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Cut and Died
By Jill Howard-Church on Animals and Society Institute
Cats and their guardians near Miami are relieved to hear that a suspect has been arrested regarding a sadistic spree of nearly two dozen cat killings and mutilations. [See Mental Evaluation Ordered For Suspect in Florida Cat Killings]
The suspect is an 18-year-old high school student, Tyler Weinman, who is charged with 19 counts of felony animal cruelty for his alleged role in the crimes, which might also have included other perpetrators. He is out on bond and has been ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation.
The latter point is, of course, a keystone in the Animals and Society Institute’s ongoing push for the use of the AniCare program for the assessment and treatment of children and adults convicted of felony animal abuse. Such actions are both very serious in their own right and indicators of potential violent behavior toward human beings, and this unique program addresses that link in an attempt to stop the cycle of violence.
However, there’s another element to this cat-killing story that was reported by the Miami Herald this week. Reporters noted that Weinman “is no stranger to feline anatomy – he dissected the animals last year in class at Palmetto High.” His anatomy teacher, Lynn Evans, claims to be an animal lover who nevertheless has taught approximately 8,000 students in 24 years how to cut up kitties. She expressed surprise at Weinman’s arrest, saying, “I don’t know how we can bridge the gap between a controlled [classroom] situation to what this disturbed young man has done.”
But the “gap” she refers to is one of semantics and circumstances. Granted, it appears none of her other 7,999 students has been arrested for such a horrible crime. Weinman is presumed innocent until proven otherwise (although the cat killings appear to have stopped since his arrest), and even if he’s guilty, we don’t yet know what factors might have led to such violent behavior. However, it is well worth examining what lessons Ms. Evans and other teachers like her convey when companion animals are brought into classrooms for the purpose of being dismembered. Perhaps what teachers consider to be simply an anatomy lesson isn’t so cut and died, er, dried.
The debate over the use of animals for dissection has been going on for a long time. Arguments against dissection are both ethical and scientific, and are outlined very comprehensively in a book published by The Humane Society of the United States titled, The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives and Recommendations. Some states have enacted formal policies that allow conscientious objectors to opt out and use other materials, but many still have not, leaving parents and students to deal with school policies on their own.
I learned all about that recently when my 16-year-old son enrolled in an honors biology course, which called for the dissection of earthworms, starfish, squid, and frogs. Because we are a humane family, we told his teacher at the beginning of the year that he would not participate in the dissections and that I would work with her to provide him with humane alternatives. He apparently was the first student there ever to refuse such exercises, but she and the rest of the department allowed me to bring in models and computer programs provided on loan from the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, all of which were excellent. My son got an A in the class and the teachers were exposed to humane instruction materials that I am hoping will be permanently incorporated into future classes (even if I have to purchase and donate them).
Clearly, the use of animals in dissection for biology classes such as those taken by both my son and young Mr. Weinman is unwarranted. And by using them, we give young people a mixed message. If we can’t teach universal compassion and empathy for animals such as cats and dogs, what hope do we have of instilling humane values for all other species?
So as the public outrage over the cat killings on lawns across Miami vents itself against Weinman, perhaps those same animal lovers (Ms. Evans included) should reconsider the fate of the thousands of cats who end up on dissection tables in classrooms in Florida and across the country. No doubt some (if not most) of these cats were once family companions; the sources of cats sold by dissection supply companies are highly dubious, and one of the largest companies, Carolina Biological Supply, was exposed in 1990 in an undercover investigation by PETA for selling suspected stolen pets.
There is no logical reason to condemn cat killings done for “kicks” while condoning cat killings done for “science.” The latter has a far higher body count and is equally deserving of public outrage.
Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.
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