KERA Unlimited
Public TV and Radio for North Texas
Commentary: Have Mercy
By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

DALLAS, TX (2006-05-11) I once heard a saying: "You can tell a lot about a country by the way they treat their animals." With the dreadful case of Mercy, the pit bull mix who was stabbed and set afire, this quote seems timely.

Funny how we Americans need to put a name and a face on topical problems to make them become poster child "real": like Rodney King, Mathew Shepherd, Rock Hudson or Anita Hill. Now Mercy comes to personify the plight of abused, neglected or unwanted dogs. But like everything these days, Mercy's case is not without irony, including symbolic ritual.

What truly saddens me here, beyond the obvious is this; had a healthy Mercy been taken to almost any Metroplex animal shelter, she would have likely been euthanized because she was the least desirable commodity in our trendy metropolis: a mixed breed large dog. Last year in area shelters, over twenty thousand dogs and cats were killed because no one saw them or wanted them. And a disproportionate number looked like Mercy, before she was tortured to death.

Meanwhile, Dallasites are on waiting lists with upscale and low rent puppy mills alike to purchase preferred breeds. There's even dog chic; when Paris Hilton was "wearing" her Chihuahua, one Dallas mother bought her daughter an identical dog. It was later dropped at a shelter when the daughter left for college.

I'm constantly asked, "What kind is your dog". When I joke, "God only knows", people invariably say, "Mixed breeds are the best." They tell me how indeterminate origin mutts are healthier, have better immune systems. Yet they only have so-called "pure breeds", explaining they want specific "traits".

What traits, I wonder: loyalty, kindness, sweetness, great company?

My huge happy handsome hound was the victim of still another prevalent abuse. She was the traditional ethnic baby gift, given to families who, once puppies are no longer babies, trade in their aging pups for newborns. This revolving door "eternal puppy' problem at the SPCA is an ongoing matter-of-fact norm in many lower socio-economic households - white, brown and black.

There as elsewhere, there is stereotypical breed status. I can drive you through neighborhoods where pit bulls and Rottweilers run loose and breed freely. The result was Mercy. Ignorant resistance to spay or neuter animals remains endemic while homeless animals scavenge area parks, or if found or caught, overwhelm under-funded shelters. Others suffer terrible terminal diseases without shots.

But abuse has many faces. I recently called 311 about a Mercy look-alike tied to a pole in the blazing sun without water. This was intentional; to teach that dog to become deadly, like a growling gun. There is also unwitting cruelty afoot: a housebound Border collie or Dalmatian, never allowed to run, constantly punished for being "hyper".

It's past time to address our out-of-control animal emergency. While many big hearted Metroplex residents attended a memorial for Mercy, there are any number of dogs dying today who would have died to be your loving friend.

If Mercy - that poor sweet dog Mercy - touched your heart, why not become her guardian angel by rescuing an otherwise doomed angel in her name?

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.

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