Fat dogs and legal remedies: One vet's perspective
I guess if the Slentrol isn’t an option and the diets haven’t yet worked there’s always an animal cruelty charge someone can levy to light a fire under you butt. That’s what the owners of Rusty-the-morbidly-obese-British-wonder-dog came to know when his owners found their dog confiscated for cruelly facilitating his 161-pound obesity.
As reported diligently by Itchmo (sadly I can’t reference it now since it’s on indefinite hiatus), Rusty’s recovery out of his owners’ sight went smoothly. He lost almost 40% of his body mass and regained a more normal orthopedic capacity for a dog his age (a ten year-old Labrador retriever). It was an indisputable victory for the canine organism known as Rusty. But what was the end result?
I could list five or six such cats and dogs under my medical care. They are morbidly obese in ways most of us here would deem horrific. Their existence begs the question: How?
In most cases it’s pretty simple. Their owners believe that the amount of food they’re feeding is barely sufficient to sustain life. They fear malnutrition more than they do the discomfort and disease evident to the rest of us. They perceive their animals’ life will be made significantly worse under the strain of a weight loss regimen. Whatever benefit might result isn’t worth the pain of the process, they reckon.
We’d disagree. Some of us so much we’d cut ‘em off. That means ridding them of their pet and their pet of his or her home. That’s pretty heavy stuff (never mind the pun).
As much as we might mourn for a pet bound to the strain of his weight for the rest of her life, the deprivation of her home life might pose a worse condition, depending on her personality. What are our communities’ resources for such undertakings? Would we ever consider similar measures for humans?
Then why for Rusty?
As wrongheaded and cruel as his owners might have been in allowing the extremes of weight gain to persist (failing to seek veterinary care for 17 months was part of the evidence against them) was it reasonable to single out this family for its inadequacies? What shortcomings do you have when it comes to your children’s, your homes,’ your parents,’ your finances or your pets’ care?
Is it appropriate for the law to intervene at a cost society is indisputably unable to bear were your situation addressed routinely? Is it even fair to do so?
Rusty’s life is almost certainly much better now. He can breathe more freely. He can move with less pain. And he’s back with his owners. But his individual weight loss cost his British citizens a pretty penny (three thousand pounds). What is the cost/benefit analysis of this situation? Has litigating this case been worth the deterrent value it may pose for those who would allow their pets free choice kibble for life, in spite of their obesity?
I don’t know the answer. But I do know that while I believe Rusty’s owners are guilty of cruelty as charged, I can name hundreds of cases sourced from my own experience that I’d rather see prosecuted.
So why this case? Why make obesity the poster child for animal cruelty? Is this a British thing? Do the British prosecute animal cruelty far more assiduously than we do? God knows quite a few of my clients might be in hot water were this trend to leap the pond.
I’d love nothing better for us to thoroughly prosecute animal cruelty offenses. But arguably, this one’s not going to do much to enlighten negligent owners that legal trouble lurks in the wings for those who would supply a bottomless bowl of kibble for Fido to gorge on.