 dogs (46%) and 9 cats (19.14%) died due to the same reasons. This means that the rate of violent deaths for both animal species has increased dramatically. In particular, with regard to dogs, this rate is 4.7 times larger (a particularly significant increase), while the corresponding increase is 1.6 times larger in cats. In any event, I consider that the rate of dog and cat killings must be higher at this time, especially due to the use of various toxic substances. Evidence of this has been the fact that poisoning in multiple stray animals often occur, many of which are not admitted as emergency cases and as a result die. In comparison with the intervening years 2011-2015, the number of such cases has grown at a steadily increasing rate.
Furthermore, it is significant that, in dogs especially, the use of fi rearm as a lethal weapon in the year 2010 involved the case of one (1) animal, whereas in 2016 there were five (5) cases. This particular fact proves that, apart from the quantitative rise in the cases of the intentional taking of animal lives, between the years 2010 and 2016, there has been a remarkable upward trend as far as the violence used in these acts is concerned, especially the use of fi rearms.
In support of this conclusion, in 2016, a particularly abhorrent and unprecedented case of the death of a cat was reported. There had never been a case like it reported in the Pathology lab the last 36 years. This particular animal was admitted dead and headless. The post mortem revealed multiple fractures of the ribs, the scapula and vertebrae.
The reporting of the above mentioned data, in conjunction with the long/extensive experience we have gained in the management of such cases, leads us to the following conclusions, the analysis of which can help us face the problem. In particular, the critical issue in most cases is the owner’s total ignorance of their obligations and responsibilities when deciding to integrate a pet animal into their social environment. Such a decision must constitute an act of social responsibility that should not be accompanied by any act of selfishness. This means that, in no case should this decision be associated with other motivations, such as an attempt to complement his/her social image or to imitate a colleague, a neighbour, a competitor, etc. Approaches like these to the acquisition of an animal are rather shallow and irresponsible and will sooner or later lead to the abandonment of the animal at the very first difficulty. This results in an increase in the number of stray animals that are vulnerable to people with social problems and phobias. The current economic crisis has definitely fuelled and escalated this situation, due to the decrease or even the lack of financial means. As a result, many pet animal owners have been unable to meet the necessary costs required to ensure even the most basic and decent of living conditions for their pets i.e. healthcare, food, care. At the same time, they have had to ensure the subsistence of their whole family.
In addition, there are people that, under normal circumstances, act and behave in a decent and respectful way towards society. However, lack of employment and the resulting absence of financial means leads to a tendency to develop particularly aggressive behaviour towards both animals and humans.
Lastly, the third aspect of this problem, and perhaps the most important, is the lack of education and awareness of the fact that animals constitute a part of society in their own right; they have right to life and they need respect and protection. The absence of even the most basic awareness of this notion, both on behalf of schools and families, makes people unable to cultivate a sense of any kind of prevention of cruel and brutal behavior. In summary, we have to deal with a lack of basic principles that can fundamentally contribute to reinforcing the principle “i love animals, so i love humans, too”.
To conclude, if we want to contribute to limiting the problem as much as possible and at a later stage, to its elimination, we, as stakeholders, such as the veterinary profession, animal welfare groups, the local government, the media and the state through the Ministry of Education, must make systematic efforts in order to convey to society that animals are an integral part of it. They are loyal friends of humans and play an important role in the improvement of our quality of life.
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