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Defending Animals

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally submitted as part of an application to law school. The author now is a practicing lawyer.

By Heidi M. Weber for Pet News and Views

Crack! A BB gun shot inside 3 meters at its target, shattered Miko’s vertebra causing his tail to hang limply. Our smallest, newest, and most aggressive cat, he had wandered into our neighbor’s front lawn to take care of business. As a neighbor and a former top student of mine, I didn’t suspect Mr. Price at all. I wasn’t there to witness his crime, but his fellow students heard him bragging about it months later. At the time, it was only Miko’s limp tail and a tell-tale puddle of blood near his food dish that alerted me that Miko was hurt.

Here is a photo of Miko.

He never complained. Time and again I have wished that animals could speak English. Since this incident, I have come to understand three things. First, animals like Miko do communicate, through actions and expressions that can be understood by anyone, if an effort is made to overlook the “language barrier” and focus on the individual. I noticed Miko never flicked his tail, never held it high to flaunt his top-cat status; it’s unusual for a new king cat not to promote himself. Together with the minute puddle of blood, something seemed wrong. Sure enough, the vet confirmed that a BB pellet seemed to be taking the place of one of Miko’s vertebra.

Second, I learned that since not every two-legged takes the time to observe the language of our four-legged compatriots, those of us who do have a responsibility to act upon our observances. Without medical care, it is nearly certain that I would have lost my newest cat, barely older than a kitten.

In advocacy, someone chooses to speak for another; in this case, I needed to act on behalf of my disabled victim. That’s when I realized a third insight: that I have this responsibility in a greater measure as well.

As a member of World Wildlife Fund, The Fund for Animals, Earthjustice, In Defense of Animals, and a host of other conservation and animal-advocacy organizations, I have felt the desire to push our agenda on the people of the world. It is not fair that the news media plagues our television, radio, and Internet with eternal stories of Iraq and the presidential election. While these issues are undeniably important, the time spent on them is disproportionate to the issues that affect the citizens of this great country and the people of the world. There needs to be a balance, and I found, as I fought for justice for our newest family member, that perhaps I could help tip the scales.

This led me back to school to earn a master’s in teaching, followed by credentials in California and certification in Massachusetts.

Learning that a former student, and a top one at that, could carelessly (and proudly) destroy the ability of his teacher’s cat to have a normal tail never struck me as funny in the way he found it. It discouraged my efforts to bring about positive change in the lives of the young while teaching English. Again I found myself spending more time advocating and learning about animals in our environment, trying to make a small difference where ever I could.

We were never able to indict our former neighbor. He was only a high-school student, and I’m not sure that would have been the best way to serve justice. His own behavior, after three DUIs and an assault on an officer, led him to consequences far stronger than I would have considered.

As a teacher I have learned to influence others in a structured system, and I have observed that teaching does not only happen in a classroom. Everywhere people are observing others and learning about the world through these observations.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in Eyes on the Prize, “There comes a time when people get tired. We are here . . . to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired—tired of being . . . humiliated; tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression. . . . For many years we have shown amazing patience. We have sometimes given our . . . brothers the feeling that we like the way we are being treated. But. . . one of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right. . . . That is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”

I, too, have become tired, on behalf of those creatures who have been kicked about. I have become impatient. I want to learn to defend those who share our homes and our lives.

Heidi M. Weber  practices law at Weber Law and Consulting in Oxford, MA.

10 comments to Defending Animals

  • Carl

    Glad to hear that Mr. Price got what was coming to him.

  • Mary

    Heidi, you are a selfless person, and the animals are so much the better thanks to your efforts.

  • Ronda

    I can see why you were accepted into law school. Good for you and for the animals too.

  • Chris

    We need more people to go into this field. It is so important. Thank you for your work.

  • Rusty

    I’m a student and have been thinking about becoming an animal rights lawyer. Good to read this.

  • Sue

    What a moving story. Thanks Heidi.

  • Jen Krebs

    I think it’s wonderful that Ms. Weber has turned her compassion for animals into action and advocacy.

    I’m sorry that Miko suffered from the cruel act of a heartless human.

    I do, however, believe that part of protecting our companion animals is trying to prevent such things from happening to them.

    There is much debate on the practice of allowing cats outdoors. I stand firmly on the side that believes that cats should be kept indoors only, and reading about incidents like this one further solidify my opinion.

    The life span of an indoor cat can be more than double that of an outdoor cat.

    Here are a couple of articles that I believe address this issue well –

    http://cats.about.com/od/indoorsvsoutdoors/tp/keepindoors.htm

    http://cats.about.com/cs/catmanagement101/a/indooroutdoor.htm

    Additionally, animal control ordinances in many cities and counties include leash laws that apply not only to dogs, but to cats as well. The county in which I reside and several neighboring counties consider outdoor cats a violation of the leash law.

    Finally, those of us who consider themselves ‘animal lovers’ advocate for the protection of wildlife as well as of companion animals. Outdoor cats are responsible for the killing of millions of wild birds and small mammals such as chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits. See – http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/materials/predation.pdf

    As a follower of your excellent blog, Michele, and knowing that you are a cat lover yourself, I wonder if this might be a topic to consider for a future post?

  • It is a great topic for a future article, Jen. All of my cats, which I found outdoors, became indoor cats when I got them. I do know a few people who have outdoor cats that are happy and healthy. I am about to adopt two kitties on Monday, and they will be indoor cats. –Michele

  • Funny Jen wrote that–Miko was an inside cat, but his (step) brothers were former strays that we let out during the day, and I’m guessing that’s how he managed to get out one morning. Yes, all of our cats are now inside-only, and I agree with Jen’s comments. Thank you for posting them! Thanks, Michele, for posting this!