While animal control officers around the world get used to seeing horrific acts of cruelty, even they can be shocked by what people will do to innocent pets they no longer want. On the island of Malta, near the Għar Ħasan cave, officers had been tipped off about a lost dog. Then they heard the whimpering of an animal. Where could it be coming from?
As they looked around, it was clear that the sound was coming from under the earth. When they began to dig, what they found was so horrific that the Daily Mail described it as possibly “the worst case of animal cruelty ever.”
As Maltese animal welfare officers told Sky News, the more they dug, the worse it got. “When I went down to the soil and started digging, I saw her nose.” Not only had the dog been buried alive, but its owner had tried to make sure it was gone for good. Rescuers found Star in May 2011.
“Then we find out that her mouth was tied up with a lace,” the officers told Sky News. “Even her feet were tied up. So he wanted to make sure that the dog won’t escape.” They set about to getting her out as quickly as they could, unable to believe that the dog had survived—and that its owner could be so sick.
When they finally managed to uncover the dog, she was so excited to be alive. One of the animal control officers got emotional as he told Sky News about her reaction to being rescued after 14 hours underground.
“You couldn’t believe as soon as we picked her up, she was even moving her tail like she was happy again.”
As though the crime weren’t horrific enough, upon pulling the dog, which they called Star, out of the ground, they discovered that she had been shot over 40 times with pellets from a modified shotgun. The vet who attended to her, Dr. Trevor Zammit, didn’t think she had any chance of surviving that day.
When asked by Sky News whether he thought that Star could make it through the next 24 hours, the vet replied: “no, not at that time, not with so many pellets, and shot at point blank.”
But Star did miraculously survive her surgeries and as her story was spread around the island, Europe, and the world, calls for justice came pouring in, along with donations and offers to adopt Star. The Times of Malta wrote that a Facebook page created for the dog had garnered over 50,000 votes of support and 8,200 euros (US$9,317) had been raised to help find the culprit.
As an official responsible for animal welfare told Sky News, the best thing to come from the horrible attack was a desire to end animal cruelty in Malta.
“She managed to get everyone on board, on one united front to go for animal welfare. Now is the moment that the Maltese law gets a bit harsher and tougher with culprits who are not so nice with animals.”
Star’s story caused a huge march against animal cruelty in the streets of Sliema, Malta, which included government officials, according to International Animal Rescue. As Minister of Rural Affairs George Pullicino said, the event was “a protest of disapproval not only of Star’s case but vis-a-vis all those people who are cruel towards animals to flaunt their power.”
While Star had been “improving in leaps and bounds considering the extent of her injuries,” as Dr. Zammit told International Animal Rescue, ultimately, her body had sustained too much damage to recover.
She died on June 6, 2011, as per Sky News, about a month after being rescued, in the care of foster volunteers who gave her all the love they could.
Though the vet and rescuers were devastated, there was some justice. Just two weeks after Star’s death, her former “owner” and torturer, Alfred Vella, was tried and convicted for animal cruelty, sentenced to three months in jail and fined €10,000, as reported by The Times of Malta.
Though Star’s life had been tragically cut short, her story got an entire island to stand up to animal cruelty!