MacNair: Sympathy for the dog killer Paulsen

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About 22 years ago, my wife and I adopted a dog from the Toronto Humane Society on a whim.

It was a yappy little three-year-old Shih Tzu who was territorially aggressive, impossible to walk and poorly house trained. We couldn’t leave her alone or she would bark incessantly for hours or destroy something in the apartment.

Nevertheless, we loved the stupid dog. We bought her the premium dog food, got her special toys and turned her hair shavings (Shih Tzus don’t shed) into Christmas ornaments. When she got kidney stones we spent $2,000 we didn’t have for an operation.

In 2001, with a myriad of health problems and an inability to hold her bladder or bowel movements any longer, we put her to sleep. It was sad at first, but we also had a newborn baby to care for at the time.

Although I enjoyed having a dog and I can understand how people get emotionally attached to their pets, I have to say that fatherhood changed my perspective on the human-animal hierarchy.

For the most part, I think we tolerate the anthropomorphic projections that people place on their animal companions when they call them “babies” and say they “love” them. Well, I suppose a person can love anything, but there’s no love like that which we have for other people.

Which brings me to the point of this story. I felt sympathy for dog walker Emma Paulsen last week when I learned she was about to spend six months in prison for killing six dogs and then attempting to cover it up.

I felt sympathy because Paulsen is going to lose her right to freedom over the death of six animals who, at the end of the day, are essentially inconsequential to this world.

Oh yes, I’m sure the dogs were important to the dog owners. That much is clear. But they’re only dogs. And this is a woman’s life we’re talking about.

Dogs are easily replaced. If you don’t think that’s true, head down to your local animal shelter. You can grab one for about $350.

The other thing about dogs? They only live for about eight to 10 years. Most people who live with dogs their entire lives can be expected to go through a dozen before they, too, meet the grim reaper.

One of my favourite movies of all time, Old Yeller, is about a faithful golden lab who befriends a boy before getting bitten and becoming rabid. The owners do what any sensible owner would do. They shoot the dog and get a replacement.

I’m not condoning anything Paulsen did to those dogs. It’s certainly disturbing that she had such a big mental lapse and then tried to cover up evidence of her mistake. But at the end of the day that’s what happened. She made a mistake.

It’s also disturbing to think that somebody who may be suffering from a mental illness will now go to prison for it. Why are we not helping Paulsen get the care she needs?

The reason why we’re being punitive is pretty obvious. We’re crucifying her for killing North America’s version of the sacred cow.

In other parts of the world, killing dogs isn’t so taboo. Some countries openly feast on dogs the same way we eat chickens. Other countries find dogs to be a nuisance, shooting strays in the streets. Still other countries find them unclean and refuse to come into any contact with them whatsoever.

It seems rather an arbitrary social construct to make it perfectly legal to slaughter cows and ducks and chickens and sheep but to send a woman to jail for six months for killing dogs.

The dog owners lost their animal companion and for that they deserved monetary compensation. A few thousand dollars could buy a pure-bred replacement from a top-notch breeder.

But much like this former dog owner came to realize, the dogs don’t make a difference in this world one way or another. We should be worrying about and caring for our fellow human beings.

Let’s get started by doing more of that.

Adrian MacNair is a staff writer with the Now. He can be reached at amacnair@thenownewspaper.com.

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