There was no question about it. The goldfish, won at one of those school carnivals, was dead as a doornail.
The mother of the 9-year-old boy whose neglect was directly responsible for the death flushed it down the toilet.
She felt queasy but did not share the guilt. After all, the boy had promised to take care of the fish. She had no idea about the care of fish other than sauteing, baking or frying.
Unfortunately, and quite surprisingly, similar tragedies occur in the equine world. Only you can't exactly flush a horse or pony down the toilet.
And, as with the fish, most cases of cruelty to horses are not intentional, according to Lt. Richard J. Olson of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which receives an average of five complaints a month. Too many people just don't know how to care for horses, he says.
"It is amazing how ignorant people can be about the care of a horse," agrees one animal control officer, citing the case of an owner who wouldn't accept malnutrition as the cause of the death of her horse.
"She said she fed the horse every day. Then she asked, 'How much dog food does a horse eat, anyway?' "
For the uninitiated, most horces don't require grain, but do require 1 1/2 pounds of hay per 100 pounds of body weight. This is a daily minimum to maintain flesh.
Horses should have fresh, clean water in front of them at all times. If running water is not piped to the stall or corral, bathtubs or 5-gallon buckets are acceptable substitutes only if the water is checked and changed at least twice daily.
Shelter is also a basic requirement for equine life. A simple three-sided shed, its open side facing away from prevalent wind, is adequate.
Basic veterinary care that a horse should receive includes inoculations, worming quarterly and feet trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks.
According to Lee Lish, former officer of the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, back yard owners (those not boarding horses at a stable, but keeping them on their property) constitute a large number of cruelty offenders.
"These people buy horses for their children and leave the responsibility for the animal's welfare in their youngsters' hands," he said.
"How many of these parents would leave the responsibility of their car to their children?" Lish asks. "How would the children know when the car needs more gas, oil changes or water in the radiators? It's ridiculous to expect children to know, much less care, about all these things. And yet they're given the responsibility of a living creature that can't just be filled up when it runs out of gas."
Another case is the story of an appaloosa named Cherokee. The care of the gelding was left in the hands of a 10-year-old daughter. While the owners lived in the lap of luxury, the horse had all but been forgotten because of family problems.
Its meals often consisted of little more than a stale loaf of bread or a head of lettuce, when they even remembered to give it that much. Water was a luxury it seldom had.
The child thought Cherokee went down because "his feet hurt" and finally persuaded her mother to call a farrier.
The horseshoer contacted Animal Control and the gelding was impounded and placed in a "foster" home. It died 4 days later despite desperate attempts to save it.
Joe Knotch, operations officer for Orange County Animal Control, encourages the public to report suspected neglect or abuse. The procedure, he said, is to send an animal control officer to investigate. If the animal is not in immediate danger but is living in substandard conditions, the owner is given 72 hours to change the conditions. If he does not comply, the Sheriff's Department or local police are contacted. They in turn give Animal Control the authority to impound the animal and bring charges against the owner.