In an unusual media stunt, the Auckland SPCA is training three shelter dogs to drive.
SPCA Auckland CEO, Christine Kalin, sums up the rationale as follows:
“I think sometimes people think because they’re getting an animal that’s been abandoned that somehow it’s a second-class animal … Driving a car actively demonstrates to potential rescue dog adopters that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The dogs have achieved amazing things in eight short weeks of training, which really shows with the right environment just how much potential all dogs from the SPCA have as family pets.”
So long as they’re not pit bulls, I imagine.
This is, of course, an awareness-raising stunt rather than a viable long-term programme but it raises another issue that is worth reflecting on: a common tendency to advocate for animals on the basis of intelligence – as demonstrated by their ability to perform human tasks – as the grounds for moral consideration which oblige us to treat non-human animals far better than we generally do.
But there are reasons to be wary of the focus on intelligence as a criterion for moral consideration and the double-standards applied between domestic and farmed animals are especially apparent here. Cows are at least as intelligent as dogs and pigs have performed much better in tests of intelligence than either. And yet, it is abhorrent to eat dog but not pig or cow flesh. The intelligence standard as a benchmark for moral consideration becomes disturbing when we realise that in application it would mean we may justify lesser concern for infants, or the severely mentally disabled. In Peter Singer’s famous limit example of the anencephalic (i.e. without a complete brain, only the brain stem controlling basic survival functions) child, the human would have less of a right to life than any fully functional animal. According to Singer, the only thing that prevents us from eating the child is ‘speciesism‘.
As more details emerge from what happened in Wellsford two days ago, the whole picture gets a great deal grimmer. In New Zealand terms, this was a huge story, splashed all over the front page of the Herald, and it has garnered considerable attention. Sadly, it says a lot about our view towards animals, and highlights some of the weaknesses of the existing animal welfare system. Incidentally, if you haven’t done so, it’s probably worth reading what I had to say on this yesterday, as I don’t plan on repeating any details of the case that I talked about then. But here are six additional things to think about:
First, the horrors of the incident should not be underestimated. When SPCA inspectors, who see plenty of awful things done to animals every day, are left speechless – it’s pretty bad news. The perpetrator of the act deserves the condemnation he’s getting now, and hopefully the jail time he deserves. Let’s be honest. That’s one pretty sick guy. Continue reading
Just last week, we posted about the SPCA’s difficulties in pursuing prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA). An article in the Herald on Monday (‘Hundreds of Cases of Livestock Mistreatment Reported’) highlights just how little the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), is doing by way of prosecutions. But, as the Police generally do not prosecute animal welfare offences, MAF is the other main body, along with the SPCA, that is empowered to prosecute under the AWA.
In the year to November 2009, MAF received 689 complaints about the mistreatment of animals, and investigated 615. They brought two prosecutions.
In 2008, there were 948 complaints in total, of which 824 were investigated. No prosecutions were brought.
So, out of 1439 investigations in two years, only two resulted in prosecutions. This is a rate of less than 0.4%.
Curiously, the story was re-spun the next day with the title: ‘Big Fines for Farmers Who Let Their Livestock Starve’ moving the sentences imposed to the head of the article and the fact that there were only two prosecutions in two years to the second half of the piece. Continue reading
Happy new year all, and welcome to the first links roundup for 2010. Aside from the unfortunate ramming and sinking of the Sea Shepherd speedboat the Ady Gil (formerly the Earthrace 2000) last week (which, according to whaling industry spokesman Glen Inwood did not happen), not much has happened on the animal rights front in these first two weeks of 2010.
National Party MP, Simon Bridges, has drafted a private member’s bill to increase the maximum penalty for wilful ill treatment of animals from three years imprisonment to five years.
As always in public discourse, the primary justification for this increase of the sanction is that abuse of animals leads to – or is at least an early indicator of – violence against humans.
It is encouraging to see these issues raised in Parliament and the mainstream media but this call for tougher penalties highlights a number of the shortcomings of the law around animal cruelty. Namely: That sentences are so far short of the current maximum that an increase will be largely academic; the fact that the sanction is criminal actually militates against its implementation; and, the real problem is with a distinct lack of enforcement and prosecutions. Continue reading