We all know what kind of a long, cruel and cold winter it's been for humankind. Imagine, then, what it's been like for cats and dogs exposed to -30 C tempertatures plus the stinging wind.
Late last month, in the depths of our "I-wouldn't-send-a-dog-out-on-a-night-like-this" kind of weather, a concerned animal lover contacted the Winnipeg Humane Society about a case in which at least one dog owner in the Grant Park area didn't see it that way. On Feb. 21, the informant actually arrived in person at the shelter to report the mistreatment of the white German shepherd cross. But when the humane society didn't respond within hours, and after another late-night call to the shelter, the dog lover began an email to me. As I would learn, it wasn't the first time she reported the owner.
"For several months now," she began, "I've been witnessing the abuse of a dog... I reported the situation to the humane society last fall. Twice."
She said the humane society didn't share the outcome, but over the months that followed, the outcome seemed evident. Nothing had changed for the dog.
"Tonight he's been chained up outside for several hours in these frigid temperatures. -19 last I checked (with a wind chill) of -25."
Now, as she wrote to me, it was after 11 p.m., the dog was still outside, and there was still no sign of the humane society truck coming to what she hoped would be the rescue.
"I hoped they'd see what I see on so many nights -- a dog chained up, nothing to do but pace, no shelter or warmth from the snow that's falling and the frigid temperatures. No companionship that dogs as pack animals need. The snow is his bed. No animal should be treated like this. I can't imagine why these people got this dog."
The dog is tethered to a corkscrew stake when it's outside, and last fall, he managed to pull it out of the ground and make a run for it.
"But they caught him, and as they dragged him back to the house at the end of the three-foot leash he'd been staked out with, the man kicked the dog in the head. How does someone do such a thing?"
She called it "heartbreaking" to see.
"Sometimes I think he (the dog) knows I'm watching. I imagine he's asking me to help him as he stares in the night. I don't know what else I can do. It's hard waiting for someone with authority to act... "
Which brings us to the broader story. Even though the humane society is empowered to act, it has too few resources for too many complaints; only three animal-protection officers who are empowered to seize animals in distress, two more emergency responders, who aren't, and only two vehicles between them. Police can be and often are called on to assist both the protection officers and the emergency responders, but, understandably, at busy times rescuing animals is a lower priority. Yet over the last three years, statistics supplied by the humane society show a steady and even marked increase in animal-neglect and cruelty cases the humane society has responded to. For example, numbers are up sharply since 2011 for animals in extreme distress, cruel confinement, not being provided appropriate medical attention or food or water and, yes animals "unduly exposed to heat/cold."
In 2013, over an 11-month period, the humane society took 213 animals into protective custody. What the humane society didn't break down is how many of the 213 were initially rescued by its officers or police and how many arrived from other agencies and jurisdictions.
As for the dog in the Grant Park area, the humane society said it did respond the same weekend to the informant's complaint. Spokeswoman Laina Hughes said the dog's owner was warned last October about providing a shelter after the informant's initial complaint and was warned again on the more recent call. The dog's owner told humane society emergency responders his dog was suffering from "cabin fever," as if that excused leaving it exposed to the elements for hours.
I asked Hughes what the humane society would do if officers returned for a third time to find the dog outside without proper shelter from the elements.
"It depends on the situation and it depends on the physical condition of the dog," she responded. "The dog was deemed to be healthy. It had a thick fur coat. It did not seem injured or in distress, so that's how they determined that situation."
Anyway, there is some good news to report out of all this. As of this week -- more than two weeks after the visit from the humane society -- the woman who reported what was going on hasn't noticed the dog leashed up outside.
As for the broader issue -- why the steady increase in reported cases of animal abuse in Winnipeg? -- maybe it has to do with there being more awareness by people like her who care deeply about protecting animals.
I wouldn't want to think it's because there's even more humans being even more cruel to animals.
And even more getting away with it.