Aninals deserve same compassion as humans

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 20, 2007

Life-altering experiences often come from the most unexpected of places. Just ask Dan and Peg Hartwig.

The family found theirs beneath a utility shed. In fact, they found six “experiences.”

Dan thought he’d take advantage of the late summer weather and cut the grass at the couple’s home on Florence Avenue in Ironton. Of course he was just a bit surprised when he saw two eyes peering out at him from beneath his building.

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The family was shocked to find a reddish-orange dog that had the look of a German Shepard and Chow mix.

Shock couldn’t even describe Dan and Peg’s reaction when they laid eyes on the five puppies that had been born in their North Ironton yard.

Frustrated that someone would abandon this animal while it was pregnant, the Hartwigs tried to make the best of the situation and show the mother and the puppies the compassion they feel all pets deserve.

“We weren’t going to be part of the problem. We weren’t going to abandon these animals,” Dan said. “We knew what we were getting into was going to be a lot of work and a learning experience. But it was the right thing to do.”

Becoming what Dan called a “Godsend,” the mother dog quickly rooted her way into the family’s heart, but they became worried when she became aggressive protecting the pups.

It was an agonizing decision and it nearly broke their hearts when the Hartwigs decided that they had to have the mother removed. The situation became worse when they realized what this was going to mean for this dog and other stray animals that people abandon.

The Hartwigs learned that Lawrence County doesn’t have a no-kill shelter and that the city dogcatcher, the Humane Society and the dog pound all have limited resources.

Animals that are taken to the shelter have just a few days to find a home or they will be euthanized.

“I was just shocked at the lack of resources to deal with strays or abandoned dogs,” Dan said.

The family found that it wasn’t a lack of compassion or caring that was the problem, it was just lack of awareness and resources. Even other no-kill shelters in the Tri-State were unable to help.

“They all want to help. No one has room,” Dan said. “All are at capacity.”

While they felt they had to allow the mother dog be taken to the pound, they were determined not to let that be the fate of the puppies. And the Hartwigs have been able to live up to the promise that they made to themselves.

Four of the five puppies — now more than two months old — have been adopted by pet lovers who couldn’t bear to see the dogs enter the same cycle of abandonment that the mother suffered from. The other puppy, “Ernie,” has earned a place in the Hartwigs’ home as a new fishing buddy.

“We just can’t stand to see dogs get abandoned and get hurt. It just doesn’t seem right,” Dan said.

And it isn’t right. Pet owners have to understand the responsibility they take on when they bring a family pet into their homes. And much like raising children, this responsibility doesn’t end when it becomes inconvenient or difficult.

The pet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. So it is painful to see animals that aren’t properly cared for when groups like the Humane Society and others just don’t have the resources to help.

If each and every pet lover in Lawrence County would donate $12 — this equates to a measly $1 per month — the Humane Society and the dog pound may be able to improve the facilities, look at other options than euthanizing and save the lives of the animals that are simply victims of their irresponsible owners.

Pet owners need to realize the repercussions of their actions hurt the animals and the entire community. Just ask the Hartwigs.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at