Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Appreciating the Warmth of a Cold Nose

By Tim Richardson

It’s impossible for me to be objective when it comes to the subject of animal cruelty. I love animals... in particular my black lab, Rocko, and cat, Meeko. When my wife and I lost our dog Murphy one year ago this week, it was a devastating experience. Some people said I was overreacting because it was “just a dog.” My aggravation at those people turned into feelings of sadness for them as they obviously never experienced the joy of having an animal be such a major piece of their lives. Regrettably, that belief about animals not having significant value seems too commonplace in today’s society.

Whether you have pets or not, animal cruelty is a serious issue that deserves the proper attention. This hot-button topic resurfaced in Baltimore this week when a mistrial was called in a ground-breaking case of abuse against a dog. Travers and Tremayne Johnson were on trial for dousing a young pit bull with gasoline and setting her on fire in broad daylight in West Baltimore. Later named Phoenix by the caregivers who tended to her injuries, the pit bull succumbed to her horrific wounds just five days following the attack. Just three days ago, 11 of the 12 jurors were prepared to return a guilty verdict in this case, while one juror was not convinced by the evidence – hence, the mistrial.

The decision to retrial the case now rests in the hands of Baltimore State's Attorney's Office. This tragedy takes on a new level if our judicial system does not demonstrate the fervor to see this through and deliver a message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated. Phoenix's brutal death brought about widespread outrage in 2009 that needs to be summoned in light of this recent development.

In response to this case in 2009, the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force was established in July of that year and charged with helping the City of Baltimore prevent and prosecute animal cruelty, including dog fighting. Unfortunately, that level of attention was not in place for such cases of animal abuse prior to the tragedy involving Phoenix. Court testimony during the Johnson brothers’ trial detailed how authorities did not have any real procedures in place to handle crimes against animals and police were unclear on how to go about their investigation. Led by Caroline Griffin, the task force however has made great strides in educating the public about the severity of animal cruelty and police agencies have trained officers to handle such incidents.

Additionally, animal welfare organizations, such as the Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) should be commended for the work they do on behalf of these defenseless animals. BARCS is a nonprofit that cares for more than 12,000 animals per year, including the majority of animal neglect and abuse cases in the City.

Thankfully, it appears that we are moving in the right direction in some aspects. But it’s the responsibility of parents, law enforcement, animal welfare groups and citizens in general to make a declaration that cruelty against animals will not be tolerated. That first step begins with retrying Travers and Tremayne Johnson and holding them accountable for their actions.

Tim Richardson is Executive Vice President of Maroon PR. Contact him at

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