When provincial court Judge James Walsh told John Michael Corcoran last week that he had better pack a toothbrush when he is sentenced April 26 for his shocking, stomach-churning abuse of a dog named Diamond, I have no doubt there was a loud chorus of cheers throughout much of the province.
Walsh was basically informing Corcoran in uncharacteristically but delightfully impolite court language that he wouldn’t be getting away with one of those maddening slaps on the wrist — a conditional discharge accompanied by the impotent order to go and sin no more. And that, instead, he’d be brushing his pearly whites in a prison cell for a while (quite a while, we can only hope) as a result of a case of animal cruelty so terrible it provoked tears from Newfoundland’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Laura Rogers, while sharing her graphic description of what Diamond was forced to endure.
Now, to be sure, the applause for Walsh, as well as for Rogers, wasn’t heard in every single home in the province, given that there are still, unfortunately and embarrassingly, a fair number of Newfoundlanders who treat dogs, and domestic animals generally, with, at best, a sociopathic detachment, or, at worse, a savage cruelty.
As well, there are also more than a few people who don’t own pets, have never owned pets, will never own pets, who seem mystified that so much attention is accorded the issue of animal abuse, and view with disdain and mockery the journalistic coverage it attracts (this column, for instance).
The latter are to be pitied, if I can indulge here in a dog lover’s sermon, for they have never, will never, enjoy the kind of mutual comfort and affection that can exist between owner and pet.
(A friend of mine at the CBC once reflected on the value of a dog in a way I’ve never forgotten: sometimes, he said, when I come home after a particularly rough day, and the wife has no patience with my complaints, and the kids don’t give a shit about what sort of exasperation I’ve experienced at work, but the dog — ah, the glorious, warm-hearted dog — will always jump up to greet me and try to wash away with sloppy licks the frustration of eight or nine miserable hours at the office).
But it is the former, the John Michael Corcorans of the world, who deserve our contempt and the harshness of time behind the walls of that flea-bag hotel down by Quidi Vidi Lake.
There’s an expression, ironic in this case, that we sometimes use when describing the hell that a human being has been forced to tolerate: you wouldn’t treat a dog that way.
But, as we discover time and again, there are many miserable s.o.b.s, countless bullies, who actually do treat dogs “that way.”
Corcoran’s abuse of Diamond, though, has raised the bar of indecent neglect (the dog starved to death over a period of months) to a level rarely reached; Walsh, Rogers and Crown prosecutor Robin Singleton seemed to struggle to arrive at the most appropriate language to define the abuse.
And I found it difficult to read the coverage, to be quite honest, particularly during a time when my wife and I are still grieving the death at 13 years of age of our beloved dog Tandy, a house pet and hunting beagle.
Ultimately, though, Rogers concluded it was the worst case of emaciation she had ever seen in her 20 years on the job, Walsh equated the mistreatment of Diamond to a “form of torture,” and Singleton described the circumstances of the dog’s death as “horrific.”
And I found it difficult to read the coverage, to be quite honest, particularly during a time when my wife and I are still grieving the death at 13 years of age of our beloved dog Tandy, a house pet and hunting beagle. Believe me, beagles can be both; they don’t have to be treated as a mere appendage to the hunting experience.
When his pleasurable workday was over, Tandy came home to a considerable grub job (not that he wouldn’t have had some of my egg salad sandwich or a Vienna sausage during an earlier lunch break), a warm and cosy spot in front of the wood stove during the evening, and then a valued position at the bottom of our bed to dream of the joyous pursuit of bunnies.
As a matter of fact, this present hunting season has not been the same for me without Tandy at my side, scooting through the alders, the bells around his neck sounding his location, his tail wagging with vigorous pleasure when picking up scent, and then howling to the sky when he realized a rabbit was close by.
I can’t describe how badly it hurt when we were forced to bring him to the vet in the spring, and to feel his body go limp and his mighty heart cease to beat as the injected poison brought an end to his illness, and his life.
We wrapped him in his favourite blanket, I dug a grave in the yard, and we buried him near the other dogs we have loved and whose company we have cherished throughout the years.
Diamond should have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed life the way they did.
As should all dogs.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org