OEDEL: Dogs, people, inhumanity

November 23, 2013 

Crystal Fessler, 36, mother of four, admitted to police that she slipped through the fence at Macon’s All About Animals shelter during the night of Oct. 16-17, then released some dogs. Those dogs fought among themselves and three died. Dying were the least aggressive ones, according to knowledgeable volunteers.

After visiting the surviving dogs last week, I can confirm that many of them could predictably do very serious harm if unleashed. Though their breeds may be slightly obscure, vicious propensities exacerbated by environmental factors were all too obvious. You’d have to be crazy to try to pet some of them, let alone turn them loose.

The spectacle of the dogs being released, the subsequent melee and the three dogs’ deaths, caused enough of a national controversy to warrant the U.S. Humane Society, Atlanta’s Humane Society, PETA and other dog advocates to promise $18,000 in rewards for information leading to a conviction.

Someone then turned in Fessler. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t needed, as Fessler herself openly admitted releasing the pets, and then went to The Medical Center of Central Georgia for her own dog bites.

After Fessler’s arrest, some incensed dog lovers went for the jugular. There’s “a special place in hell” for people like her, wrote one on a Telegraph comment board, a comment “Liked” by 11 others. That commenter also proposed separately that we “bring back old sparky” to impose “the death penalty” on Fessler. “Pure evil” wrote another. Fessler was compared to serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy. One kind citizen advised Fessler to “Kill yourself” and “rot in hell.”

For people so compassionate about canines, you might think they’d save some compassion for humans. I don’t know why Fessler did it, or if she really acted alone, as she claims. She’s in jail, and I’m not on her visitor list. I did, though, talk at some length with her mother. Moms often have insights about their children.

Fessler’s mom didn’t know for sure why her daughter did it either, but she knows Fessler feels strong empathy for dogs like those at All About Animals. Perhaps more saliently, though, her mom knows Fessler has some big problems: chronic alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness and homelessness. Things got so bad that Fessler’s mom has been raising two of Fessler’s kids alone for six years, and can’t responsibly allow Fessler to stay in the home with them.

But that didn’t stop Fessler’s mom the day before the incident from taking Fessler to a local addiction and mental health facility and pleading with their personnel to admit her. The facility declined. As a homeless person, Fessler hadn’t and couldn’t easily penetrate Medicaid’s bureaucracy, and the facility wouldn’t have been conveniently reimbursed.

Even if Fessler had navigated Medicaid’s Byzantine maze, Medicaid would have been unlikely to make a critical difference. Medicaid covers few of the extended interventions needed by people like Fessler. Even if Georgia elected to supersize Medicaid under Obamacare, that wouldn’t make things different for Fessler, who’s already eligible.

Some “free” mental health service providers are now perversely facing cuts under parts of Obamacare.

Although Obamacare throws a few bones at clinics and experiments, much of its funding -- the Congressional Budget Office says $710 billion over 10 years -- goes toward more of the Medicaid that already has proven practically useless to Fessler and many like her.

So now Fessler will enter one or another of the most expensive, ill-designed, ineffectual mental health facilities in Georgia. We call them jails and prisons.

According to Georgia’s Department of Corrections, about three-quarters of people incarcerated here are significantly involved with drugs and/or mental illness. Gov. Nathan Deal is courageously trying to shift our strategies for dealing with those struggling souls.

Deal needs our support in clearing people with mental health and drug problems from jail, but that’s just part of the project. Our communities need more humane, easily accessible, extended and effective approaches to treatment. In Obamacare’s eventual, inevitable re-do, we’ll need more of that, not more Medicaid.

The owner of two rescue dogs, David Oedel teaches at Mercer law school.

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