Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A saga of a dog, a skunk, and why bureaucracy stinks

I'm coming up for air very briefly--the semester is nearly done (two weeks left). More on that later.

 Meanwhile, this is why I'm taking a break from studying. Bear with me folks, I'm upset on the behalf of total strangers and this is the only way I can give air to it. I wish I could fix it, I really do.

Believe it or not--the link below is probably the most balanced take on the story of all the articles I've read (I've been following this as I've had time since last Friday).

Just in case you'd prefer a version of the story told in my inimitable style (asides and my perspective on the world included)---

A little over a week ago Lucas Wright heard his dog barking and went to investigate. He discovered a skunk chasing the dog around their fenced in yard (for those of you who don't know anything about this creature--this is not normal. Skunks avoid trouble at all costs, generally choosing to flee the scene only spraying when they feel cornered--they're also extremely slow with short fat legs so larger animals can pretty easily out run them).  The man grabbed his gun and shot the skunk, but not before it sprayed the dog.

Because the skunk's behavior was so unusual he contacted the health department and let them know about the incident. They decided to test the skunk's carcass for rabies. It came back positive. Unfortunately hed told them about the dog too. And unfortunately the dog's rabies shot was not current. So health department contacted the sheriff who then told them that they were required to surrender the dog to the pound to be quarantined.

The owner did as he was told. He made it clear he didn't want the dog euthanized and had already made the decision to quarantine the dog. After some discussion, he learned that he would have to quarantine the dog at a vet's office and that it would be expensive. He insisted that this was not a problem (are you getting the idea that this was a beloved family pet? Good). Shortly after this conversation, he received another call from the health department who then told him quarantine was not an option and that they were going to have to euthanize the dog (they stated that the state vet had made the decision). The man (a city alderman, by the way) called a lawyer and the local TV station and went down to try and talk them out of it. The person at the pound informed them that quarantine was not an option and refused to bend. Within hours, Macy was gone.

The state's since spoken up, making it clear that they said no such thing. Their paperwork indicates that the option of euthanasia had remained. In other words, someone somewhere either a) got their wires crossed or b) lied for reasons of their own. The county now claims that the owner knew about the option of quarantining the dog and that it was in the paperwork they gave him (the owner only received the paperwork AFTER THE DOG WAS EUTHANIZED). I guess the director of this fiasco did not give this same paperwork to their staff.

Oh yeah--the dog was tested posthumously for rabies and the test came back negative. This does not mean that the dog hadn't contracted it, by the way, just that it hadn't had time to take effect (it takes from 45 days to 6 months). However there was no sign that the dog had ever come into direct contact with the skunk (the sheriff acknowledged this to the press). And rabies cannot be passed along through skunk-spray, only saliva. In other words, this dog would have been a good candidate for quarantine.

By the way, Macy was a local hero--she'd saved the father and one of the children from a dog attack some years before.

There's a faintly happy ending to this story--sorta. A kind stranger heard the story on the news and was so moved by it that she contacted Macy's family and offered them a puppy from her new litter of English Mastiffs. And while the woman offering the pups and the family have made it clear that there is no replacing Macy, this will help the children (did I mention that Macy belonged to two children as well?) move forward.

Do not mistake my anger and sympathy for this family for a dismissal of their responsibility. The dog should have had her rabies shot. While there is some question about how often animals should have these vaccinations (every three years may be too often), there is no question about the fact that they should have them. But it is quite obvious that the health department overstepped their authority on this, that someone somewhere dropped the ball in a big way.

While I realize that this was just one dog and just one skunk in just one small town, and that it isn't the end of the world as we know it, I see it as a terrible symptom of a much bigger problem. It is stories like this, both big and small that foster a distrust of the government's ability to make unattended decisions. Too many layers of too many unaccountable people with too many loopholes available to them are what creates situations like this.

Here's a quote from the above linked article that really, really pisses me off (the person speaking is the administrator of the local health department) --

“We understand this was a much loved pet, but they did the right thing,” says McReynolds.

Did they really do the right thing? Apparently not. The worst part about this is that it is extremely obvious that someone somewhere dropped the ball and no one is willing to apologize to these people for having screwed up. This and a promise that they've taken steps to avoid this ever happening again is the only thing that's going to get rid of the health dept's black eye and earn the lost trust of their local community. I promise you if I lived in Webster County (I don't) and had an animal that came into contact with a rabid skunk, and if there was a doubt about my animal's rabies shots, I'd probably quietly quarantine the animal at home or on a neighbor's property and say nothing to the county.

Why? Because I don't trust our local, state, or federal government to do the right thing. Not even when it comes to a dog.


Dennis Bryant said...

I can't speak to the county government, and I've said my piece about the federal government, but I will speak to sate government as I have profound knowledge in that arena. What you have is analogous to a house full of unsupervised teen-aged boys that have the keys to the liquor cabinet. Some of them may want to good. Maybe even most of them want to do good. But once the liquor starts flowing they all lose their resolve. 90% of the electorate know more about the current season of, "Survivor," than they do about the way their elected officials vote. The 10% who do speak up typically have ulterior motives. Until we as a society make the hard decision to be more vigilant there will be ever more chaos and incompetence at all levels. I for one am taking the exit soon. I've done my bit struggling on behalf of a citizenry that couldn't care less. If I had been the owner of that dog I would have hidden it outside the county and then reported it stolen. You can bet that would have confounded the system.

Mary O. Paddock said...

Dennis! Hello. This entire story had me so angry on these people's behalf. It made me wish I was a neighbor. I would have helped them "confound the system."

By the way--excellent analogy.