The Counsellor's Corner


I am sure by now you have heard the story of Sara McBurnett.In case you have been living underground for the last month, on February 11th, Ms. McBurnett was driving in Northern California near the San Jose Airport.There was heavy airport traffic, and Ms. McBurnettís vehicle gently bumped a vehicle from behind.The bumped driver got out of his car and approached Ms. McBurnettís vehicle.Ms. McBurnett rolled down her window to apologize.That is where things got out of control.The man then reached into her car, grabbed her small dog and proceeded to throw it into oncoming traffic.The dog died shortly thereafter as it was taken to a veterinary hospital, but it was too late.

This case has aroused an amazing nationwide response.Frankly, I am very glad to see it, however I would like to hope the response would be the same if the man reached in and grabbed her baby, and I think and hope it would be, but sometimes I am not so sure.I am crazy about dogs, however sometimes it seems as if people place greater value on an animalís life than on the life of a human being.

In this case, police have actually assembled a photo gallery of suspects and a sketch artist has worked for several hours with Ms. McBurnett developing a sketch of the man.The outpouring of money has also been significant as throughout the nation people are donating reward money to help find this horrific individual.As one of the San Jose Police officers noted, people have donated more reward money in this case than they have to solve high-profile missing-childrenís cases.He further added that clues are being sent in, and license plate numbers are being called in.

The culprit has been described as a caucasian in his 20's with a goatee, driving a dark Ford Explorer-type vehicle with Virginia license plates.He is now facing felony cruelty to animals charges and is facing state prison or county jail.As I write, the reward fund totals $50,000 and is climbing each day.I would not be at all surprised if we hit the $100,000 mark in fairly short order.

But what about the fact that this case is bringing in more money than high-profile missing-childrenís cases?

There is something particularly awful about the manís actions in this case.Letís even assume for the moment that Ms. McBurnett did more than gently bump him as his side of the story may well be different.Unfortunately, he did not stick around to tell his side of the story, and he instead committed the inhumane act of reaching into a vehicle, taking a poor, defenseless animal and tossing it like a beach ball into oncoming traffic.That is the type of behavior that can tug at people.It can lead to a significant emotional reaction and a willingness to open up the purse strings.

My point here is not that people should not help in this situation, but rather that it is my fervent hope that people are willing to help when other humans are involved, too.A missing-personís case might not be as juicy, but I would like to think that people value human life as much as they do animal life.Someone I know and respect likes to posit the question, ďIf a stranger and your pet were drowning in a nearby river and you could reach in and only save one, which one would you save?If your orientation is religious, you would clearly save the human life.If your orientation is secular, I have heard people answer this question in different ways.Is a human life worth the same or more than that of a dog?How about then that of your dog?As the Santa Clara Valley Humane Society has found out as their reward fund continues to grow, this case has clearly struck a chord with people across the country.

Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.