Bullet at the dilapidated wharf that was his only world for many years. Photo courtesy of Kelly Baker-Joyce
"Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight."
- Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), missionary, theologian, philosopher and Nobel Peace Prize laureate
This is not a happy story. It's not a pretty story. You will not enjoy it. But it's an important story, one that needs to be told. And retold. And told again.
Until things change and the story is no longer true.
And, meanwhile, perhaps you can help.
This is the story of Bullet, a purebred Australian shepherd, who lived on the Burin Peninsula.
I wouldn't say lived, exactly. Endured is more like it.
You see, Bullet's owner soon grew tired of the dog's hyper behaviour, and so he chained him on outside. But before long the constant barking and the poop on the ground became too much and Bullet was moved further away, downhill from the house to a dilapidated wharf where he took shelter in a rickety doghouse and spent every single minute of every single day at the end of a six-foot chain.
The owner's brother brought him food once a day.
There were no walks. No companionship. No toys or treats. No grooming. No stimulation. No medical care.
That's how and where he was when Burin Peninsula SPCA special constable Pauline Beazley found him July 21this summer.
The SPCA in Burin Bay Arm had gotten a tip from a concerned citizen that a dog was tied 24/7 to a rotting wharf.
"His coat was badly matted with dreadlocks hanging from his sides," Beazley writes via e-mail.
"He started to get a little excited and made his way around the wharf as far as his chain would allow movement. He wore a harness that had torn on one side but still managed to hold him. His stiff stance and unwagging tail warned me to be careful. My attempt to stroke him and check his harness to see if it was too tight was met with a warning growl."
Beazley managed to track down the owner and learned that Bullet had lived this way for nine years.
How he managed to survive through frigid winters on a wharf with a flimsy house as his only shelter is astounding enough, not to mention the constant depression of living in isolation.
Dogs are pack animals, and keeping them in a state of what is essentially solitary confinement is devastating for them, and incredibly cruel.
For an animal like an Australian shepherd, which is bred to work and run and live with farm families, the lack of stimulation and companionship would have been particularly damaging.
According to the current animal protection legislation in this province, as long as a dog is regularly given food, water and shelter, no cruelty has occurred.
Pauline Beazley would tell you otherwise.
A mother of three and a school bus driver, she and one other SPCA special constable are responsible for the area of the Burin Peninsula south from Swift Current. They are on call 24 hours a day and their work is purely voluntary.
It's also incredibly frustrating and disturbing.
"I just love animals," she said when I reached her via cellphone as she was selling tickets for an SPCA fundraiser at the local mall, having just dropped a busload of children off at school.
"Ninety per cent of the calls - almost every call I go to - involves animals being tied on. We don't stop. I can't keep up with all I've got to do. We're not talking about someone tying their dog on for an hour on a sunny day. We've got no problem with that.
"We're talking about people who make tethering a permanent part of their animals' lives."
Beazley admits her work is dispiriting but she doesn't want to dissuade anyone else from getting involved with the SPCA.
The shelter where she's a volunteer has too little space and too few resources.
She said the biggest problem is they spend all their time fixing short-term problems - one animal at a time - instead of working on long-term solutions, like going into schools and educating children about how to treat animals properly.
She is frustrated by the fact that if you encounter a wild animal, you can call the Wildlife Division and expect a co-ordinated, trained, well-equipped response, but if you find an animal tied on, malnourished and languishing in its own filth, you have to rely on volunteers to take care of the problem and cash-strapped charities to pay for whatever is needed.
In Bullet's case, the owner was advised of what he needed to do to improve the dog's living conditions, but he couldn't be bothered and turned the dog over to the SPCA.
He also declined to provide any money for the dog's care, even though the legislation says he should do so.
And so, after nine years of neglect and mind-numbing isolation, of cold and wind and rain and sleet and snow, of matted fur, a metal chain, a shabby house and no affection, Bullet no longer knew how to interact with other dogs or people.
One day after he was removed from his horrible home, he was euthanized.
"His owner could not be charged with any offence, never had to cover our expenses and there is absolutely no deterrent to keep him from acquiring another dog," Beazley said.
Thankfully, the provincial government is now reviewing the animal protection legislation and is considering the tethering issue as part of that review. It is accepting written submissions from the public and expects to have new legislation to introduce in the House of Assembly next spring.
Tougher, stricter laws can't come soon enough for Pauline Beazley.
She calls the current act the only legislation she knows of that has to be enforced by a voluntary organization.
"People will say, 'Well, you can always call the RCMP if you find a neglected animal,' but the RCMP doesn't have the equipment and resources to deal with abused animals. They don't have vehicles with kennels and places to keep animals. They've got enough crimes to deal with."
Other municipalities in Canada have adopted anti-tethering legislation. If animal protection is something that matters to you, please help where you can to make a difference.
It's too late for Bullet, but it doesn't have to be too late for other neglected animals.
Good boy, Bullet. May you finally rest in peace.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com