The reality of life for man’s best friend: Harsh conditions that lead dogs to a life behind bars

Posted 2:57 PM by

A dog was brought into the Indianapolis Animal Care Services that had been trained to be aggressive. It took employees and volunteers lots of work to get the dog so it could be adopted. Sadly,  the dog was returned just weeks later for unprovokingly biting a child. 


That dog was euthanized.


There was another dog, referred to as a “bait dog” that was used as practice for fighting dogs. Bait dogs can range from the size of a pit bull to the size of a Chihuahua. They are often tied to a tree or post with no defense as they are continuously attacked, scratched and hurt by another dog or multiple dogs. 


There are other dogs stuck in puppy mills, imprisoned for life in small cages, with the only job of producing litter for their owner’s profit. There are hundreds of thousands of dogs that are chained outside everyday in all weather conditions, abandoned, with nothing to eat.

This is the reality the IACS deals with on a daily basis according to director Ms. Madi Gregory.


According to the Humane Society, another animal care facility, dogs are the most common victims of animal abuse, making up 64.5 percent of cases.  Pit bulls were the most abused breed in 2015. Among the other most abused breeds are Chihuahuas, rottweilers, greyhounds and huskies. 


How is it that man’s best friend is the most abused, maltreated animal in the United States? To really understand this question, people must understand what constitutes animal cruelty, the signs of it and how to prevent it.


Legally, animal cruelty is defined as “acts of violence or neglect perpetrated against animals.” Gregory sees the intention of animal abuse as the dividing line, while neglect is another form. 


When asked if she would constitute something as seemingly miniscule as a dog’s collar being too tight as animal abuse, she highlighted that the intent changes things. A dog’s collar may be too tight due to the owner’s lack of knowledge. She said that caring for a dog is a learning experience and the owner may still be learning how to care for a dog properly. However, if the owner knowingly does ties the collar too tight, that is when it becomes animal abuse. 


“Usually, it’s the intent is what animal abuse really is, or neglect as the case may be,” Gregory said. “Our ordinate states that you have to be able to provide them with food, water, and shelter. They can’t be out chained to a fence all day and they need to well-cared for.” 


Neglect is defined as failure to fulfill the basic needs of caring for an animal such as food, water, shelter, or veterinary visits. Neglect is perhaps the most complicated form of animal cruelty because it engulfs intentional and unintentional animal cruelty. An owner can knowingly keep a dog outside in below freezing temperatures, an owner can truly believe that a dog is being saved by keeping it and 15 other dogs locked in the owner's home, usually in unsanitary conditions, instead of being in the streets.


“We’ve seen a couple animal hoarding cases lately which is also considered animal abuse because there’s neglect in abundance overload and you have to maintain healthy conditions for the dogs and cats,” she said.


Organizations such as the IACS and the Humane Society were created to save these animals and fix the issues that they see. IACS is the only shelter in Indianapolis that is required to take in every animal that comes through their doors. They annually save about 15,000 dogs, with the summer being their peak time for rescue. 


“More often times we see them just starving and thirsty,” she said.


When an abused dog is turned in to IACS, volunteers and staff follow a specific protocol. Staff keep the dog separated from the others and present it with food and water. Then, they give the dog time to adjust. They do not attempt to touch the dog if it is showing fear.


The maximum capacity for dogs in IACS is 400-500. Spots are filled everyday. When the capacities of this shelter fill, there are numerous, uncountable dogs that have yet to be saved. 


“Because we’re consistently taking in animals, we face capacity issues weekly. If it’s a slow week on adoptions, then we have to push hard with our rescue groups that partner with us to get some of the animals out of here so we don’t have to start euthanizing for population reasons,” she said.

So, how can people help?


Before we can do anything, we must inform ourselves with what animal abuse may be and its signs. Signs include but are not limited to seeing a dog neglected, intentionally ungroomed or hurt, or hundreds in a home without proper care. 


Once you see the signs persist and witness animal abuse, report it. Reporting animal abuse is perhaps the most important step to stopping and preventing animal abuse. Nothing can be done if authorities are unaware of what is happening. 


One thing that IACS is pushing for is education on how to properly care for a dog. Once more people know and understand how to maintain and care for a dog, there will be less abuse cases.


“A lot of people want animals, but they don’t know how to care for them properly,” she said.


Anyone 12 years old and above is welcomed to volunteer at the Indianapolis Animal Care Services. The shelter is in need of people with expertise and love to be advocates for the animals. Starting at 21, people are able to adopt or foster dogs as well. Those people go through a series of rigorous background checks before being allowed care for dogs.


IACS not only accepts donations of time, but they also accept donations of food and treats. That way, there is one less thing to worry about and more time to focus on saving our companions. 

This Pit Bull mix watches, barks, and wags its tail as people walk past. Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes have made up the majority of surrendered dogs at the Indianapolis Animal Care Services.

photo by Raziya Hillery