04 February 2010


This is not a pretty story. Tuesday's Missoulian reported a police response to screaming and yelling at the home of Gary Bassett. An animal control officer who accompanied police described the scene as something "out of a horror movie". They discovered a four-month old kitten whose owner had apparently stomped on her, shaved her head, then tried to drown her in the toilet. The kitten had a shattered pelvis, one eye hemorrhaging, was sopping wet, hypothermic and nearly comatose.

Animal Control workers named the kitten Mercy. One worker noted that in spite of her injuries, no one had the heart to consider putting her down -- when awake, she would purr and knead her paws whenever a human talked to her. Everyone who met her, fell in love with her. A call went out for donations to cover the cost of extensive surgery, and dozens of people volunteered to adopt her. Mercy was at the center of many conversations in Missoula, and around the country.

Alas, today's Missoulian reports that Mercy had to be euthenized. Her spine had been smashed beyond repair by the force of her owner's abuse.

As with any crime, in order to protect the constitutional rights all citizens, investigators must follow legal procedure in establishing probable cause before making an arrest, and must gather conclusive evidence in order to obtain a clear conviction. Chances are good that in Mercy's case, felony charges of aggravated animal cruelty will be filed, carrying a penalty of two years in prison and a maximum $2500 fine. In the meantime, Garry Bassett remains free.

The revulsion and outrage which his (alleged) behavior have aroused in the community cannot be overstated. Suggestions for punishment range from his having to clean animal shelter cages for a year, to hanging him. I well understand the grief and anger. If Bassett is guilty, I believe that the punishment should fit the crime. The retributive part of me thinks that he should undergo the physical pain and terror which he inflicted on Mercy. Another, more rehabilitative part thinks he should have to tend to abused animals as part of his sentence.

Whatever its shortcomings, this is why we are a nation of laws -- if we allowed emotion to rule when someone is wronged, we would descend into a downward spiral of vengeance and counter-vengeance. This does not lessen my feelings for poor Mercy.

If there's a take-home lesson, it is this: each year many thousands of abandoned or abused cats and dogs are euthenized because over-burdened animal shelters cannot possibly take care of them all. Animal owners, spay or neuter your pets. Further, visit your local humane society or animal control shelter. If you have a place in your home (and in your heart), and are a loving and responsible adult, adopt one or more of the animals you meet. You'll be saving a life, and your own life will be richer for the presence of your new furry friend. I adopted my own two cats from the local humane society, and I would not trade them for the world.

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