What Would You Do?

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What would you do?

Have you ever seen the ABC TV show by the above title? That show has actually made me cry.

It’s similar to the old Candid Camera show of the 1960s, in which people were filmed having a prank pulled on them. Only in this updated show, the set-ups aren’t funny. They usually involve injustice or unethical behavior portrayed by actors, and the unwitting participants’ reactions to it are filmed.

In the latest episode, they had actors portray customers who were verbally abusive to a store employee with Down syndrome and, in another scenario, a server in a restaurant who refused to wait on a gay couple with children.

But the episode that brought me to tears was one in which an actor portrayed a homeless man lying unconscious on a busy city sidewalk. The hidden cameras rolled as hundreds of pedestrians simply walked on by, ignoring the man. The only person who stopped was a disabled homeless woman, and she began to plead with passersby to use their cell phones to call 911, but still no one would stop and help.

It was both heartbreaking and appalling – even shocking. Why don’t people do something? The most common excuse offered by people who didn’t intervene and were interviewed afterward was “I didn’t want to get involved.”

What happened to the empathy that each of these people was born with, and what frightens them so much about getting involved? I wish they would just put themselves in the shoes of the victim and think, “How would I feel if that were me? Wouldn’t I want someone to stick up for me?” Of course, this phenomenon reminds me of situations in which dogs are abused or neglected and no one says a word.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you spoke up in defense of a dog or tried to intervene in a dog-abuse situation? I’ve been making a concerted effort to be bold and not shrink from such situations for years, and the worst thing that has ever happened to me is that a woman twice my size got in my face and yelled, “Shut up! Shut up!” over and over again. It was actually pretty comical, though I didn’t dare laugh.

No, the absolute worst thing that could happen would be if you were unsuccessful in your intervention and thus unable to improve the life of the dog. Once you decide that you’re going to be brave and stand up for mistreated animals, the opportunities to do so begin to present themselves, like magic, especially in the case of dogs.

I can’t go to the dog park, the beach, or the vet without one of these opportunities popping up. And it’s not always easy to rise to the occasion, but I try to keep in mind that if I don’t speak up, who will? Probably no one, if What Would You Do? is any indication. I might be this dog’s only chance for better treatment.

Here is small sampling of real-life situations that I have encountered over the last few years in which dogs were not being treated fairly. In each situation, I intervened, though with varying degrees of success. What would you do if you encountered these situations?

• The water bowl of the sheltie who lives in the yard across the street is often bone dry, even during the hot summer months, and his coat is matted and filthy.

• An older dog in the vet’s reception area has extremely long nails that are affecting her gait.

• One of the women you frequently see at the beach makes her poodle wear a shock collar.

• It’s 35 degrees outside, and you encounter a man walking a shivering short-haired Chihuahua.

• At agility class, one of the participants refuses to let his Dalmatian drink any water; he says that the Dalmatian “drinks too much.”

• While driving down the street, you see a young boy yelling at and hitting his leashed dog.

• It’s December, and one of your neighbors has a “backyard dog” whose doghouse only has three wall, the front is completely open.

• While waiting for a vet appointment, the woman next to you keeps jerking on her German shepherd’s prong collar both when he gets fidgety and when he is calm; she does nothing to reward his calmness.

• Driving through a residential neighborhood, you spy a chained dog who is completely tangled up in junk so that he can’t move more than a couple of inches in any direction.

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