Man Bites Dog
Some new variations on an old theme, starring Ben the Dog, a private eye, society matrons, the SCPA, the Establishment, and just about everybody else in Dallas.
There are actually three different stories here. Some of the characters include a wealthy industrialist, a tough private eye, a fat Mexican, a beautiful divorcee, and assorted dogs and cats.
The stories are vaguely related because all concern animals and all happen in the same city at roughly the same time. But it is their differences rather than their similarities that is the real reason for placing these stories together. Taken alone, each one shows a different way that men bite dogs; taken together, they show that men biting dogs is inevitable.
His tears did not help Robert Ramirez when, taking the stand in his own defense, he broke down as he testified that he was innocent of cruelty to his St. Bernard, that in fact he loved his dog and loved every other dog he’d ever owned and didn’t deserve to have his name paraded through the newspapers and all Dallas thinking he was a monster.
But tears are not evidence and Judge Harold Entz of Dallas Criminal Court Number Four listened and found Ramirez guilty.
Ramirez testified on the last day of his three-day trial, a trial that had received enough attention in the press and provoked enough response—one outraged woman had taken it upon herself to bring her immense St. Bernard into the courtroom to show by comparison how badly Ramirez had treated his dog—that Ramirez certainly had reason to think that all Dallas was against him. Not only was animal cruelty an emotional issue in itself, but also the first news stories about the trial had mentioned that even if Ramirez were convicted, under Texas law the dog would have to be returned to him anyway. This so outraged animal lovers that groups of people spontaneously sprang up, determined to stop Ramirez from regaining custody of his dog. Two small newspaper ads placed by one such group received over 10,000 replies in two weeks and over 30,000 in all. “Remember Ben!” was their rallying cry. As the loosely organized animal lovers counted their bags of mail, Ramirez was left to mumble that it was his dog, and his dog wasn’t named Ben, as they said it was, but Bruiser.
Ramirez’ trial took place in December 1974, but the events that led to his conviction actually began in the fall of 1973. That was when Mrs. Martha Cox, a middle-aged schoolteacher, began noticing the dog as she drove past Ramirez’ small, dreary, rundown house on her way to work. The house, set back a short distance from the street, looked worse than t it might have because it shared the lot with Ramirez Used Cars. What once was a small yard had by now been worn away to bare, hard-packed ground where a dozen or so dilapidated vehicles, Ramirez’ total inventory, awaited new owners. To the right of the house, about fifteen yards away, stood a square cement block building that had once been the offices of the car lot be fore Ramirez began waiting for business inside his house. From the porch hung a large, crudely painted sign that sternly ordered customers to SOUND HORN. Everything about the place—the house, the cars, and even the worn ground they stood on—expressed poverty and defeat and seemed so close to final collapse that it was a wonder they were hanging together at all. It hardly seemed to the fastidious Mrs. Cox like the proper environment for rearing anything, especially not the year-old St. Bernard she saw tied to a rope near the porch.
The dog looked healthy enough at first, but Mrs. Cox thought the rope restraining him was too short. The only shelter it allowed the dog to reach was the front porch or the underside of one of the dilapidated cars. And she never saw it off the rope. Every morning it was tied there and was in the same place when she drove back in the afternoon. She checked with the small grocery next door where the owners said they had never seen the dog off the rope either. With that Mrs. Cox called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and asked them to investigate. Evidently they weren’t as troubled by the report as Mrs. Cox, for, driving past, she continued to see the dog on the rope.
As fall turned to winter, Mrs. Cox began to worry about the St. Bernard being left out in the cold. One morning she heard on the radio that the temperature would drop suddenly that day and she thought surely Mr. Ramirez, whose name she had learned at the grocery, wouldn’t leave his dog outside on the coldest day of the year. But when she drove past after school, with the temperature below twenty degrees, she saw the St. Bernard still tied outside. This upset her enough that she went to a nearby furniture store, got a refrigerator box, and hauled it back to the grocery where she converted the box into a makeshift house for the dog. The grocery owner told her it would be better if he, rather than she, took the box over to Ramirez and she was happy enough to agree. She had not, from the first, liked the looks of the house or the cars or the hard-packed dirt-and-gravel lot. There was no telling what kind of person would live in such squalor and leave his dog out in the cold tied to a short rope.
The next morning Mrs. Cox was surprised to find the box not on Ramirez’ porch as she had intended, but still at the store. The grocer told her Ramirez had refused the offer. This convinced Mrs. Cox that Ramirez was as heartless as she had suspected from the beginning. She called the SPCA a second time, and when a day or so later the dog had disappeared, she assumed her call had gotten results and they had come to take it away.
But they hadn’t. Driving by the following spring, Mrs. Cox saw the dog again. Its health and appearance startled her so much that at first she wasn’t sure it was the same dog. The young, healthy-looking St. Bernard of the previous fall was now a gaunt, emaciated animal with bloody sores all over his body and trembling legs that made him seem like he was going to collapse with every step. He was only skin and bones—frail bones and infected, bloody skin at that. Furious now at the realization that her earlier warnings had been ignored, Mrs. Cox called the SPCA a third time and demanded they send someone to investigate the case. This time they did. They placed the St. Bernard in the city animal shelter and had Ramirez arrested for cruelty to animals. The specific charge was failing to provide his dog with “the necessary food, care, and shelter.”
Ramirez insisted he was innocent before, during, and after the trial. But when two veterinarians testified that on the day the SPCA brought the dog to the city shelter it was at least 50 pounds underweight, mange-ridden, bleeding from sores on its body and face, and very close to death from malnutrition. Ramirez’ pleas of innocence seemed impossible to defend. Between the time of Ramirez’ arrest in May and his trial in December, the city animal shelter continued to house the dog. The monotony of its stay was lessened somewhat by visits from a group of women, friends of Mrs. Cox, who saw themselves as independent agitators for animal causes. Fiftyish and upper class, none of them had ever talked to Ramirez. The condition of the dog was evidence enough for them. As they made trips to the shelter, taking it upon themselves to nurse the dog back to health, they took to calling it Ben.
A few weeks before the trial began, these women noticed that Ben, who had been growing stronger, seemed to take a turn for the worse. They thought the dog needed more attention than it was able to get at the shelter. It took a while to get the necessary mission (because Ben was, after all, evidence in a criminal proceeding), but finally Mrs. Virginia Prejean took over care of the dog. (Mrs. Prejean, who runs a small advertising agency, is the mother of Jeanne Prejean, society page editor of the Dallas Morning News.)
Mrs. Prejean walked Ben several times a day, fed him generously, and gave him plenty of water. Once again he seemed to be growing stronger. There was one problem, however. Occasionally Ben would eat his food only to throw it back up immediately. Mrs. Prejean attributed this to nerves.
Early in 1973 Robert Ramirez bought a St. Bernard puppy from the city animal shelter and named it Bruiser. He was delighted to have found a registered breed among the puppies at the pound for its return. But during that stay Bruiser had become reinfected and the mange began to spread no matter what Ramirez did to stop it.
Ramirez had no fenced yard, so he kept his dog tied to a leash to keep it from running away. It wasn’t an ideal situation for a dog, but Bruiser could at least crawl onto the porch or under a car for shelter from the elements. Ramirez felt that was all a dog needed. Besides, there was nowhere else to put it. He couldn’t let the dog inside; in Ramirez’ small living room, it wouldn’t have any room, not even as much as it had on the rope outside.
One day Ramirez found a big box with a door cut in it left on his property. The store owner next door told him it was a doghouse to keep his St. Bernard warm that night. Some lady had brought it by. Ramirez dragged the box back to the store. It wasn’t big enough for the dog in the first place. “And,” he said later, “even if it was, who wants a big ugly box on their front porch?” The very idea of the box showed how little that woman thought of his home and place of business and, worse, she hadn’t even shown him the respect of confronting him with the box herself. It was another example, he told himself, of the privileged trying to foist their trash on the poor.
When the weather got cold, he took Bruiser off his leash and put him inside the square cement block building that used to be the office of his car lot. The building had lots of room and even a small heater. Other dogs he’d owned had spent winters in there and had done fine. The only problems now were the mange, which was steadily growing worse, and the dog’s inability to keep food down. Bruiser was never able to relax but was perpetually squirming and scratching and biting at himself, and Ramirez assumed this discomfort was what was affecting Bruiser’s digestion. Since neither the commercial mange preparations nor penicillin shots from the vet had cured the dog by this time, Ramirez decided to try an old backwoods remedy he’d learned while growing up in San Antonio. He drained the oil from the crankcase of one of the cars on his lot, mixed in a large quantity of sulphur, and regularly spread this concoction on the dog. The theory behind this treatment was that the oil would penetrate below the skin to where the mites lived, and the sulphur in the oil would then kill the mites. But that cure didn’t seem to work very well this time. The mange continued to spread, Bruiser continued to throw up his food and lose weight, and the oil mixture made him look more dirty and bedraggled than ever.
When spring came, the dog was still getting worse. Ramirez brought him out of the old office and tied him back on the rope. He hoped the dog would get better, but he didn’t know what else to do. He watched him decline day by day. Then one May afternoon Ramirez returned home to find a warrant out for his arrest for cruelty to animals.
“Why would a poor man like me pay $45 to get my dog back from the pound if I didn’t love him? Why would I take him to the vet’s twice? Why would I treat the other dogs I own fine and be cruel to this one?” These questions and the statement that he was trying to cure the mange with oil and sulphur were the essence of Ramirez’ defense. Against him were the photographs and the testimony of witnesses that showed how the dog had wasted away and almost died. Also, Ramirez’ general appearance and attitude worked against him. Hair in a tangle, shirt open, belly sticking out, he appears not only poor but worse, slovenly. He leaves the same impression of squalor and laziness as his home and business. His demeanor not only took the edge off his protestations that he was doing all he could for the dog, but also convinced the animal-loving ladies who were seeing him for the first time that they had got the right man.
Judge Entz eventually sentenced Ramirez to a $250 fine and 60 days in jail—probated with the stipulation that Ramirez earn a high school equivalency certificate within one year. But Entz threw up his hands when confronted with what to do about the dog.
He first declared his court had no jurisdiction in that matter. Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade said he didn’t think there was any way for Ramirez to get the dog back. But City Attorney Alex Bickley ruled that the dog had to go back to its owner. Then mayor pro tern George Allen said he wanted to change the law so that a person convicted of cruelty could not get back the animal in question. Mrs. Prejean simply refused to give the animal back to Ramirez. Through all this people kept calling the DA’s office, city hall, the SPCA, and Mrs. Prejean, all expressing outrage at the thought of the dog being returned. Many offered to buy him and several callers told Mrs. Prejean they would take him secretly to a good home and she could say he had been stolen. About this time the Remember Ben campaign got rolling. Its effects even trickled down to Austin, where the legislature rushed through a bill designed to aid future Bens, which Governor Briscoe signed last April.
During all the legal maneuverings, Mrs. Prejean steadfastly refused to give the dog back to Ramirez. But early in March, some eleven weeks after the trial, the St. Bernard could still not keep any food down. Mrs. Prejean got permission to send the dog to Texas A&M for treatment, a legal maneuver that proved a bit tricky since Ramirez was still demanding custody and the city attorney had backed him up. At A&M Dr. Elmo Crenshaw, an eminent teacher of veterinary medicine, discovered that the St. Bernard was suffering from an abnormality of the esophagus that caused him to throw up. And, said Dr. Crenshaw, the problem was probably congenital, it turned out to be possible after all that, the dog had grown emaciated not because Ramirez had starved him but because it could not eat.
The court finally ruled that the dog did indeed belong to Ramirez. Meanwhile, the St. Bernard stayed at A&M for almost three months under the observation of Dr. Crenshaw. By the time the dog was returned to Ramirez in July, an event that 30,000 people had protested by letter six months earlier, only a few reporters were on hand to see it. The St. Bernard emerged from a van that had brought him from College Station, and loped a few steps over to Ramirez where, to the surprise of reporters and the great relief of Ramirez, the dog licked his owner’s hand.
“What this case means,” Ramirez would later say, “is that any time your dog gets sick, refuses to eat, throws up his food, and gets emaciated, and you are not rich enough to take your dog to a vet, you will be found guilty of cruelty to animals.”
Poverty was certainly the main reason Ramirez stopped taking the dog to a vet when it continued to get sick. And Bruiser’s return to comparative health—the dog must be fed a pureed diet and must eat standing on its hind legs—was accomplished only by medical care that Ramirez certainly couldn’t have provided. But to concentrate on the legal issues or on the difference in class and attitude between Ramirez and his accusers is to lose sight of the larger issue in the case.
“I thought about shooting him,” Ramirez said recently, “but, hell, I didn’t have the heart to do it. And I could have taken him to the pound and they would have put him to sleep, but I didn’t want to do that either. I knew he was suffering. I saw him. But I didn’t want to kill him.” Instead, Ramirez decided, in effect, just to let him die his slow, inevitable death.
If Ramirez had destroyed the St. Bernard, his cruelty trial would never have happened. Ramirez got into trouble because he chose suffering over death for his dog. In the opinion of Mrs. Prejean, Mrs. Cox, the rest of their friends, and the majority of the humanitarian movement, the better thing is to decrease suffering than to prolong life, and judging by the public response to the case and the decision of the court to convict Ramirez, that is society’s view as well. Robert Ramirez believed exactly the opposite. For deciding to let Bruiser live as long as he could no matter how much he suffered, Ramirez was not so much cruel as behind the times.
A Pound of Flesh
The private detective’s film had a telling effect. It helped convince a Dallas grand jury to indict the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for the crime of, sad to say, cruelty to animals. To make this already strange case even more bizarre, the private detective, whose name was Jerry Owens, had been a high-ranking employee of none other than the SPCA when he made the film.
At the time he said it was for use within the SPCA only. But by early February 1975, just when the Remember Ben campaign was at its height, people in Dallas began reading about the film and seeing it on television.
The film shows attendants taking dogs and cats from their pens at the SPCA shelter and loading them into a cylindrical wire cage on a wheeled dolly. Most of the animals were coaxed into the cage without much trouble, but one black cat, almost as if it knew what was going to happen, kept crawling out the door of the cage and had to be pushed back in several times. Then the attendants rolled the cage into a small room with yellow walls and a cement floor. In the room stood a gray cylinder of fabricated steel. An attendant pushed the cage into the cylinder, removed the dolly, and bolted the cylinder’s round door. Through a small window in the door, one could see the animals moving about frantically. Next, the attendants opened the round door to the cylinder and wheeled out the cage. The animals inside weren’t moving anymore. The attendants placed their inert bodies in a large pile with the bodies of other dead animals.
Needless to say, this film, with its dying animals and implicit parallels with films of Nazi concentration camps, has a powerful effect. But the deaths, which are the part of the film with the strongest impact, are not the reason Owens made it. Both he and the SPCA would agree that we already have too many dogs and cats. He was interested not in whether but in how they should be destroyed.
Every hour, while 400 people are born in the United States, 3000 dogs and cats are born. Most of these newly born animals do not become pets but either die or hang on as strays. The strays become urban wild animals. They breed and their offspring are second-generation urban wild animals and then they breed. Their mortality rate is high, but even so their numbers are already enormous and rapidly increasing. There are, for example, an estimated 50,000 stray dogs in Dallas. They roam singly or in packs through the poor parts of town, along the outskirts of the city, and along the banks of the Trinity River. Every American city has the same problem. New York supposedly has more than 150,000 stray dogs, Los Angeles more than 100,000.
Most humane societies have conceded that the only solution to the problem of present and future overpopulation is to destroy animals. Thousands and thousands of kittens and puppies, all adorable, all cute, all lovable, all with big, sad eyes, all just wanting someone to take care of them, are going to have to be put to sleep. In other words, killed. There aren’t enough people to take care of them and if we turn them loose to fend for themselves most will die anyway and the rest will survive and multiply until they run unchecked through the cities and become more vicious pests than rats.
The problem, therefore, is not whether to destroy animals but how to go about it. The Euthanair machine, that cylindrical device in Owens’ film, is one common method of animal euthanasia. In the last few years it has become the focus of an unfortunate and destructive battle between very large and well-established national humane organizations. One side claims the machine is inhumane; the other defends it. Owens was an active participant in the battle. He, his allies, and his film managed to force the SPCA, which wanted to remain a bystander, into the thick of the dispute.
Few people realize that the SPCA is not a national organization. Each local society is autonomous, connected to other SPCAs in name only. For many years a woman named Emily Schuyler ran the Dallas Society. She was the kind of eccentric old lady one associates with fringe causes, and she ran the SPCA with such a singlemindedness that almost no one could work with her. For a while she had an assistant named Ann Gough Hunter, a woman with many friends in Dallas social circles. During their brief association these two women learned to despise each other. Mrs. Hunter soon became so fed up with Emily Schuyler that she left the SPCA and formed her own competing organization, the Animal Protective League.
The two women squabbled so frequently and so bitterly that sometimes very little got done for animals. In 1965, since this rivalry seemed only to be getting worse as the years went by, E. M. “Ted” Dealey, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, decided something should be done to unite the efforts of the two ladies. Dealey could not do it himself since he, like so many others, had found it impossible to get along with Emily Schuyler, and when he tried to help Ann Hunter, he had a falling out with her too. As a last resort he called George Jalonick III, an old friend and like Dealey a member of a prominent Dallas family. Jalonick’s father had been interested in animal causes and Jalonick himself had not long before contributed $1000 to Schuyler’s SPCA, an act of generosity which resulted in his nomination to the Society’s board of directors. Jalonick agreed to negotiate a peace between the two women on the condition that he wouldn’t be the person to run the new organization.
It took Jalonick eighteen months of mediating between Emily Schuyler, Ann Hunter, and the boards of their respective organizations before he was able to arrange a truce and eventual merger into what became the present Dallas SPCA. The new board of directors included neither Schuyler (who had committed herself to an institution) nor Hunter (who had resigned over still another disagreement). Jalonick was elected chairman and immediately began drawing up plans to build a new shelter and looking for someone to run it.
He had good luck with the plans for the new shelter. Under his guidance the SPCA raised $750,000 to pay for the land and the building, which was officially opened in March 1974 and named after Ted Dealey, who died in 1969.
But Jalonick’s luck didn’t hold when he tried to find someone to run the shelter. “The biggest mistake I’ve made,” Jalonick was to say later, “was not hiring a professional shelter operator in the first place.” First he tried a former veterinarian’s assistant who was good with the animals but turned out to be lacking in administrative ability. The second president likewise proved incapable of running the shelter and in desperation Jalonick turned to Tom Dugan. Before coming to the SPCA, Dugan was treasurer of Southwest Airmotive, where Jalonick was then chairman of the board. Jalonick had long been concerned that the shelter had no professional bookkeeping system or accounting procedure, so he offered Dugan the job at the Society, expecting him to put the shelter operation in order.
Dugan organized the books all right, but he wasn’t prepared for the other pressures of the job. There was frequent bickering and infighting among employees. Allegations of cruelty went back and forth in the shelter and it was often difficult to know whom to believe or what to do. The phone rang all day long with reports of cruelty from excited people demanding action and these calls were frequently followed by more calls from the same persons complaining that nothing had been done. The animals—barking, whining, fouling their cages—became a horrible oppression in themselves. And worst of all, there were threats, anonymous voices calling at his office, at his home, telling him his days were numbered. The embarrassment all this caused was the final and most public of all the pressures. When Dugan resigned, the SPCA had a set of books, but as an organization it was directionless and wobbling. Then Jerry Owens took over and delivered what was almost the fatal blow.
Owens is a private detective and he looks the part. He is 33, has dark hair, thick arms, a barrel chest, and a deep metallic voice. He likes to wear boots and dress in dark colors. Sometimes he carries a gun. His whole presence is physical—in a fight his is the side to be on—and meeting him is unsettling, not because he is aggressive and threatening, but because he is the opposite, so cool and self-contained and calmly certain. He is a lone wolf, hates organizations, hates being told what to do, and lives by his own code. “A man has to do what he thinks is right,” he likes to say; he thinks that organizations prevent a man from doing that. For Owens the only good organization is one that lets him do what he wants without interfering but backs him up when he needs it. That way “a man can do what he has to do.”
Dugan had originally hired Owens in November 1974; by then Dugan was already unhappy and the two men had a tacit understanding that Owens would get Dugan’s job if Dugan resigned. Meanwhile Owens was supposed to manage the shelter and develop a staff to investigate animal cruelty. He seemed like the ideal man, at least for the investigative part of the job. Before forming his detective agency, Owens had worked for the Tarrant County Sheriffs Department and for the Tarrant County Humane Society investigating animal cruelty cases. But his interest in animals went beyond the mere demands of a job; Owens has made stopping animal cruelty a personal crusade. In the late Sixties he swore out a complaint against the Dallas Zoo for cruelty but nothing came of it. Later, after he had left the sheriffs office and started his detective agency, he spent long hours investigating pit bulldog fighting in Texas.
He received help during these investigations from the Cleveland Amory Fund for Animals in New York. They kept him on retainer, gave him advice, and invited him to speak before the Fund’s annual meeting and to appear as a witness before a congressional committee probing pit bull fighting. He was still working for the Fund when he came to the SPCA—a situation which the SPCA’s defenders later charged was anything from a conflict of interest to outright spying.
The new president and the chairman of the board came to loggerheads almost immediately. Owens was upset with the way the SPCA was run. He didn’t like some of the employees since he thought they treated animals poorly, but most of all he hated the Euthanair machine. After making his controversial film, he shut the machine down and told Jalonick that it wasn’t humane. Jalonick arranged for an expert from the American Humane Association (AHA) to inspect it to see that it was in good working order. When the expert certified that it was, Jalonick told Owens to start using the machine again. Owens refused. He now contended that the machine was inhumane no matter how well it functioned. Rather than use it, he resigned from the presidency on February 26, taking a copy of his film with him.
Several years earlier, when making plans for the new shelter, George Jalonick himself had been repelled when he heard about the Euthanair machine. Although a shrewd businessman, Jalonick can be soft-hearted to a fault about animals; he does not like to think about them dying in any circumstances. When I talked to him he mentioned the recent death of one of his Siamese cats, and though he kept himself in control, his eyes became wet and his face displayed obvious pain. The thought of animals being loaded into a metal tank to be killed was at first almost more than Jalonick’s sentimental nature could stand. But he would eventually change his mind.
The Euthanair machine is actually a decompression chamber. A compressor pumps out the air at a specified rate, and the effect on the animals inside is the same as if they were ascending rapidly in an unpressurized airplane. Pilots who have survived such an ascent report that it is not at all as traumatic as it sounds. As the atmosphere grows thinner and thinner, the loss of oxygen produces not panic but euphoria. This has been confirmed in numerous tests on pilots. The supporters of the Euthanair machine claim that the animals experience exactly the same painless euphoria before they fall unconscious and die from lack of oxygen.
The machine is widely used throughout the country since, after an initial investment of about $5000, it provides a cheap method of mass euthanasia that requires no great technical skill or training to operate properly. The American Veterinary Association has approved the machine as humane provided it is kept in good repair and too many animals are not crowded into the cage.
The SPCA board had not decided what to do about euthanasia in the new shelter when Jalonick and two other board members decided to visit shelters in California. They discovered that the San Francisco SPCA used the machine and recommended it without qualification. In Los Angeles the three men heard the same story. Back in Dallas, the president of the local veterinary association also recommended the machine, as did the American Humane Association, an organization the SPCA frequently turns to for advice.
Jalonick listened, read all the information he could find, and, having decided that his initial distaste for the machine was founded more on ignorance than reason, advised the board to buy it. One fact had been particularly convincing. While chairman of the board of Southwest Airmotive, Jalonick had done some high-altitude flying and had himself experienced the euphoria all the scientific papers spoke of so dryly. He had found the experience not painful at all but pleasant and had no qualms—given that the unwanted animals had to die—of causing them to die that way. He knew that some people did not like Euthanair. One was Mrs. Virginia Prejean, whom we first met as Ben’s court-appointed caretaker. She corresponded with Jalonick about her extreme opposition to the machine, but he thought she and her allies supported their position more with emotion than with scientific fact. “I think I should have been criticized,” Jalonick said later in defending his choice of the machine, “if I had relied on the advice of a group of ladies instead of scientific and medical evidence.”
But those ladies and their allies thought they had the scientific and medical evidence on their side. They favored euthanasia by means of an intravenous injection of an overdose of sodium pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate. This drug goes immediately through the vein to the heart, killing the animal instantly with no more pain than the initial prick of the needle. This is the method used by most veterinarians when they “put animals to sleep.” Many shelters use it as well. While the American Humane Association approves and supports use of the machine, the rival Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) favors injections.
The Dallas group opposing the machine gradually evolved into a loose organization calling itself Decent Death. Its leader was Elaine McLendon, a tall, strapping young woman from West Texas who worked for a local advertising agency. Under her guidance Decent Death protested the Euthanair machine before the city council last March 10. The council agreed to suspend use of the machine at the city animal shelter while the issue was under study but said it had no authority over the SPCA shelter.
The SPCA and Decent Death brought experts to the next three city council meetings to debate the Euthanair issue. On March 17 Jerry Owens showed his film. At subsequent meetings two representatives of the AHA spoke in favor of the machine, while two opposing witnesses from the HSUS and the head of a large Boston shelter spoke for injections. The evidence was hopelessly conflicting. For every expert who said the Euthanair machine caused animals pain and trauma, another would offer evidence that it didn’t. If one expert claimed that injections would cost Dallas taxpayers an extra $30,000 a year and required a highly skilled technician to administer humanely, the next expert would contend that people could easily be trained to inject the animals and the increase in cost was actually very little.
Understandably confused, the council listened to it all for a month without taking any final action. But on April 7, just after the Decent Death people arrived for their fifth council meeting in a row, they were gratified when the council without any fanfare or warning voted unanimously to require that injections be the only method of euthanasia used at the city shelter. No inspired rhetoric had stirred them to this action; nor had any expert come forward with the piece of conclusive evidence that would settle the question once and for all. The impetus was quite different. Three days earlier a grand jury had indicted the SPCA for cruelties committed while using the Euthanair machine.
It was a bit unusual that the case had gone before the grand jury at all since cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor. In misdemeanors the usual procedure is for the District Attorney to prosecute the case on his own whenever he feels there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial. But the SPCA, with George Jalonick and several other prominent citizens on the board and the Dealey name on its animal shelter, is a potent institution in the elite north Dallas circles where Dallas DA Henry Wade has always had strong support. Wade sent the case to the grand jury where he may have thought a no bill was, if not a certainty, at least a great likelihood. If this was Wade’s plan, it backfired since the grand jury did indeed indict the SPCA and the news of a grand jury indictment sounded more damning in the press than would have the news of the filing of a misdemeanor charge. But this at least shifted responsibility for the charge off Wade’s shoulders and onto those of the grand jury.
It was Elaine McLendon and some of her associates at Decent Death who had brought the charge originally, and the grand jury began hearing evidence in early March, about a week before the city council began its hearings on the machine. The specific complaint was that on December 29, 1974, the SPCA had committed cruelties by loading too many animals into the machine. Even those who support use of the Euthanair machine say that only four to eight animals, depending on their size, can be destroyed humanely at one time. But the SPCA’s own records showed its shelter had destroyed so many animals on December 29 that even if the machine had run all day, it necessarily would have been loaded with more than eight animals at a time. Consequently, whether the machine itself was humane or not was not really the point, and the grand jury returned the indictment.
The SPCA was left to wonder why Jerry Owens, who was in command at the shelter on December 29, hadn’t put a stop to the overcrowding himself. They theorized that Owens was an agent provocateur, employed by the Cleveland Amory Fund for the purpose of destroying the SPCA.
Farfetched as this might sound to an outsider, such intrigue is not unknown within the humane movement. The SPCA board first began to wonder about Owens when, to the surprise of everyone present, he suddenly announced in a board meeting, apropos of nothing, “I know you think I’m a spy, but I’m not. I’m working for the SPCA alone.” He continues to deny that he was a spy, but there is some evidence he was. An assistant to Cleveland Amory told me this summer, “He worked for us on that case. We backed him in his actions against the SPCA.” And Owens himself, the man who mistrusts organizations, told me, “The thing I like about the Fund is they’re the only organization that ever backed me up.”
That it should even be possible that Owens is a spy is an indication of how byzantine and brutal politics within the American humane movement has become. Humane organizations, far from working together for a common goal, spend an alarming amount of time trying to do each other in. These feuds and rivalries do not fade away with time; instead they grow stronger. In fact, this whole affair in Dallas was the legacy of a dispute that started over twenty years ago. At that time the four people who founded the Humane Society of the United States were all working for the American Humane Association. These four thought the AHA was ignoring some important issues—slaughterhouse reform and humane education were two. After a heated and emotional fight at the annual meeting in 1954, the four broke with the AHA and formed the HSUS. The two organizations have feuded with each other ever since. Now the HSUS favors injections and the AHA defends the Euthanair. While this ancient rivalry does not resolve the substance of the debate, it does account for the extreme bitterness and uncompromising attitudes. Believers on both sides speak with religious conviction, and uniting them would be as impossible as uniting the Pentecostals and the Episcopalians.
What all this means for the future of the Dallas SPCA is hard to say. But there is one hint in the past. One of the points of dispute between Emily Schuyler and Ann Hunter was that Schuyler supported the new HSUS while Hunter’s loyalty remained with the AHA. Today their names are both on a plaque in the Founder’s Room of the Dealey Animal Shelter, and the sins of the mothers have passed on to the new generation.
A Doghouse Is Not A Home
The Ivor O’Connor Morgan Home for Lost and Stray Dogs was very hard to find even though it’s on a major Dallas street and I knew the address. A friend and I walked back and forth along several blocks of Exposition Street near Fair Park before I noticed the small metal letters. The leafy branches of a short tree partially covered them, making the sign difficult to see even from the sidewalk and impossible from the street. The home was a single-story cement block building originally built by a veterinarian for an office and my first impression was that the place didn’t look so bad.
But like a warning the front door was black with handprints around the door. Inside we found ourselves in a long anteroom that was completely empty except for a counter about three-quarters of the way back. The room was dark and dismal and enclosed by grimy walls, grimy ceiling, and grimy floor. We saw no one and everything was very quiet until my friend shut the door behind him. With that slight sound a horrible cacophony of frenzied barking began beyond a door at the opposite end of the room. As soon as the barking started we headed toward the source, but before we got there the door opened and a thin, gray-haired woman in slacks emerged.
“We’ve come to look at the dogs,” I said.
“Okay, just go on back.”
We walked through the door as the woman watched us silently. Just inside was a short passageway. Here stood a set of cages, three on the bottom and two on top, each of which contained a small dog barking at us furiously. Some of them ran around and around in circles like crazy canine dervishes. These cages got no light except what little filtered into the hallway from the large room at the other end. There, we could tell from the barking, most of the dogs were kept. We walked on into that room.
The cages were about waist high and they stretched in rows from one side of the room to the other. Fewer than half of them held dogs. The bottom of each one was lined with newspapers and the dogs had bowls for water and food; but the cages were only a few feet on a side, providing very little room. The dogs barked at us with a vengeance. A couple of them tried to bite us through the wire; a few wagged their tails hopefully; and still others ran in those furious circles. We walked up and down the rows, watching the dogs running in circles and listening to the constant, frantic barking. The gray-haired woman peered at us from the door. We walked around some more and then walked back out.
All that was depressing enough, but the truly depressing thing about the Morgan home is that it shows how futile even the best intentions of an individual can be. Ivor O’Connor Morgan was a wealthy and by all accounts beautiful woman who in 1937 died in Antibes on the French Riviera at the age of 36. Her fortune came in part from marriage; her second husband, Harry Hayes Morgan, was one of the Morgans. But she was related by birth to one of the families that settled early in Dallas so that well over half the value of her estate came from her inherited interest in downtown Dallas real estate. She was part owner of the land where Neiman-Marcus now stands and had an interest in lots on Main, Elm, and Pacific, including some of the land where the First National Bank built its new office building.
In her will, which she made out just six months before she died, she left small sums of money and personal effects to various friends. The bulk of her estate, which was valued at exactly $820,446.29, she left in trust to the Dallas Bank & Trust Company, now the First National Bank. She wanted the bank to use the income from the trust for two purposes. One was to establish a wing in a public hospital “for the care and treatment of children not less than four years of age and not more than twenty years of age who are afflicted with tuberculosis.” The second purpose was to “create a home in the city of Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, for lost and strayed dogs.”
Legend has it that at first she wanted to leave all her estate to the home for dogs but family pressure convinced her to add the provisions for the children’s hospital. Legend also has it that her interest in animals began when she was a child living with an aunt in Dallas. Someone gave the young girl a puppy and it either died prematurely or was kicked one day by the aunt, depending on who is telling the story. In any event the trust is now worth slightly more than $2 million. The bank has sold all the land and keeps about three-fourths of the principal in its First National Common Trust Fund. In 1974 the bank donated $102,000 to the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and $20,137 to the Ivor O’Connor Morgan Home for Lost and Stray Dogs.
Nothing in Mrs. Morgan’s will specified how the income from the trust was to be divided between children and dogs. The bank, in a decision that is impossible to quarrel with, has chosen to favor the children. But this has meant that the home for dogs has had to operate in a very peculiar manner. The bank has interpreted the word “home” in the will very literally. The dogs, except in rare cases—about twice a month—when someone happens by to adopt one, remain locked in the Morgan home until they die. It is really a canine prison and the bank has historically resisted any effort to improve conditions or make the home a more active adoption center. The day I visited there, the home held sixteen dogs. As desperate and sad and potentially dangerous as the problem of stray dogs is, the bequest of a wealthy woman has turned out to make virtually no difference at all.
In a recent article in the newspaper supplement Family Weekly, Doris Day, who is chairman of an organization named Actors and Others for Animals, complained about how people mistreat their pets. “Too many people,” she wrote, “think all they have to do is dump a can of dog food in a bowl.” She went on to describe her dogs’ diet: “scrambled eggs twice a week, low-fat cottage cheese every day, grated carrots, ground meat with soybean, brown rice, barley, a little fresh garlic, squash, whatever vegetables we have on hand, sesame seed oil, wheat germ oil, and a bit of kibble.”
I’m sure that makes her dogs happy, but should it please anyone else, even animal lovers? People in the humanitarian movement, in their eagerness to show their concern for animals, frequently get to the point where, like Doris Day, they have carried their concern to absurdity. The fact is that dogs do quite well if all you do is dump a can of food in their bowl every day. Besides making the movement look ridiculous to outsiders, this absurdity contaminates the movement itself. It leads to the kind of bickering that went on in the Euthanair dispute and the hysterical rhetoric that filled the courtroom and newspapers during the Ben/Bruiser case. People in the movement forget that there’s a difference between treating animals kindly, and giving animals everything possible to give them. Humanitarians come to think that, in order to seem kind at all, they must spend the day by the stove, cooking three square meals for their pets. If one group has the courage to say, “No, you don’t need to feed pets that way,” another group brands them inhumane monsters and a feud begins that won’t die down for years, if ever. And when a situation like the Morgan home comes to light, humanitarian groups, fractionalized and exhausted by fighting with each other, cannot marshal the forces to have it corrected.
In Dallas, Bruiser is back with Ramirez, the SPCA is still using the Euthanair machine, and the dogs in the Morgan home are still in their cages. After all the tumult and shouting, the lot of the animals, in whose name all the voices were raised, is neither better nor worse.