The epidemic of animal abuse in our city

One of San Diego’s most overlooked issues is its large population of stray animals, stemming from animal neglect and abuse. Roye Meitav dives into the cases and causes of animal abuse in the city.
The epidemic of animal abuse in our city
Image by Keita Kobayashi for The UCSD Guardian

When thinking of San Diego, locals and tourists alike may think of a tropical paradise, skyrocketing housing costs, or California’s city of military bases. They probably wouldn’t think of the city as an epicenter of animal abuse. Yet, under the surface, more and more cases have broken out.

A few particularly egregious cases gained enough notoriety to make both local and even national news. One such case happened last summer, when a family in Lomita Village was hosting 27 dogs without a permit, letting them sleep in their own waste. Eventually, the San Diego Humane Society stepped in after persistent neighbor complaints.

According to the San Diego city subreddit, animal abuse in San Diego seems to be a more widespread problem. 

One article explains the story of a dog that was found dead at the La Mesa Trolley Station after purportedly being left alone in a hot car for hours. Another post describes someone who observed significant animal abuse while they walked downtown with their beagle

I live in Gaslamp and I see animal abuse almost every day,” the post explained. The user reported spotting a couple pinning their dog against a fence. They wrote, “My immediate reaction was just to say, “Don’t hit your dog!” The man got a crazy look on his face and told me not to talk to him and the woman yelled, “Hit him harder!!!” 

These posts are only a small sampling; there are dozens upon dozens of posts like this.

While it may seem like random anecdotal incidents, according to Nina Thompson, spokesperson for the San Diego Humane Society, intake of stray pets has increased since the pandemic. 

“During the pandemic, operations for pet spay and neutering were suspended, and that just caused the stray population to explode,” Thompson explained. She theorized that the lack of spaying and neutering options for pet owners may relate to the number of animals being surrendered to their facility.

The pandemic was, of course, an international phenomenon. However, statistics do point to San Diego being exceptional when it comes to strays. According to national statistics, 41,335 San Diego pets were taken off the streets into shelters in the last year alone. These statistics don’t account for the large number of strays that haven’t been taken into a shelter at all. 

San Diego has a reputation for dog culture, being ranked by KPBS as the fourth most dog-friendly city in the country. Restaurants and beaches offer special accommodations for owners bringing their dogs everywhere, and it’s common to see several dogs when walking down the street. However, in light of the stray problem, this fact becomes disconcerting.

A report linked on the Humane Society’s website describes a legal victory on behalf of the organization for a sum of $3.9 million against three individuals who were running what is known as a “puppy mill.” In this puppy mill, pets are kept in unpermitted pet dealerships in subpar or outright deplorable conditions. In this case, the proprietor was running several puppy mills under different names and was shipping in animals from his other dealerships in places like Utah and Iowa.  

If San Diego’s dog culture has made it a destination to import dogs from puppy mills and other abused animals from other parts of the nation, that could represent a cause for the stray problem. It would be too simple, however, to form a broad conjecture and blame the entire problem on cases like this, as larger societal problems may also be at fault.

A sharp decrease in social trust worldwide over the course of the last decade, as documented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, makes anti-social behaviors such as animal abuse appear to be much less of a taboo to many people. The pandemic’s isolation only accelerated this problem.

Despite the abuse that San Diego houses, animal lovers fight back. According to an employee at The Cat Lounge Rescue and Adoption Center, an animal shelter close to campus that specifically works with cats, these animals do have hope of recovery. Many of the cats the shelter takes in are from owners planning to euthanize their pets because they can no longer afford to take care of them, as well as cats that have been abused or abandoned as strays. 

The cats undergo intensive behavioral therapy, complete with visiting children, to resocialize them away from the fear of humans common to abused animals. According to that employee, resocialization with friendly humans is key to the cats’ recovery.

Just as there is still hope for strays taken in by shelters, it’s still possible to correct this problem. According to Thompson, conscientious pet owner behavior, such as keeping up to date on spaying and neutering and not taking in animals one cannot afford, would go a long way towards stemming the tide. Just as abused animals are resocialized, we may need to redefine our society to address these problems.

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Keita Kobayashi
Keita Kobayashi, Photo Editor
Photo team, best team (W.I.P)
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