Remembering Angelo – Twice a Victim of Animal Abuse

Remembering Angelo - Twice a Victim of Animal Abuse


This is not a happy blog post.  Last week a friend posted on Facebook a tribute to Angelo, a dog I once met who suffered a horrible injustice.  He was twice a victim of animal abuse – once by his owners and then again by a callous judicial process.  My friend’s reflections stirred up my own memories.

For the last couple of years I have volunteered in local animal shelters to produce high quality pictures that will catch the attention of potential adopters and, ideally, lure them to come and visit the shelter.  There are a lot of happy endings (beginnings, actually) at my local shelters.  Sadly, though, there are also plenty of heart wrenching stories.  Angelo’s is probably the most heart wrenching of them all.

In October 2011 I was asked by Dottie Reynolds, president of the Friends of Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter (FOSOCAS), to photograph Angelo.  Dottie wanted to use the photographs to bring attention to the tragedy that Angelo was enduring.  The two hours I sat with this beautiful dog is something I will never, ever forget.

Here’s the short version.  Angelo and several siblings were seized by the SPCA when their owners were charged with animal cruelty.  The allegations were that the dogs had been neglected and abused, and there may have been fighting involved.  Classic animal abuse.  Per a court order the dogs were quarantined at the local animal shelter.  They were not allowed to have contact with each other, with other dogs, or with humans other than shelter staff.  Their incarceration lasted for months.  Eventually permission was granted to allow the dogs to spend less than an hour a day in outside runs.  They still couldn’t interact with people or each other.  They could feel the sunlight and smell the air.  For an hour.  And then were returned to their 6×10 cages for the remaining 23 hours each day.

When Angelo entered the shelter he was scared and timid.  He showed some aggression.  Given his experience of abuse that was not a surprise.  Over time he began to show positive signs.  He became less fearful.  He was curious, even excited, to see humans.  He became particularly attached to a volunteer named Lisa who brought him treats and toys.  There was hope that Angelo might have a good outcome.

But the court case dragged on.  And on.  And on.  Days turned to weeks which turned to months.  In October, a full three months since he was taken into custody, Angelo began to show signs that the stress of his environment was taking its toll.  His behavior changed dramatically and worsened everyday.  His interest in toys disappeared.  He began biting the fencing of his cage.  Looking into his eyes it was clear he was losing his mind.  And yet the court case dragged on.  Angelo was slipping away, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

When Dottie called she asked me to photograph Angelo in a way that would illustrate his suffering.  Before I sat with him I had ideas about how to do that.  Images that show the sterile conditions of a shelter.  Gray, cold light that conveys isolation and loneliness.  And so on.  As soon as I sat on the floor outside Angelo’s cage I knew I didn’t have to do anything to highlight his condition.  I just had to show Angelo.  The look in his eyes was one of horror.  His soul was in a constant state of torture.  He was trapped in his cage and trapped in his mind.  He would chew on the fencing until his mouth bled.  He would paw at the door as a sad plea to be released.  Then he would turn away, deliberately facing in the other direction and stare into space.  His behavior was not aggressive.  It was desperate.  I had seen plenty of dogs who were stressed by being in the shelter, but I had never seen anything like Angelo.  His confinement had made him insane.  He was a tortured soul.

Less than two weeks after these photos were taken Angelo was euthanized.  A part of me felt relief for him, and imagined his soul taking a deep sigh as he passed.  He was finally free of the torture.  And a big part of me felt rage.  Rage toward the humans who put Angelo in this situation.  Rage toward the system that callously ignored the fact that a life was suffering in a cage because “the wheels of justice” only go so fast.  And another part of me felt a deep sadness.  I still feel it.  I have tears in my eyes as I type.  This tragedy didn’t have to happen.  Angelo didn’t have to suffer.  It wasn’t his fault.

As I write I’m realizing that I’m doing so to deal with the rage and sadness.  It hasn’t gone away.  I haven’t been able to compartmentalize it like I often can.  Angelo lives somewhere in my spirit.  His horror and unnecessary death stand as a reminder that we have so much work to do to make the world a better place for our animals.  If Angelo’s story and images speak to you I hope you’ll allow him to live in your spirit as well.  And that you’ll honor that place he holds by joining the forces of good for animals.  Take action against animal cruelty.  Encourage your government leaders to strengthen laws against abuse.  Volunteer at a local shelter or rescue.  Donate money or resources to organizations working in support of saving animals.  Do something.  Do anything.  It won’t bring Angelo and the millions like him back, but it will help move us closer to a day when there are no more Angelos who have to endure animal abuse.  That will make the world a better place.


9 thoughts on “Remembering Angelo – Twice a Victim of Animal Abuse

  1. Betth Bagley

    I didn’t want to read this,but I had to. Of course,I cried that goes without saying. You put into words and images the UNIMAGINABLE horror too many animals must endure because of HUMANS. It makes me ashamed to be one. So I do a little bit to try to help. In my heart and in my prayers I will remember the innocent Angelo and others like him. Thank you for the work to do to better their little lives.

  2. Tina Rustman

    Ditto to what Beth said. I too cried my eyes out. I pray nightly for all the little ones who will die today and who are scared, hungry, cold, lost, abandoned and abused that somehow they will find a loving home.

  3. Kristen Amacher Zeman

    Thank you for sharing this story. Unfortunately, as you described, this is so common and most of the general public doesn’t know about it or doesn’t want to. I too take photos of animals at a local high kill shelter. It breaks my heart every Wednesday when I go in and know that myself and another photographer might be their only hope of getting posting and cross-posting photos. I see how most dogs come in scared or shut down and then over time, if they are given time, they fade away in their minds or become not themselves in any way. They know that they are stuck and the hope of an adopter coming along fades away every day. When they are taken out for photos, they perk up and become happy again for a moment. Most are pit bulls or pit crosses and most are not adopted because of that. This sickens me and makes me want to continue to educate people about the plight of shelter animals in general. They are scared, sad, lonely and don’t deserve it for any reason at all, ever. Kudos to all of the photographers that volunteer their time to showcase an animal in a better light in order to help that animal live. Thank you again for all that you do and what you wrote. It touched my heart – I feel your pain. We try and do our best and lots of wonderful outcomes happen as we know and see. We must continue to educate, spread the word and post about what we feel and know that what we do IS making a difference.

  4. Zorica Stancevic

    This post was absolutely heartbreaking. It is a reminder that animals “saved” in cruelty situations are often then victims of the US justice system, as they languish in our shelters waiting for outcomes.

    I recall that BAD RAP celebrates the day that Vick’s former dogs were finally free from the shelter, rather than the day they left the compound. A reminder that our justice system needs to do better on behalf of animals; they sat for months without enrichment.

    Thank you for telling Angelo’s story.

  5. Lori Fusaro


    I hate that we have to see things like this. I hate that there are animals forced to endure such hopelessness and sadness and frustration.

    Thank you Michael for giving a little piece of your soul to tell Angelo’s story. Without your photos and words, countless other animals will suffer the same fate. It may not feel like much, but by writing this, by photographing Angelo, you have made a difference.

    Angelo, I’m sure, has forever changed you. He didn’t die in vain, though. He has already touched so many.

  6. Carolyn Evans

    Michael, thank you for taking the time to share Angelo’s story. It is one that many of us know all too well. And one that far too many animals endure. And that is what they do. Endure. Because there is simply no other choice for them. They sit, and they wait. And wait. And wait. And hope. Hope for a day when they will see the sun. Hope for a day when someone will come by and see the dog that they can be. Hope for a family to call their own. Hope for the moment when the wire gate that encloses them is finally opened, never knowing when that will be. How long must they be made to “endure”? And even in that moment, when they finally walk through that gate, they still don’t know which way their life is headed. Will it be their walk to freedom, or their final steps on this earth? Thank you for reminding us that this is real. That animals suffer at the hands of man, whether through abuse, neglect or apathy. Thank you for reminding us that we all have a part to play and that every single one of us can do something – anything – to put an end to this tragedy. And thank you most of all for remembering Angelo. And acknowledging the importance of his life. And the tragedy of his death. And that of all the millions of Angelo’s out there. I am grateful that you had a moment to be a part of his life, and have used that opportunity to tell Angelo’s story. I am sorry that the system failed him.

  7. Kelly

    Thank you for honouring Angelo’s memory in this post, Michael That poor, poor boy, let down by so many people.

  8. Lisa Prince Fishler

    It hurts to read this. It hurts my head, to try and wrap it around the absolute injustice this boy had to endure. The fact that this happened, and happens, and to some, is okay?! It hurts my heart, to think about the pain this two hours must have triggered in you, Mike… it devastates me to think about what poor, sweet, patient, stoic, loving Angelo must have gone through. My heart hurts for you all, and I promise to keep doing all I can on my end, to educate people, and give voice to the voiceless. Together we will make a difference – thank you Mike, for all you do. I will light an incense in Angelo’s honor now, and every day.

  9. Joan Jotz

    I suffered every day for these dogs that were seized. Confinement and isolation will mentally and physically destroy any living being. Being forced to watch a dog deteriorate every day is too much for a caring soul to endure. Yet poor Angelo had to endure this torture for so long, and I along with others, was helpless to show him any affection, or help in any way to make Angelo’s plight bearable. I will always carry Angelo in my heart, along with all the souls I have known and lost at the shelter. The courts need to wake up and realize they are not dealing with “CASES” or “NUMBERS” in situations like this, but with living, breathing beings that are entitled to respect and decency in their treatment while awaiting a decision. I feel the Judges need to make a trip to the shelters where these dogs are being held, and see up front and close that these are precious lives with feelings and needs, not simply another court case.


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