September 12, 2008

Of Dogs and Men

Category: News — Ira @ 6:40 pm


“There’s no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights.
A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all animals.”

—Ingrid Newkirk

You probably heard about it. It was all the rage locally. And state wide. I suspect it might even have reached the national news market. Delivered in the most conde- scending tones, dripping with horror and disbelief.

Two local plain Mennonite farmers, kennel owners, over in Kutztown summarily exe- cuted eighty dogs. Seemingly for no reason. Shot them in the head and piled their carcasses outside their kennels.

Local reaction was swift and heated. The Humane Society issued a number of harsh, condemning statements. Letters to the editor expressed outrage. One letter writer excoriated the Amish and Mennonites for not believing that dogs have souls. A candle- light vigil was held one evening at some local park. One hundred people showed up. Men, women, children. They lit candles and read poems and sang songs of unity.

Lancaster County has a long tradition of dog kennels on farms. Dogs are big business. Depending on the breed, puppies are worth from several hundred to over a thousand dollars each when weaned. Many kennels traditionally have housed the dogs in cages. Not particularly a pastoral setting. Kept them confined for life, doing nothing but producing batch after batch of puppies.

In the early to mid-90s, animal rights groups and the Humane Society launched an organized resistance to these confinement practices. It started small, with only a few vocal people speaking out. By the late 90s, it had morphed into a formidable force. The kennels were labeled “puppy mills.” Once that label stuck, kennel owners might as well have packed it up. It would be only a matter of time before they’d be shut down.

Back when I practiced law, from 1997 to 2001, I developed a minor local reputation as an attorney who represented the kennel owners. Usually the fiercest resistance arose when a farmer applied for a zoning change to allow him to open a kennel. At the public hearings, opponents show up by the dozens and harangued the Amish guys for their cruelty.

The worst hearing I can remember happened around 1999, in Intercourse, PA. My boss, Jim Clymer and I represented two young Amish farmers who had applied for a special exception to open kennels. At the public hearing that night, about fifty dog lovers showed up, most from outside the area. Each was allowed about two minutes to express their opinions.

Tension pulsed through the air. The hearing began. Things got a bit loud. And heated. Some people spent their entire two minutes screaming at our clients, calling them cruel and inhumane. In that setting, two minutes can seem like an eternity. To his credit, the Township solicitor managed to keep order. He even had a state cop on standby, in case things got out of hand. No telling when violence might break out.

In the end, one of our clients was allowed a kennel, the other was denied.

I haven’t represented a kennel owner since. Not because I wouldn’t, but because I no longer practice law full time.

Since that time, anti-kennel forces have grown in numbers and influence. Billboards have popped up here and there. Some groups boycott Lancaster County altogether. Out of state letters to the editor appear sporadically, decrying the “puppy mills.” And last year, there was a rally in the Intercourse Park one Sunday afternoon. Some minor Hollywood celebrities showed up. If I remember right, Linda Hamilton (Terminator I and II) was among them.

Our good Democrat governor, “Fast Eddie” Rendell, decided to get in on the action. He implemented more stringent guidelines and harsher penalties for violations. Now we have several dozen dog-law enforcers running around harassing the kennel owners.

Which brings us back to the two plain Mennonite guys who killed their eighty dogs. Why did they do it? You don’t just go out and kill your dogs. They are investments. Worth a small fortune.

This is the inside story, at least as I heard it. Details tend to get a bit sketchy with each retelling, so my accuracy may be skewed. Another kennel owner in the county, an Amishman, a few weeks before found himself mired in some serious trouble. A nice lady showed up at his kennel to buy a puppy one day. He showed her what he had. She pointed to a sick one. She wanted that puppy. By law he wasn’t allowed to sell a sick puppy. He told her that. She begged and begged and promised she would nurse it to health. She felt a special bond to that puppy only. She would shower it with all the love it needed to get strong.

Finally he gave in. Sold the sick puppy to her. He shouldn’t have. It was a setup.

The next day, a gang of cops and dog wardens and a TV crew showed up at his kennel. The Amishman was arrested and led away in handcuffs. The footage was splashed all over the evening news and the next day’s papers. His dogs, worth thousands of dollars, were confiscated, his kennel shut down.

A few weeks later, a dog warden showed up at the two plain Mennonite men’s kennels. He found some violations. I don’t know what they were. Sick dogs, maybe. Some odds and ends of this and that. The warden said he would return in a few days to check again.

The two plain Mennonite men knew what had happened to the Amishman. They believed the same thing was about to be unleashed on them. They’d be led away in handcuffs, splashed all over the local TV news. And the newspapers. They determined this would not happen to them.

They called their vet. Asked if it was legal for them to shoot their dogs. He said it was.

So they did. All eighty of them. When the warden returned, they told him what they’d done. They were no longer in violation. They had no more dogs. No kennels either. The warden left, stunned. The vet was right. They’d broken no law. They were not charged with anything.

And that’s how and why it all came down.

It was a rash and stupid thing to do. Not to mention senseless and cruel. From the emotional backlash, a law very likely will be passed prohibiting anyone from shooting their dog(s). For any reason.

I was raised on a farm. We had cows, chickens, hogs, horses. And always a dog. Usually a cur, a mixed breed mutt of some kind. We raised calves. Fattened them. And come winter, we’d butcher one or two, along with a hog. Shot and skinned them. Cut up the meat. Feasted on fresh sausages and hamburgers. That was just life. We thought nothing of it.

But dogs were different. Our farm dog was always special. We would never dream of harming it.

Even then, there were times when we had to do what we had to do. Once, out in the fields, a farm wagon somehow ran over our dog. His name was Sluggo. We heard him yelping and ran to him, lying there whimpering, with a broken back. Struggling vainly to propel his limp hind legs. Titus and I held and cradled him. Tried to assure each other that the vet could fix him. Sluggo rolled his eyes in pain and cried. We knew then what had to be done. Someone fetched the .22 rifle. The spiteful crack, the bullet through the head, the limp body. We tenderly buried him.

We were upset and we were sad. But that was life.

Sometimes it’s necessary to terminate an animal’s life. Even a dog you love. I couldn’t imagine shooting eighty dogs in cold blood, just like that. I couldn’t do it, unless they were rabid or something, and attacking me as a pack. I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time hanging out with guys who could and did, like the two plain Mennonite farmers. Something about their makeup has to be screwed up just a bit.

But I’d hate to see a law prohibiting them from doing it. Even though dogs are special to many people, companions, like children, they are still animals. It would be a mis- take to grant them legal status as more than they are. (For that, I’ll probably get smacked around again like I was last week after writing about politics. Two strikes in a row. I shudder at the third strike, whatever it might be.)

The radical animal rights groups, like PETA and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have worked tirelessly for decades to define all life on an even plane. A child is a dog is a cat is a fish is a horse. It’s all the same. People are just animals. Except for unborn human babies, who are just masses of tissue. Kill them all you want, for any reason or none, in the most brutal ways imaginable.

Their agenda was spawned in the pits of hell. And they have been quite successful in implementing it. Throughout all facets of society, through groups like the Humane Society. To them, the human race is a cancer upon the earth. The world would be better off if we all lived in caves. Or better yet, if we weren’t here at all.

Those who hate God love death. Except the deaths of animals. Killing animals will be verboten, criminally outlawed. And they are winning. They never give up. They never go away. And with incidents like the one described above, it’s no wonder. Any sane, decent person will recoil from such acts.

But still, one hopes that common sense and reason will prevail. PETA and ALF and all their minions must be confronted and vehemently opposed. Any person (with the possible exception of murderers and child molesters) is inherently worth more than any animal.

Including dogs.

And until people know this in their hearts, we will always be engaged on this battlefield.


A few words on 9/11. It came and went yesterday. Like most of us, I’ll always remem- ber exactly where I was when I heard the news. The terrible dread deep down in the pit of my stomach. The disbelief. The horror of those planes smashing into the towers. The terrible loss of thousands of innocent lives.

How those of us in the office assembled in the little chapel in Gap a few days later. How we prayed, read scripture passages, and rang the great bell in the chapel tower.

The memories have receded with the passage of time. But they always jolt back on that fateful date. We now live in a different world.

While there is much legitimate debate on the course of action taken since that day, two facts are beyond dispute. We have not been attacked on our home soil since 9-11-2001. And we have lost a tremendous amount of personal freedom since that day.

On Tuesday night I arrived home late and settled at the computer with nothing more on my mind than working on this week’s blog. I turned on the TV, as usual, for a baseball game in the background to keep an eye on. It lit to a blank screen. I fumbled around and whacked on this and that connection to get it to work. Still nothing.

Mild panic set in. What would I do without the TV? I called Dish Network’s tech support and had a long unproductive conversation with some girl from India, who in halting English, with many long silent pauses, led me through an endless checklist of possible problems. I felt bad for her, talking to some irate American five thousand miles away. Of course, nothing was solved.

Might as well be Amish again, I decided as I hung up. No TV. What would I do, read a book? Mild waves of panic swept through me. Ah, but I still had my computer, and needed to work on the blog. So that’s what I did, in an unusually quiet house.

No baseball. No football. No nothing. Withdrawal set in. The next day, I was fortunate to convince a Dish Network service man to stop by and install a new control box. The old one had burned out. My disquieted spirit has settled. All’s back to normal. Football on schedule for the weekend.

Speaking of football, how ‘bout them Jets? Brett Favre is 1-0 as the starter. He wasn’t spectacular, just got the job done. The big test will be this weekend, when they face the vile Brady-less (Kansas City obligingly shattered Tom Brady’s knee last Sunday.) Patriots in New York. They win that, they’re going somewhere.

But probably the biggest game of the week will be the Cowboys-Eagles on Monday night. Go Cowboys.



  1. How ’bout them Chiefs! They didn’t actually beat the Patriots, but around here it’s almost as if they did. Those who gamble had the Chiefs losing by 16 points, then they ended up in the final seconds of the game with a real chance of winning.

    P.S. Our symapthies are with the Patriots on the loss of their quarterback.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — September 12, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  2. I was reading your article about dogs and men. I have to say that was the best perspective I ever saw regarding the issue. I believe that is a Christian perspective on the issue. After seeing a little history on the movement, that helps me understand what’s going on. I was more or less unaware. I believe we as Christians (and farmers) need to stand up to those animal rightists as passionately as we are dealing with abortion, but I say abortion should still be our number 1 issue. We need to be teaching more on God’s purpose and place of animals. I don’t think this matter should be taken lightly, because I don’t believe they will stop at dogs. Once they’re done with dogs, they will go into other animals an before we know it, we will be denied the right to eat meat.

    Ira’s perspective regarding their farm accident with their dog Sluggo, was a perspective we were taught. I grew up with having cats as pets. Having a pet sure makes the animal special and I have grown attached to them. I was sad when they passed away, but that was life. If that law gets passed, about making it illegal to kill your dog, Sluggo would have to be taken to a vet. Now taking a dog with a broken back to the vet would brought more pain with bumps on the road. And the same thing would have been done at the vet. By taking a .22 to the dog’s head when deemed appropriate, was more humane then having to live longer in pain to see a vet. Well of course, you wouldn’t do that to a child if the same thing happened. You would call the ambulance and have them taken to the hospital. The animal rightists who say the animals are equal to humans, you would need to do the same. Farmers are going to need to stand up for their right to be able to terminate an animal’s life humanely when deemed appropriate. This will also be a religious rights fight too, as we don’t believe animals are equal to humans. This not just a fight about dogs, it’s a fight about all animals.

    Comment by Ken Martin — September 13, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  3. I struggle with the whole idea that my pet has a better health care mandate/option than I do.

    Comment by Glo — September 14, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  4. In PA and California, truckers can not let their trucks idle during the night for heat or airconditioning UNLESS they have a dog or cat with them. Go figure!

    Comment by Dorothy — September 15, 2008 @ 1:02 pm

  5. What a ridiculous statement from Ms. Newkirk. She obviously has no respect for human life. Oh, that’s right, there’s no such thing as human anything according to her. We’re all animals. Personally, I do not claim this for myself.
    I don’t know, Ira. Seems to me if people are caring for their dogs like they should be nobody would be knocking on their door. A dog should be fed, watered, given appropriate human contact, taken care of when they’re sick and have room to move about with comfort. The dilemma comes about when people have different definitions of what caring is towards an animal.
    I do think people that shoot eighty healthy dogs are say…psychotic. Or maybe, they were just really afraid and did something really sick.

    On the other end of the banana some people are just plain stupid when it comes to their dogs. (You know, like horse people.) They dress Fido in designer clothes, Halloween costumes, flowery Easter bonnets, and rainboots. As if God hadn’t already taken care of the pooche’s wardrobe. They throw elaborate birthday parties for them and invite all their doggie friends. They buy Christmas gifts for them and fatten them up on organic, gourmet, doggie pastries from the corner barkery. Woof! Woof! They let their dogs eat off of their dinner plates (ewww) and share lollipops with them. One lick for doggie, one lick for human. (Even as a small child I knew how and where a dog cleaned itself.) They let their dogs jump all over you when you visit and think it’s the cutest thing in the world. They let their dogs relax on their furniture right after traipsing through their urine, on the way into the house, with a fleck of poop hanging from doggies exit shaft. Guests be damned. If the stench of the house bothers you then you must not like Barfy and are an all around crumb who hates dogs. But the be all end all is the fact that some dogs have health insurance when some people don’t. Now, there’s something wrong with that.

    Comment by Francine — July 31, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

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