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Learning compassion from canines

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By Stevie Lowery

"Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest." - Cardinal Roger Mahony

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The last...

The least...

The littlest...

Our society is failing to protect our weakest members, and you don't have to look far to recognize that sad fact.

Just this past Sunday, Kentucky State Police announced that Layla Johnson, 2, of Hardin County died after being hospitalized last week for injuries related to child abuse. The child allegedly received the injuries while in the care of private babysitter Ashley N. Chapman. The 28-year-old Vine Grove woman was arrested and lodged Thursday at Hardin County Detention Center. Chapman is being charged with murder.

Kentucky leads the nation in deaths from child abuse and neglect.

It's not something people like to talk about. But, it's a reality, and thanks to several of my newspaper colleagues, the state's child abuse epidemic has been brought to the forefront by demanding far more transparency within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and full disclosure of child abuse files under Kentucky's open records law.

Kentucky also leads the nation in animal abuse and neglect.

According to a 2011 report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Kentucky is the single worst in the nation for animal protection laws for the fifth year running.

We don't protect our children.

We don't protect our animals.

It's sickening.

It's senseless.

And, it's a harsh reality that I learned at a very young age.

When my twin sister and I were three years old, we tagged along with our mother, affectionately known as "the dog lady" back then, and rescued abandoned and neglected dogs and cats throughout the county. My mom helped start the Marion County Humane Society in 1979, the year my twin sister and I were born, and I wish I could say that the rate of animal abuse and neglect has decreased since then. But, I would be lying. My visit to the Marion County Animal Shelter last week was proof of that. The shelter is crammed full of abandoned, neglected and unwanted dogs and cats. Since November of last year people have been dropping dogs off at the Marion County/Taylor County line. In fact, Tuesday of last week, 24 dogs were dumped, three of which didn't survive. One dog froze to death.

I met many of the dogs that managed to survive last week during my visit to the shelter. Every single one of them, I'm convinced, was pleading for me to take them home. I could hear it in their piercing barks. I could see it in their sad, sad eyes.

I tried to reassure them that they would find a home. That everything would be OK. But even I don't believe that.

As I was about to leave, Sarah Gribbins and Kay Turpin returned to the shelter after responding to a complaint about several abandoned dogs on Logan Hill Road. The dogs are believed to be trapped on an abandoned (and locked) piece of property, but one of them was able to escape.

Turpin tenderly cradled the dog, wrapped in a blanket, inside the animal shelter's lobby and gently placed her in a crate.

What I saw next is simply indescribable.

The dog was shaking uncontrollably. She couldn't stand up straight because her body was so weak and frail. Every single one of her ribs and bones protruded through her skin. And, when she looked at you, all you could see was an expression of pure sorrow and hopelessness. Her eyes were empty. She didn't (or couldn't) wag her tail. She was practically lifeless.

Somehow, I managed to keep my composure until I got into my car. I cried all the way back to my office.

The image of that poor, helpless animal will haunt me for the rest of my life.

It's an image my mom has seen far too many times during the past 32 years.

It's an image I don't ever want to see again. But, I know I will.

After all, I live in Kentucky. Our lawmakers allow this type of crime to continue with the country's most lax animal protection laws. The person (or persons) who left this dog to starve to death probably won't even get a slap on the wrist.

It's pathetic.

But, thankfully, there are people in this world like Turpin and Gribbins, who work endless hours to save these animals. Animal lovers like June Sooter also give me hope. She has taken this abandoned dog under her wing and is nursing it back to health. She's chosen to name the dog "Sarakay" to honor the two women who rescued her.

While Sarakay has a long road ahead of her, she's getting stronger. She's sleeping, eating and drinking. But, oddly enough, she's trying to find a way to escape the safety of Sooter's home. According to Sooter, Sarakay stands by the gate and cries, wanting to get out.

But, why?

By the looks of her, it's obvious she's a mother and she desperately wants to get back to her children. Standing by the gate, she's calling out to them.

Even she, a dog, has the instinct to protect her children.

So, tell me this ... why are humans believed to be superior to dogs?

In this instance, and so many others, it's definitely the other way around.