Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
The warm weather we've been having reminded me of the time I got the cops called on me for animal cruelty. Funny story, actually, and there is a moral to it, but I will assure you in advance there was no animal cruelty. I can, however, appreciate how it might have looked bad ... you'll see what I mean.
It was in the spring of my senior year of vet school, one of those glorious first few sunny days over 70 degrees like we had last week, and I needed to pick my wife up from work at 5 o'clock. But first, I stopped at home after school to let our undisputedly pampered dogs outside to do their business. They had been cooped up inside all day, and while out in the yard, it occurred to me that they would probably enjoy one of those heads-out-the-window, tongues-flapping-in-the-breeze car rides that dogs are famous for on such a nice day. So off the three of us went, dogs panting with excitement about the outing, windows down, going to pick up "mom." And I'm filled with feel-good that I spared my dogs from getting locked right back into the house by bringing them with me, since I had to leave again right away. "What a conscientious dog owner I am," was probably what I was thinking to myself as I watched them thoroughly enjoying themselves through the rearview mirror.
So I pulled into my wife's work, and couldn't believe my luck as I scored the coveted first-row spot in an otherwise full parking lot. "Wow" I remember thinking. "Nice day, happy dogs, done with work and school for the day, first-row spot ... nothing could really be going any better." My wife was not waiting outside, so I figured I would quick run inside and give her a visual that I was there, then go back and wait in the car. I didn't want to leave the car running, since that's not very wise in busy suburban parking lots. Considering the A/C was blasting the whole ride over and the interior was pretty much still cold, I left the windows mostly down, turned off the ignition, and ran inside. I was certain the dogs would be fine for all of the 10 seconds it would take me to complete the task.
When I walked in, she was on the phone and didn't look up right away, so I casually took a glance out the glass door to admire my first-row spot and happy dogs. What I saw through the door elicited the little voice in my head to say: "Oh boy, this isn't gonna be good." In the approximately 3 seconds that had elapsed since I left the car, a concerned patron had stumbled upon my abused animals and had recruited a cart pusher to whom he was excitedly expressing his outrage right next to my car, arms flailing and all. The voice in my head was right. The gentleman walks in, proceeds straight to the counter I was standing at, and repeats his performance for a new audience, telling us his appalling discovery of animal abuse right outside those doors. In a matter of seconds, I went from feeling very accommodating to the welfare of my pets to being publicly accused of animal cruelty. Should I admit to this man that the car and the dogs are mine or should I agree "Yah, what jerk" then subtly sneak out the door and flee the scene? Suddenly becoming aware of the U of M vet school T-shirt I was wearing, I slowly folded my arms, covering up the irony of the situation, and said "That's my car ... I just ran in for a second to tell my wife I was here." Unimpressed, he informs me what I had done was illegal, to which I disagreed, neither of us really knowing whether it was or not, of course. Needless to say by now my wife indeed knew I was there. The concerned gentleman then informed me that the police were on their way, so with that I thanked him for his concern for animal welfare (or maybe I didn't, I can't really remember that part) and I went back to the cool, windows-open car that imprisoned my neglected and abused dogs. Shortly after, my wife emerged, and we proceeded to flee the scene of the crime. Were the cops really on their way? I didn't stick around to find out, my main concern being a trumped-up animal cruelty charge throwing a monkey wrench into my plans of walking across the stage with a veterinary degree a few weeks later.
I said there was a moral to the story, but there are at least two. Number one, I should have known better ... don't leave your pets in a parked car. It really can get hotter than you think even in moderate temperatures with windows open. Secondly, there are lots of people out there who passionately care about animal welfare including myself, which is great ... it's just that sometimes certain people don't wait five seconds before calling the police when they see a dog panting.