My Turn: Where dogs have more rights

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

My wife and I recently took in a 15-year-old who was in an abusive home situation. Always suspicious that some abuse was happening, we were horrified to hear this young man detail out to us years of torment and cruelty. This young man also suffers from a physical condition that needs surgery, a condition that was exploited during the abuse. Doing what we thought was right we contacted "the system" and made a Report Of Harm. We have not been the only ones to do this. Initially, "the system" was totally gung-ho about this case and promised to pursue it with vigor. My wife, having been a product of "the system" as a child in California, was very skeptical that this method would be successful, as the system failed her miserably, but was encouraged by the apparent zeal in which this case was first taken.

My wife and I aren't related in any way to this young man, but were, and still are, willing to open our home and to provide a safe haven for however long was needed, be it days or years. As time wore on and "the system" went through its paces, less and less enthusiasm was shown. Complicating issues is the fact that this young man is part Native, and as such his tribe has a say in what happens to him. From the very start, this young man made it very clear that he didn't want to return home, that he was afraid of being made to go home, that he suffered from nightmares about being abused and that if made to go home, he would probably run away and hide. In his eyes, staying with relatives was also not an option as he didn't feel any safer there, either.

After several weeks of meetings and talk, "the system," in conjunction with this young man's tribe and family, has decided that he needs to go and stay with relatives until such a time as his home is deemed safe for him again. Gone is the initial zeal and vigor that we were met with regarding this case. Instead, in its place, we have been given a borderline-hostile statement about this decision and its finality. Granted, there is a lot more to this story, but where space is limited, so must be the details. Needless to say, everyone who is familiar with this case, other than this young man's family, feels that the system is a travesty that has failed miserably, and we can do nothing but agree. None of this young man's wishes or fears seems to have been considered and have actually been ascribed by "the system" and the tribe as the complaints of a petulant and vindictive teen. This young man is terrified of Monday, the day he has to go "home," and all we can do is watch it happen.

These are scary times in which we live. We have all heard the axiom about how anyone can have kids, but a license is needed to drive, to hunt, etc. Never has it rung more true than now. In our morally bankrupt society more rights are afforded a family dog than our children. Dog owners are required to license their pets, provide them with annual vaccinations, and to make sure that they are properly cared for. Animal cruelty can be a felony punishable by years of jail time. An abused child, however, is at the mercy of an apparently helpless, or indifferent, bureaucracy that seems to want to do nothing but preserve the integrity of the family, no matter what the cost. As it did with my wife 20 years ago, the system has failed yet another child for which it was created to protect. It's small comfort knowing that at least our dog is in good hands.

Mark Veter is the administrative director of the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association and has worked in youth programs for more than three years.

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