“States across the nation are making animal abuse a felony. Do you support this?” This was a video that was recently posted on a social media channel. The video featured images of sad and pathetic looking dogs and cats with some strange new age music as soundtrack. The group that posted the video was not an animal welfare group, but a web site with no contact information and a rather eclectic collection of videos most of which had nothing to do with animals. Nevertheless, several of my normally intelligent friends, who are also dog lovers, shared this video. The problem is the answer to the question posed should be “No.”
First of all, the question is misleading since all 50 states have some felony laws connected to animal cruelty. In most cases, you have to have repeat offenses or malicious intent to rate a felony conviction. Most cases of animal abuse are misdemeanors. Yet, animal activists are working hard to get this changed. Now let me state here and now that I am not condoning the mistreatment of animals; however, putting animal abuse on the same legal level as rape, murder, kidnapping, or child pornography is a slippery slope we should all be very careful about sliding down.
One of the fundamental premises of radical animal groups, such as HSUS, PETA, and MFA, is that animals and humans are equal and should be treated as such under the law. To these groups, a rat is a dog is a boy. My wife’s 8-year-old border collie gets fed his breakfast before I get my morning coffee. He spends most nights sleeping in our bed, actually in the middle of our bed, while my wife and I cling to the edges. However, he is not on the same level emotionally, ethically, morally, legally, or spiritually as our children or grandchildren. Yet, that is where making animal abuse cases felonies is leading.
Animal legal rights is a fast growing area of law. More and more law schools have classes for up and coming lawyers on animal law. Beginning in 2016, the FBI has started a national registry that tracks animal abuse crimes. This registry will be used to keep statistics on animal crimes and identify repeat offenders. What is especially scary here is that animal abuse is determined, in large part, in the eye of the beholder. In most cases, it is local law enforcement that investigates animal abuse cases; and, in most locations, these officers have had little if any training on what animal abuse is. To the untrained eye, industry standard farm animal husbandry may look like abuse.
Farm animals are considered domestic animals under the law, the same classification as dogs, cats, and other pets. In addition, new regulations from USDA are requiring specific living, feeding, and medical procedures for farm animals. Bureaucrats in Washington and your local county prosecutor may soon have a lot more to say about how you raise your livestock than you do. We in agriculture have a responsibility to stamp out animal abuse, but we also must protect our industry from those activist forces who would use concern for animals as a way of advancing their anti-farming agenda.
Am I in favor of making animal abuse a felony? No. Am I in favor of tough animal care laws enforced by trained local law enforcement? Yes. Don’t let your love of your pet send you down the slippery slope to animal activism.
By Gary Truitt