The Harvard Classics, published in 1910, is a fifty-one volume gorgeous leather-bound set of books, the Western canon in literature, sciences, philosophy, and the arts. The set I have has in each of its volumes the fountain pen signature of its original owner, a woman from New Orleans; southern Louisiana is where I found them. A fellow living in a parish perhaps fifty miles north of New Orleans, my internet search told me, had a "book shop in my home", and had an original set. He was willing not only to part with it for an astonishingly small price but willing, too, at his expense, to box and ship all the volumes, all with their glorious old-book smell, all with their sturdy crimson and gold bindings intact, and with just a few pages frayed. I have now read numbers of the volumes, not in order, but following my moods. I have enjoyed again Shakespeare, Plato, Montaigne, St. Augustine...so many thinkers and movers of minds. I'm nowhere near, of course, finished.
The seller, a relatively young southern man by his voice -- I called as well as emailed him to make arrangements -- spoke to me over what was a fair din of voices, domesticated animal howls, and the voice of a woman calling to dogs to "come on out back! Supper, y'all!" At the time I thought nothing of it although there was, when I thought back on the call, a lot of barking in the background. My set arrived within the week and after the thrill of shelving them and deciding which ones to tackle first, after my initial excitement ebbed, I recalled the dogs. I did an internet search again, this time not keying on the book shop name but on the seller's.
This is what I found.
The booksellers, husband and wife, had been listed (with their address) by several local organizations as having been suspected of animal cruelty and were on one organization's "watch list". One post said this couple at one time had well over fifty dogs "of many breeds". These were charges only and informal, not from any state agency and nothing like an indictment.
Yet those howls stayed with me.
Maybe a year later, having read perhaps half the volumes he'd sent me, I looked up the fellow again. There had been not only indictments but convictions and the "book shop in my home" had been shuttered. Shut down, too, was the couple's three-acre shabby, soiled, ranch-style property along with their routine near-starvation of dogs (despite the call to supper I'd heard on the phone). There had been on that property over fifty dogs of several breeds.
Among my first thoughts was that I hoped these two had no human children.
I never found out. I suppose I might have been able to but I didn't want to find out. People willing to be cruel to their animals are nearly as willing to be cruel to their kids. Numbers of studies suggesting that have been recently released and various states are taking measures to coordinate among animal and child protection agencies. Neglecting and hurting animals can be a sign that people will neglect and hurt their kids.
I'm pleased states are now tightening inter-agency coordination and handing out penalties for even one instance of animal abuse. One inclined to do that, even once, should not have kids and there's an argument to be made that the state should take not only the abused animal but the potentially abused child. In fact, I'd make the argument that a child living alongside animal abuse, particularly a smaller child, is already abused.
I still cherish my Harvard Classics. I wish, though, that their beautiful crimson bindings didn't so sadly recall for me those howling dogs.
Here's a detailed piece on what various states are doing.
Animal Abuse as Clue to Additional Cruelties - NYTimes.com