North Baltimore activists are leading the city's charge to stop animal abuse, which they believe leads to domestic violence, child abuse and murder.
Caroline Griffin, a Mount Washington resident, chairs the Mayor's Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission, which city officials say is the only body of its kind in the country.
Advisory commission member Judith Kunst, of Remington organized a well-attended picnic, rally and "day of service" Saturday to draw attention to the plight of abused animals
"We're here to put the brakes on animal abuse," said Kunst, Greater Remington Improvement Association president.
The advisory commission co-sponsored the event with the Peacekeepers Motorcycle Club, a group of military and law enforcement officers. The club, which brought the idea of a rally to the commission, staged a symbolic motorcycle ride from Dundalk to the rally at northeast Baltimore's Madison Square Park, next to the Bluford Dru Jemison Academy, a city public school at Biddle and North Caroline streets.
The club hopes to nationalize the event next year by doing it at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens play, said the club's administrative officer, city police detective Derrick Layton.
In addition to Kunst and Griffin, the estimated 500 people at the city park included Aileen Gabbey, executive director of the Hampden-based Maryland SPCA, and a commission member, Shana Challmes, also of Mount Washington.
Also there was Northern District police officer Jon Walter, who investigates animal abuse cases for the district. Walter is better known as one of the district's community liaisons.
The rally was held in the Northeast District, but Walter said he came to show the Northern District's support.
Griffin and Kunst introduced Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who formed a task force and later the commission in response to the death of a dog that was set on fire in 2009.
Rawlings-Blake told the crowd she hoped for a day when more commissions would be formed nationwide, to speak for animals that "can't speak for themselves."
"I'm also looking forward to when we don't need this rally," the mayor said. "One day, animals won't need to speak for themselves."
"This (the event) is a loud voice speaking for them today," observed Gabbey, the SPCA director.
From the ashes of Phoenix
The commission began as a task force in 2009, in response to the death of Phoenix, a severely burned pit bull that was euthanized. Rawlings-Blake signed a law in 2010, making the task force a permanent commission.
Two teens are accused of dousing Phoenix with gasoline in May 2009 and then setting the puppy on fire. The first trial ended in a hung jury. A retrial is set for next month.
"From the ashes of Phoenix, this city has rallied to become a national leader in stopping animal abuse," Griffin, 49, an attorney, told the crowd.
The commission and the Peacekeepers gave away T-shirts and engraved drinking glasses donated by Baltimore Glass Decorators.
The event also served as an informational fair, with tables for the SPCA, Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, or BARCS, and the Woodberry-based Snyder Foundation for Animals, which promotes education and philanthropic support for the humane treatment of animals.
"This is really a good example of how people can come together to help animals," said Gabbey, the SPCA director. "We see some really sad cases" of mistreatment of animals. "I think neglect is more typical. We see starved animals and animals that have been left out too long."
One of the four-legged stars of the event was Ruby-Doo, a dog representing Bmore Dog, which promotes responsible dog ownership.
Ruby-Doo, named for the cartooncanine Scooby-Doo, yawned contentedly as the mayor sat on a motorcycle and posed for photos.
"We just want to bring awareness and do it in a fun way," Griffin said in an interview.
But she left no doubt about the seriousness of the efforts.
"We're about stopping violence, period. When animals are being abused, people are being abused," Griffin said. And she said studies suggest that animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes, and also more likely to commit child abuse.
"It's a gateway crime," she said.