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Socks, R.I.P.
A dog's shooting raises the subject of animal abuse

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Date published: 11/6/2006

Socks, R.I.P.

The shooting death of a dog in Our Town raises questions about man and beast

AMID HUMANIZING DESCRIPTIONS such as "four-legged friends" and "companion animals," it may be helpful to remind ourselves occasionally that pets are precisely what people once called "dumb brutes." This is not a term of derision, but of protection. It suggests that, however dear they are to their owners, pets cannot reason, argue, or think abstractly. Human beings can do these things, but sometimes choose not to. That may be why Socks is dead.

The 7-year-old boxer died last week after allegedly being shot twice by Mathias Acholi, a security guard at Fredericksburg's Wellington Woods apartments. The police have charged Mr. Acholi with four misdemeanors, each worth up to a year in jail. He allegedly shot Socks, described by neighbors as a gentle animal, while a friend of the dog's owner, Barbara Krech, was taking it out to relieve itself in some rose bushes. This is not generally considered a capital crime in the animal or human world.

The dog that howls through the night, the cat that piddles on your front porch--others' pets can be darned nuisances. But unless a domesticated animal is posing an immediate mortal threat to a human being or another beast, what possible excuse can there be for snuffing out its life? Almost all "pet problems" are traceable to irresponsible owners, and they are the ones the law rightly says should answer for the furry set's bad behavior.

Mr. Acholi of course enjoys a presumption of innocence until he pleads or is proved guilty. (The community might welcome a jury trial just to hear the facts of this weird and sad incident.) But whatever the outcome of this case, animal-targeting vigilantism and abuse are too common. This year, according to data supplied by Pet-Abuse.Com via the good offices of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, about 10,000 cases of animal cruelty have been reported in the United States--everything from setting off a firecracker inside a cat's mouth (Bakersfield, Calif.) to deliberately smashing seagulls with a vehicle (Vineland, N.J.). Not a very flattering reflection on the Noble Species.

About 40 percent of the victims are like Socks--non-pit-bull canines. Last year in the U.S. and Canada, at least 55 cases of such dogs being shot--some while protecting their owners' lives and property--found their way into police logs. Most dog shooters go uncaught. In that same year, only 15 people in the two countries, including a Southwest Virginia man, were convicted of shooting non-pits. But dogs are just part of the story. Locally, this very year, human beings have been implicated in the neglectful "car cooking" of a cockatoo in Fredericksburg and the shooting of four cats in Partlow, Spotsylvania County.

Dumb brutes. At least the animals have an excuse.