Treat­ment of an­i­mals re­veals our hu­man­ity

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - COMMENT - SHANNON GORMLEY Shannon Gormley is an Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen global af­fairs colum­nist and free­lance jour­nal­ist.

Be­fore one em­barks on a dis­cus­sion about the eth­i­cal treat­ment of an­i­mals and pre­pares to take the con­tro­ver­sial an­ti­cru­elty side of the de­bate, it is cus­tom­ary to es­tab­lish one’s cre­den­tials as a non-an­i­mal fa­natic. I am not sure why this is so. I can only ob­serve tra­di­tion.

We need not be­lieve, as some do, that an­i­mals have ex­actly the same rights as hu­man be­ings to be­lieve that our so­ci­ety ought to take all rea­son­able ef­forts to pro­tect an­i­mals from out-and­out mis­treat­ment.

Nor must we be­lieve, as still oth­ers do, that the pain and lives of an­i­mals are wor­thy of pre­cisely the same type of con­cern as the pain of hu­man be­ings, to know that their pain and lives merit very strong con­sid­er­a­tion.

We need not be ve­gan, we need not be veg­e­tar­ian, we need not have ever loved an an­i­mal or even much liked one, to un­der­stand an­i­mals should not be con­fined, kept, bred and treated through­out their lives in ways that any rea­son­able per­son could an­tic­i­pate would cause their suf­fer­ing.

And though we may think it fa­nat­i­cal to de­scribe your pet dog in terms sim­i­lar to those you use to de­scribe your child, we know it would be much more odd to hold your dog in no greater es­teem than you would an inan­i­mate ob­ject.

And yet just this week a Cana­dian man was ar­rested for an­i­mal cru­elty: specif­i­cally, for keep­ing about 60 large dogs with­out shel­ter. Around the same time, a mother and daugh­ter were ar­rested for sim­i­lar rea­sons, al­beit in­volv­ing a slightly fewer dogs.

These re­cent events, of course, would not in them­selves be ev­i­dence of a fail­ure on the part of pol­icy-mak­ers — af­ter all, gov­ern­ments can no more guar­an­tee that no one will ever treat an an­i­mal badly than they can guar­an­tee that no one will ever treat a per­son badly — were it not for the fact that the same man and the same mother-daugh­ter pair had done the same thing be­fore, and not only did any­one fail to stop them from re­peat­ing the abuse, but Canada failed to en­sure there was any pos­si­bil­ity any­one could have stopped them. Canada doesn’t have a fed­eral registry of an­i­mal abusers, and the de­ter­mined ones can avoid bans on an­i­mal own­er­ship by mov­ing from prov­ince to prov­ince. Se­rial sil­ver­ware thieves, on the other hand, may find their record fol­lows them.

Equally dis­turb­ing is that Canada al­lows pet an­i­mals to be killed by their own­ers for any rea­son at all — in­clud­ing for no rea­son at all. A pet pig was killed by the fam­ily that adopted her into it this year only to eat her, and though it may be morally re­pug­nant to bring an an­i­mal into one’s home to be killed, it is not crim­i­nal.

Even more dis­turb­ing: Most acts of bes­tial­ity aren’t crim­i­nal, ei­ther. Some­one can sex­u­ally abuse an an­i­mal, but as long as it is only sex­u­ally abused in very spe­cific ways, the law will tol­er­ate it.

Canada does not do enough to pro­tect an­i­mals. That seems fairly clear. The ques­tion is, why not?

I said I am not sure why peo­ple of­ten feel shy talk­ing about eth­i­cal treat­ment of an­i­mals. But I sus­pect that it de­rives from the fact that we un­der­stand what it means to be hu­man in largely these terms: to be hu­man is to not be an an­i­mal; to be hu­man is to be bet­ter than an an­i­mal.

By se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing the po­si­tion of an­i­mals, per­haps we, and our politi­cians, fear look­ing as if we do not have our most fun­da­men­tal pri­or­i­ties straight — that by ac­tively work­ing to bet­ter the lot of an­i­mals, we di­min­ish our­selves.

But even if we be­lieve that the mis­treat­ment of an­i­mals is a small prob­lem, what does our fail­ure to ad­dress it say about our abil­ity to re­solve big ones?

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