By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Imagine for a moment that I passed a law protecting your car. Specifically, my law says that if any harm should befall your car, that you are subject to criminal sanction. If the car breaks down or has any engine failure, then you are financially responsible to restore the car to perfect working order and failure to do so would result in criminal charges. Finally, once you buy the car you are stuck with it forever and it must be protected from the elements, harm, and damage.
The obvious response is ďwho the hell do I think I amĒ to pass such a law. A car is property and subject to the whim and will of its owner. Vehicles can be operated with body damage and nobody has the right to demand that the vehicle always appear in perfect condition. Brakes can be run down, oil can be low, transmissions can slip and still the car can be both owned and driven. Government has no role to play in demanding that property like a car be maintained and protected against all harm.
Animals are property too. They are not human and have no human rights. Our laws and Constitution make no reference to animal rights, to citizenship, or to the equal standing of animals with humans. Unlike a car, an animal does feel pain and is a sentient being. So too are shrubbery and trees yet we cut and chop and burn them at will. Animals do form a unique type of property in that arguably the body of law known as natural law protects sentient beings from cruelty and pain.
Recently, two cases have arisen that call into question the role that animals play in society. One case involves a firefighter who was headed to a cruise vacation and rather than pay to shelter his two dogs, he opted to shoot them both. The second case involves a woman who used a shovel to club a fawn seated in her flower beds. Both situations put the attacker at risk of losing freedom and suffering from other criminal and civil sanction.
I wholly agree that no animal should ever suffer pain just as I wholly agree no human being should ever suffer from pain. It is part of my humanity and how I relate to the world around me. Summary execution however is not torture. Shooting a dog dead does include torturing the dog; it is just a quick end to the dogís life. Hopefully the woman who shoveled the fawn likewise brought about a quick and painless death for the critter. People love their pets more than children and many consider animals to be our social equals. I can relate and understand that emotion. After all, I am not without heart and know well how attached a human can become to a pet or to animals in general.
But animals are not people. They are property. As such, we need to order our society to recognize that while natural law and basic human decency stands in staunch opposition to needless suffering by any animal, still animals do not enjoy the same rights as humans. Humans donít partner up with dogs, they own them. Cats are not even owned by humans but rather cats are more likely to own their human providers. What about fish? Fish are owned and cared for by humans but what prevents us from removing a fish from its tank and throwing it onto the barbeque?
We should not criminalize human beings in their relationships to animals. Just as I have a right to junk my car or leave it to rot on my property, so too should my relationship with my animals be subjected to my whims as to how I want to treat my property. We should not be sending people to prison, or demanding payment of fines or lost jobs, or even be socially ostracizing those humans who do not respect their property. This is a place where government does not belong as the relationship of a human being to their property is a private one and outside the scope of other peopleís interests. Like a vehicle, only when the property is put to use in the public arena should there be a public interest. When you walk your dog, it should be on a leash and should be cleaned up after. If your house falls into disrepair or your car has broken brake lights, then society has a right to intervene to a certain extent because others are at risk.
What troubles me is how we punish humans not for torturing an animal but rather for summary execution thereof. We have laws that prevent humans from summarily executing one another because it is in everybodyís best interest that we protect one another from such activity. It eludes me how we get from that general principle to one which says that if an animal is killed by itsí owner, that the property owner must be criminally punished. I have the right to break and destroy and dispose of any of my property. The same should be the rule with property that breathes.
At the pace we are going, soon government could come in and dictate diets we feed our animals. Government already assumes that it has the right to determine the type of housing we provide animals. On one hand we accept in society the right of a person to meander about the woods and randomly shoot to death found property. On the other hand, if the property is already owned and then shot by its owner, that constitutes criminal activity. We tolerate the slavish use of animal power against their will such as horse races, sled dogs, and pack animals and it is OK that they work and lives a life of miserable meaninglessness. Nobody is offended at that behavior. To me, this is a chaotic and unmanageable situation.
The time has come to decide whether animals of every stripe are sentient beings and are entitled to live pain free and fulfilling natural lives. Either we elevate them to the same status that we as human beings enjoy and give them the same rights and freedoms, or we donít. Right now, society wants to have it both ways. It wants hunting but it also wants prison for those who kill. We want meat packing and fish producing factories but we also want to save the whales, the salmon, and the polar bear.
It is gut wrenching to see an animal brutalized and tortured by its owner. No critter should ever suffer needless pain. Query whether the person who inflicts the pain on the animal should be required to answer criminally to the society in which he lives. Can a human being smack his dog or is that a crime. What about using a rolled newspaper or a stick? Where is the line to be drawn between those that are just ďtrainingĒ their property and those that are torturing? I personally donít see a difference just as I donít see a difference between using corporal punishment on my kids and telling them that we human beings donít use violence to solve problems amongst ourselves.
But because my sensibilities are inflamed by seeing how other parents raise their young, does that give me the right to intervene and stop the treatment. Of course not. Some parents are just cruel beyond words to their children and verbally and emotionally cripple what could have a wonderful and productive human being. Society tolerates a range of human cruelties that we visit one upon another. Yet there is a line beyond which we do not go. The reason for that is to protect us from each other.
Reaching down and extending the same protections to animals raises serious questions about what are societyís goals. Requiring the protection of pets and punishing humans who bring about pain and suffering to animals does not advance society. We are not protecting each other by protecting animals. Society does not gain nor does it advance by simply punishing those we see hurt an animal. What good comes of sending a human being to prison for using his dogs as fighting dogs? Are all dogs lives made better? Is humanity uplifted or protected? No, of course not. Before government is empowered to invade the privacy of oneís relationship with oneís property, there should be a laudable and recognizable goal for that interference as otherwise, our liberty is sacrificed for no damn good reason.
If I stand outside and bash my truck with a baseball bat, should society have the right to declare me unfit to have that truck and take it away from me? So if I do the same thing to my dog, where does society come up with the power to take my dog from me.
This confusion by creating a body of laws and quasi-human rights that we give to animals changes our relationship with them. The end result will be an equality of footing for both humans and animals. Right now, the rights and privileges of animals are accounted for in many of our human activities. When we build dams or take down forests, the environmental impact always takes into account how the animals will fare. Global warming has stranded polar bears as its holy grail notwithstanding the fact that we shoot more polar bears than die from lack of food or shelter.
I have a friend who by choice went childless in his adult life. He and his wife however, have been parents to many dogs, cats and other creatures. Watching him in his relationship with his pets tells me that he loves and treats them like they were his children. The difference between having human children and animal children as he so often tells me, is that when he tires of his children he can just take them outside and shoot them. One of his dogs right now is aged and is in pain from degenerating hips and I have been told that the dog wont be around to see the winter. Society has no qualms with my friend taking his dog to a veterinarian and having the dog euphemistically put to sleep. But as with the firefighter story, my friend could be subject to criminal sanction if he chooses to save the money and shoot the dog himself. That kind of inconsistency in society troubles me.
Few of us are so hardened that seeing an animal tormented or suffering that we can just ignore the animalís plight. We want to take action and many times will act to intervene or end the pain. When that animal is the private property of another human being, the question arises whether we have any right as a society to force an intervention and punish the wrongdoer. I respectfully submit that the law should not be involved; government has no role to play. Just as I can cut down my trees and fry my fish, I should be allowed to kill my pets for any reason or no reason at all.
I donít have the answer to how to handle someone who tortures a sentient creature. But government is the last entity I want to see involved in how one person treats their personal property. Until the day comes when we give them the right to vote, animals must remain in the realm of property and be subject to all the rights and responsibilities that go with property ownership. Those rights and responsibilities include the right to destroy and damage and ignore.
It is indeed a sad event that a human being would allow another creature to feel unnecessary pain. A greater harm befalls a society that so elevates the rights of animals to be equal to those of humans.