Animal abuse laws:
Teaching compassion at the barrel of a gun?

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Animal abuse laws:
Teaching compassion at the barrel of a gun?

[Ed. Note: Read Ethics and Laws; excerpt: This is why vegans are the utmost humanitarians. We indiscriminately seek justice for all by doing unto others as we would have done unto ourselves [THE GOLDEN RULE].]

By Jonathan Reynolds on This Dish Is Veg
July 2011

Do we need tougher laws for animal abusers? Clearly a prison sentence, jail-time, fines, or a combination of the three isn't an effective deterrent...Solving the problem of violence against animals with the coercive threat of more violence is not the answer. We do not need more laws and more regulation; we need more critical thinking, more open-mindedness, and a wider range of knowledge and discourse on the subject. 

"A Spartanburg County woman has been charged with felony animal cruelty, accused of hanging her nephew's pit bull with an electrical cord and burning its body after the dog chewed on her Bible, authorities said Monday." (CBS News, 1/25/2011)

"Fifteen small terriers and Chihuahuas were dumped on Imperial Highway in El Segundo last week, but thanks to some helpful humans, many of them are doing fine." (Daily Breeze, 5/6/2011)

"A driver on I-10 told the Humane Society of Louisiana he witnessed someone throw several kittens from a vehicle onto the highway, where they were struck and killed. [...] All of the kittens were immediately run over by moving vehicles." (WSDU, 7/11/2011)

Animal cruelty charges vary by state, but overall, they're not incredibly friendly. For example, the lady mentioned in the first story above faced up to a year in prison for burning/hanging her dog. Yet, despite the laws, these crimes consistently occur. So what's the problem? And, more importantly, what's the solution? Do we need tougher laws for animal abusers? Clearly a prison sentence, jail-time, fines, or a combination of the three isn't an effective deterrent.

When society understands the reasoning behind a law, the law is generally followed. If a speed limit sign in a school zone is posted at a low speed and school is in session, we could say that the majority of drivers wouldn't drastically exceed it; the law makes sense. Similarly, if a speed limit sign in a school zone is posted extremely high while school is in session, would it seem likely that drivers would follow it and risk possibly running down a child? Probably not. People drive at speeds they're comfortable with, regardless of posted signs.

Consider marijuana laws: though federally illegal, surveys reflect that the majority of Americans have at least experimented with the herb. This isn't because Americans are oblivious to the laws, but moreso related to them just collectively agreeing that it's their body, their choice, and the law is inherently ridiculous (pdf).

Animal rights laws can act as a deterrent against abuse, but what do they teach? These laws merely state: "if you harm an animal, you will be punished." If you act violent, you will have violence committed against you (forced jail, forced fines, prison abuse, etc). But ultimately, they fail to explain the reasoning behind why such laws seemingly must exist. There can be little doubt that the abuses mentioned earlier - and all related types - are abhorrent; however, if the hellacious, rapist-infested confines of a federal prison fail as an effective deterrent, what could possibly be the solution?

When a parent abuses his/her child, the reasoning behind this abuse isn't because the parent is simply unaware of the laws against child abuse. As research suggests, parents who abuse their children do so because they themselves were abused by their parents. Is the appropriate way of dealing with child abuse to inflict harsh punishments and stricter laws against it? Or would a more ideal, long-term solution be found through something along the lines of rehabilitation, as in helping the parent effectively deal with their troubled past and guiding them to work with their children through non-violent methods?

This same type of logic could be applied to animal welfare laws: if individuals were taught empathy, and were educated about animal cognizance, intelligence, and their shared capacity to suffer and experience pain as humans do, we would be more likely to see animal abuse decline drastically.

Putting laws on a societal problem such as animal abuse is akin to putting a bandage on a bleeding wound; in the short-term, it might stop the flow of blood, but eventually, the bandage will fall off and a new one - perhaps stronger - will be needed for the untreated wound.

Solving the problem of violence against animals with the coercive threat of more violence is not the answer. We do not need more laws and more regulation; we need more critical thinking, more open-mindedness, and a wider range of knowledge and discourse on the subject.

We will never end animal cruelty if we teach compassion at the barrel of a gun. The only practical, long-term solution is through the power of education.