The Leesburg Daily Commercial continues to oppose an anti-tethering ordinance for Lake County that could protect household pets from the cruelty and ignorance of their owners. And the editors of the newspaper continue to insult their readers by dissembling about the real reason for their opposition to the ordinance. Ignoring compelling and heartbreaking evidence that dogs suffer severe physical and emotional harm by being chained outside, particularly without shelter from the fierce Florida sun, the Daily Commercial contends that a ban on such inhumane treatment would impose an undue financial burden on dog owners. This stance, apart from exhibiting a callous disregard for animal welfare, is profoundly disingenuous and deserves to be challenged by all thinking residents of Lake County, not just animal-lovers.
As an initial matter, anyone needing clarification about the nature of the injuries inflicted by dog tethering will find a thorough discussion, including a portrait of the legislative landscape across the United States, at UnchainYourDog.org. Also worth visiting (and supporting) is the animal-welfare group DogsDeserveBetter, which has done sterling work to bring this issue to the attention of Lake County residents and officials. My intention here is to assist their campaign by focusing more on the political dimension of the issue, and particularly on the attempt to control public attitudes being made by the Leesburg Daily Commercial.
Let us begin by confronting an ugly home truth. Since when did the Daily Commercial care about the economic well-being of Lake County’s poorer residents? This is a Republican newspaper. Its mission in life is to persuade the 99% to accept the ideology and policies of the 1%. It campaigns against public-sector pay and conditions that it considers excessively generous, much to the bemusement, I’m sure, of the middle-class folks who work next door to their building in the Social Security office on Main Street. It beats its readers over the head with incessant G.O.P. propaganda, not the least of which emanates from its very own plutocrat, Russ Sloan, who informs us almost every week that the rich in America are overtaxed and under-appreciated, while the poor are parasites on society, sucking America dry by daring to demand Medicare and Social Security benefits. This is not, let there be no mistake, a newspaper that cares about the common man. (Of course, it could well be that the burden of which they speak is actually the inconvenience imposed on wealthy people who chain their guard dogs outside. We certainly wouldn’t want them to be troubled by any more onerous government regulations, would we?)
In order to bolster its position, the Daily Commercial today added what it no doubt considers an important second plank to its platform. The new-and-improved argument is that poorer residents who cannot afford to comply with an anti-tethering ordinance (by, for example, fencing in their yards) may not be able to keep their animals at all. This, the paper believes, could harm the animals even further, with the threatening implication being that the animals will be released to fend for themselves. The paper assumes, of course, that these dog owners are, for some reason, unable or unwilling to bring their animals inside, which is where they should be in the first place. Their entire argument does tend to collapse if people don’t need to erect fences or part company with their dogs, so one can easily perceive the attraction of this assumption to the editors, even if one cannot see its basis in fact.
That said, there probably will be cases where poor, ignorant dog owners respond to their first, or second, citations for animal cruelty by taking the dog for a one-way trip to the woods. Those of us who understand the behavior patterns of our less-sophisticated neighbors know that this is a fact of life in Lake County, as it is in many other parts of the country. In the long run, animal welfare advocates might contend that it is better for such people not to own animals at all, and they might well be right. Unfortunately, during the transition to a new set of rules there will be some collateral damage. However, a community that really wanted to address this problem could minimize this risk of abandonment by offering to take unwanted animals for adoption, not euthanasia. The fact that the Daily Commercial does not even think aloud about this betrays the existence of ulterior motives.
During the course of the week, comments by county officials, including Commission chair Welton Cadwell, let us know what the issue really is here. The County simply doesn’t have the manpower to enforce a sweeping new anti-tethering ordinance, and putting it on the books without bolstering the ranks of Animal Control officers would be a pointless gesture. Although positive experiences with such ordinances in other counties have highlighted the role of communities themselves in enforcing the new rules, the fact remains that if we’re actually going to do something about the deplorable conditions in which many Lake County animals currently suffer, we’re going to have to pay for it. (Precisely how much is debatable, given that enforcement presents an opportunity to raise revenue from fines.) This is the bottom line, as it usually is, and this dimension of the issue offers a far more convincing explanation of the stance taken by the editors of the Daily Commercial.
Unlike State Assemblyman Larry Metz (R-Yalaha), the editors of the Daily Commercial at least have enough self-awareness to want to avoid appearing callous. On the issue of the hospital taxing district, which helps defray the cost of “indigent care” at area hospitals, they have refused to join Metz’s Tea-Party-infused crusade against the tiny tax that funds the district. Careful not to stick their necks out too far, lest they offend their base, their attitude has been, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” a statement as lacking in originality as it is lacking in courage. (This hasn’t been enough, actually, to placate the more rabid Tea Partiers.) Similarly, on the anti-tethering issue, the paper does not want to appear to be so cheap, so mean, so contemptibly miserable, as to oppose a public-sector activity that alleviates suffering. So it conjures up a new-found concern for poor people and finds a way to present itself as being caring toward animals in the process.
Thus, we see before us the resplendent range of compassionate conservatism at the local level. The Daily Commercial is just compassionate enough – albeit for reasons of public-relations expediency – to support a one mil property tax surcharge that helps the poor. But it is not compassionate enough to support a potential tax increase that would be needed to give meaningful teeth to an anti-tethering ordinance. People might be worth a thousandth of a dollar. Animals aren’t worth even that.