I remember it pretty clearly, even though over the years I have tried to block the memory out of my head.
A small examining room in a veterinary clinic, a veterinarian, me, a tearful woman, and a handful of frightened looking children. On the table a small kitten, a tabby of the usual colouring, gasping in a way known as "agonal breathing", or the last few breaths before death. The kitten, about 12 weeks old, appeared to have a fractured skull, and there was silence as everyone stood there, knowing it would end with a needle of what we referred to as "the blue juice", Euthanasol, the drug we used to euthanize animals in a humane way, coloured with blue dye so there was no mistaking what it was when you reached for the syringe.
"He threw it against the wall," blurted out one of the kids, staring down at the floor. The woman shot him a quick and anxious look, and quickly said "It was an accident, not on purpose", but of course everyone in the room knew that this was no accident, and that in a fit of rage someone had picked up this vulnerable little kitten and slammed it against a wall hard enough to fracture the skull and cause massive injury to the fragile brain inside.
At the end it was just a small tabby kitten on the table, an empty syringe, a family gone home, a suddenly very tired looking vet who disappeared upstairs for a moment alone, and me in tears as I pulled out the tiniest of bags to dispose of the body.
A subsequent investigation into the incident by the police revealed the kitten wasn't the only in the house being abused, and the small frightened children had good reason to be scared. Were it not for the voice of the tiny little terrified soul who told the truth there is no telling how long the abuse would have continued, or if the tiny kitten would have been the only vulnerable creature in the house to end up fatally injured.
The entire episode shook me to my core.
It is, sadly, far too common a story in our country. I have known vets and staff from across the nation who have similar stories of animal abuse and neglect, of varying degrees. The link between animal abuse and domestic violence has been well-established now, as well as the link between the mistreatment of animals and other violent behaviour. Those who will abuse the most vulnerable, it seems, are far more prone to acts of violence against other humans, and this is a link we ignore at our own peril. I didn't understand it until that day in the examining room, but I have never forgotten it or doubted it since.
This week MLA Len Webber will introduce a private member's bill in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. It asks the provincial government to review the legislation that protects animals in our province, and to increase the penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals. It is in response to legislation that has not been updated for many years, and that does not reflect our current understanding of the magnitude - and the impact - of animal abuse. It is anticipated his bill will easily pass, as any member of legislature who votes against this should be viewed with a suspicious eye as someone who does not like animals (and as my father liked to say: "never trust a man who doesn't like children or animals"), or someone who does not understand that animal abuse is a significant issue in our society that must be addressed. But passing this bill is only the first step, because until the legislation is amended nothing will change.
Today I lend my support to Bill 205, which is the bill to amend the legislation and allow for stiffer fines and penalties for animal abuse. I not only believe it is important but I believe it is crucial, because as our understanding of animal abuse grows so too does our understanding of the link between violence against animals and domestic violence. This isn't just about horrific abuse of cats and dogs but about a pattern of abuse that touches our lives as people. This is about violence and neglect.
For me this is about a tiny tabby kitten and a small group of shattered children who watched it dying.
Please lend your support to Bill 205. Facebook your support, Tweet about it, talk about, email or write or call your MLA and tell them that you expect them to speak out in support of ensuring appropriate punishment for those who choose to abuse animals.
Support the Animal Protection Amendment Act, because it won't just protect animals, as I learned over two decades ago in a tiny veterinary examining room. It may have the power, in the end, to protect all those in our society who are vulnerable. And as Gandhi said: