Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Animal Cruelty

Today the Supreme Court of the United States is weighing in on whether or not images of animal cruelty should be deemed illegal. I find this to be very important to my life and my livelihood. I live on a farm and I work in animal research. Both of these areas of my life heavily involve decisions about animals and their welfare.

The case to be negotiated by the court today involves images of dogfighting obtained primarily in Japan, where dogfighting is completely legal. While I in no way at all condone dogfighting (I think it absolutely stands as a definition of animal cruelty), I find this case incredibly important. On the one side you have the prosecution which maintains that by defining these videos of dogfighting as illegal, you are violating 1st amendment rights to free speech. Also if these images are defined as illegal, what other images will become banned? Will TV shows about hunting, Western movies where horses get shot as part of the storyline, or educational tutorials on proper butchering techniques also fall in the illegal category? Will we no longer be able to watch anything on the Animal Planet channel because the images of a shark eating a seal are deemed as "animal cruelty" and carry a felony charge?

On the other side you have the defense which believes that these images are equal in cruelty and vulgarity to child pornography and serve no benefit to society. I support their argument that dogfighting movies and images of women in high heels crushing mice and kittens (it's a fetish, believe it or not) are inhumane and cruel. I don't support their push to outlaw other images of "animal cruelty". I think their definition is too large and carries too many implications to be placed upon the Constitution. If let out of the box this idea of outlawing images of cruelty could become dangerous to the ability to farmers to make a living or for animal researchers to find a cure for life-threatening diseases.

I have a hard time supporting an idea that could possibly lead the end to educational images of animal butchering or veterinary services. How are veterinarian students expected to learn about internal animal diseases without the aid of educational images of animals? How are farmers expected to learn to humanely slaughter and butcher their animals without the ability to find images of such processes in books, on television, or on the internet?

While I do believe that there are cruel people in the world that get sick entertainment out of torture and harm to animals, I think that these cases need to be dealt with individually and not with a blanket statement by the Supreme Court as to what "animal cruelty" is defined as.

A few examples to illustrate my point about how the idea of "animal cruelty" has gone too far:

1. In my hometown a man accidentally ran over his dog in his driveway. He immediately realized what he had done and took the dog to the only emergency vet clinic that was open at the time (it was a Saturday afternoon). The dog was in good spirits but was holding it's hind leg up and limping a little. The vet took X-rays and determined that the dog did not have a broken bone. The vet recommended that the dog be given IV fluids for treatment of shock and be kept at the vet's over the weekend for a MRI and monitoring, all at an outrageous expense. The man asked what the MRI and monitoring might determine. The vet said that it would tell if there where ligaments torn or if it was just a deep muscle bruise. If the ligaments were torn then the dog would be showing signs of pain and wouldn't be putting weight on the leg by Monday. If it was a bruise then the dog would get better and would be putting some weight on the leg as the bruise healed. The vet's recommendations would cost the man about $6000. The man decided to take the dog home and monitor himself to see if the dog got better. The vet advised him not to do this, but the man did it anyway. On Monday, the dog was not limping anymore and was putting weight on the leg. The man decided that the dog was fine and didn't need further treatment. Monday afternoon the police showed up with an animal control officer to arrest the man and take the dog. The charge was felony animal cruelty because the man did not follow what the vet had recommended.

I have to ask, since when do vets have the right to decide what is best for our animals? The man cared for the dog enough to take him to the vet immediately but simply did not have the resources to do the extraneous tests the vet recommended. Does this make him a criminal?

2. In my hometown, a woman had a feral cat move into her basement laundry room and have kittens in her basket of towels. Every time the woman came downstairs to do laundry the cat tried to attack her. The cat and kittens were also pooping and peeing all over her basement. She call the animal control officer and asked him to come out and get the cats out of her basement. He came and the mother cat tried to attack him as well. He trapped two of the kittens in a live-trap and was able to relocate them. The mother cat and three other kittens remained in the basement where they continued to terrorize the woman. The woman begged and pleaded with the animal control officer over several weeks to get him to take care of the cats. He came back and when he went in the basement the mother cat attacked his leg. He shot it and the three kittens (who were actually almost full grown cats by this time). He had all the cats tested for rabies, which was luckily negative. The woman was able to use her basement again without fear of attack by a wild animal. The animal control officer was arrested on felony animal cruelty for shooting the four cats.

It was his job to protect the public from animals. He did what he believed was necessary to protect himself and the residents of the house from possibly rabid animals. Now, if it had been a family of skunks he had shot, do you think he would be in jail today?

What I am trying to illustrate is that as a society we have become way too opinionated about what is defined as animal cruelty, animal rights, and animal welfare. I am not an animal rights supporter. I am an animal welfare supporter. There is an enormous difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal rights is the belief that animals should be afforded the same basic rights as humans. The problem with this idea is that this means that if a cat kills a mouse, the mouse's family has a right to sue the cat under its the due process right. See how silly this idea is? Animals do not have ethics and morals. Animals are cognisant, thinking beings, but they do not have compassion or beliefs or a moral compass. There are some examples of animals sharing or communicating or showing emotions but does this qualify all animals as having human traits? If I have a pet goat, am I guilty of wrongful imprisonment? I would be if animal rightists got their way.

Animal welfare is the belief that animals are living beings deserving of care and respect. This is my position. I raise animals for food. I slaughter animals to feed my family. This does not mean that I do not treat my animals with the utmost of kindness and dignity up until the end. I love every animal I raise, whether it be a meat rabbit or laying hen or pet cat. I believe that if I am going to take that animal's life to support my own, I am going to give that animal the best life I can. I also give that animal the best death I can. I respect it enough to euthanize it quickly and humanely. I respect its sacrifice enough to value every part of that animal. Nothing goes wasted.

I hope that the Supreme Court will be able to see through this decision enough to decide what is proper for life and livelihood and for my animal's life and livelihood.