Bob Barker: Animal Law Sugar Daddy

Bob Barker, of The Price is Right fame, has just donated $1 million to the University of Virginia to underwrite an Animal Law Program there.  This is in addition to $1 million he has already given to Harvard, Duke, UCLA, Northwestern, Georgetown and Stanford respectively (rumor has it that Yale turned him down).  While Barker may not necessarily be the first person to pop to mind as most likely to fund animal law studies, he has long been active in animal advocacy.  Price is Right fans will remember his vocal opposition to fur and his advocacy of spay/neuter programs.

It is a wonderful thing he’s doing.  I hope he inspires others to get involved and that $$ continue to find their way to Animal Law Programs at other insitututions all across this great land.

David Cassuto

Arne Naess: 1912-2009

I have written and will continue to write about the overlap between animal and environmental issues (and the laws such issues spawn) but what I have not yet done and now will belatedly do is acknowledge my intellectual debt to Arne Naess, who died this past Monday at the age of 96.  Naess was the architect of Deep Ecology, a system of biotic egalitarianism which urges us to “live as if nature mattered.”

Naess, a Norwegian philosopher, believed “the right of all forms [of life] to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified.   No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species.”

Read his obituary here and more about him here.

He will be missed.

David Cassuto

Why is it a crime to stomp on a goldfish?

The Mississippi Law Journal just published my article titled “Why is it a Crime to Stomp on a Goldfish: Harm, Victimhood, and the Structure of Anti-Cruelty Offenses”, 78 Miss. L. J. 1 (2008). It’s now available on Westlaw and Lexis. Also, a final draft completed before law review editing can be downloaded from ssrn here. Here’s the abstract:

In the article it is argued that, contrary to what prominent animal law scholars such as Gary Francione claim, we have decided to criminalize harm to animals primarily because we are concerned about the wellbeing of such creatures, not because doing so furthers some other human interest. I do so in four parts.

Part I provides a brief historical analysis of animal cruelty laws that will show that, although many of these statutes were originally enacted as a way to protect private property, there has been a marked trend, specially in recent times, to punish animal cruelty regardless, and some-times despite, the property interests involved.

In Part II, the notions of harm, victimhood and consent will be explored in order to lay the groundwork for the claims that will be put forth in the remainder of the article. In light of the issues that animal cruelty statutes raise, particular attention will be paid to discussing John Stuart Mill’s and H.L.A. Hart’s conception of the harm principle.

Part III examines five different theories that might be advanced in order to explain the interest that we seek to promote by punishing acts that are harmful to animals, namely: (1) protection of property, (2) protection against the infliction of emotional harm to those who have ties to the injured animal, (3) prevention of future harm to humans, (4) enforcement of a moral principle, and (5) protection of the animals themselves.

In Part IV, I will try to explain why it is not necessarily the case, as many animal law scholars have argued, that because animal cruelty statutes allow for the infliction of harm to animals as a result of hunting, scientific and farming activities, the interest primarily sought to be protected by these laws is something other than the protection of animals. This argument is ultimately flawed because it is premised on a misunderstanding of the structure of criminal offenses in general and of anti-cruelty statutes in particular. Properly understood, the existence of privileges that allow people to infringe the prima facie norm against harming animals merely reveals that society (rightly or wrongly) believes that there are countervailing reasons that justify harming the interest sought to be protected by the offense, not that the prohibitory norm was not really designed to protect animals in the first place.

Luis Chiesa

Women, Animals, and Advertising

Very interesting thread at the always intriguing Feminist Law Professors blog discussing the images below and asking whether they are “Mocking Sexism or Mocking Feminism?”

The text in both ads (for Eram, a French shoe company) says (more or less): “No women’s bodies were exploited in this ad.”

Given the parallels noted by many scholars between the exploitation of animals and the exploitation of women (perhaps most insightfully by Carol Adams in The Sexual Politics of Meat), I wonder why the use and abuse of animals in and out advertising has not come up in the discussion.  The irony and controversy embedded in the statement that no women’s bodies were exploited in the making of the ad stems from the juxtaposition of the cross-dressing beefcake shot (a loaded term from an animal perspective) and the ostrich wearing boots likely made from others of its kind.  The subtext, as I read it, is that multiple animals were exploited in the making of the ad but that’s okay because it’s funny and feminists should lighten up.  Is it really ok?  And why would that be funny?

–David Cassuto

The Super Slam: Ethics and the Trophy Hunt

It has been a busy news cycle.  Our economy continues to tank, the conflict in Gaza continues to rage, an unarmed man lying face down in police custody in Oakland is shot dead.  The list goes on.  Much other news, both good and bad, permeates the airwaves, print, and ether.

Faced with all this, I turn to the sports pages of the NY Times for a little distraction and find this story about a group of bow hunters whose goal is to kill 29 North American species.  It used to be 28 but just last summer the Pope and Young Club (the keeper of records relating to this quest) announced the inclusion of the Tule Elk, bringing the grand total to 29.  Killing all 29 is known as the North American Super Slam.

The Times story breathlessly relates the way the men (they seem always to be men) stalk the animals.  One of the hunters profiled described it as “a personal goal” of his to “harvest all 28 species… now 29.”  Those pursuing the Super Slam must adhere to a rigid code of conduct.  Among other things, they cannot kill an animal helpless in a trap, in deep water or snow and they cannot shoot from powered vehicles or boats, use night lights, tranquilizers, poisons.  They seek intimacy: “That’s the advantage of bow hunting,” according to a surgeon from Anchorage.  “You’re forced by the equipment you’ve chosen to spend more time with the animal.”

The code seems to contain a normative component – one cannot kill an animal in a non-sporting way.  Yet nowhere in this code, which encourages people to kill 29 different animals, is there any discussion about whether the killing itself has any moral relevance.  I find this curious.  A code mandating that one not kill animals in certain ways would seem to require antecedent consideration about whether it is right to kill the animals at all.  Certainly, no necessity exists here (one of the hunters interviewed estimated that he had spent over $400,000 pursuing the Slam).  The term “harvest” seems misplaced since the animals do not get eaten.  The entire point of the endeavor (other than fueling the taxidermy industry) appears to revolve around killing for no other reason than fun.  This raises some pressing moral questions.

I believe it safe to assume that Slam seekers would agree that the animals they hunt are sentient (otherwise, why the code of conduct?).  They would probably also agree that the animals can experience fear and suffer.  Why then would it be ethically neutral to kill them for no other reason than fun?  Does the infliction of unnecessary pain and/or ending the existence of these animals rate no consideration at all?   If so, why does the Pope and Young Club call itself a “conservation” organization?  What does it hope to conserve and why?

The club’s mission statement declares that it is dedicated to “protect[ing] the future of our bowhunting heritage” (parsing that little syntactical chestnut must wait for another day…) as well as the “conservation and welfare of habitat and wildlife.”  Should we infer then that the club views bowhunting as the sole reason for conserving nature?  And does sponsoring a quest to kill dozens of animals dovetail with a conservation ethic even thus described?

The ethics page of the P&Y website offers no answers to these questions.  It quotes Aldo Leopold’s adage that “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers.”  The P&Y page does not mention that Leopold also said: “[T]o acquire a reputation for killing limits is a doubtful compliment, at best.”

Leopold believed that “think[ing] like a mountain” involves understanding that animals exist for purposes other than hunting fodder.  Most memorably, he declared that: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  In the aggregate, I read Leopold to be saying that hunting has a place in the scheme of things but that killing for its own sake or purely for fun seems per se wrong no matter the species of the victim.

For my part, I would add that writing a puff piece about the people who do it seems little better.  And that leads me to a related issue currently awaiting cert before the Supreme Court and about which I will post in the near future: Are depictions of animal cruelty protected speech?  Stay tuned.

David Cassuto

Switzerland Sets The Bar High by Expanding Animals’ Rights

On September 1, a new law went into effect in Switzerland, which greatly advances the rights of numerous species. The law is receiving plenty of attention around the world, with the media marveling at how far out on a limb Switzerland has gone.

Under the new law, wild fish, guinea pigs, domesticated horses, dogs and fish, and farmed pigs, sheep and goats are benefiting from regulations which, among other things, stipulate that:

• Prospective dog owners must pay for and complete a course on how to properly care for a dog
• Anglers must complete a course on more humane methods for catching fish
• Farmers may not tether horses, sheep or goats
• Farmers may not keep cows and pigs on hard surfaces
• Goldfish owners may not flush the fish down toilets, and aquariums for all fish must allow for realistic light cycles and not be transparent on all sides
• Any animal classified as a “social species” (this includes guinea pigs, goldfish and many other species traditionally kept as pets) must have contact with other members of its species

The article cited above quotes the head of the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office as stating that the reason for the law is two-part: to “ensure treatment of animals appropriate to each species, [and] also to decrease the risk of attacks by dangerous dogs [because] inappropriate treatment could lead to behavioural [sic] disorders.”

-Suzanne McMillan

Institute for Critical Animal Studies

I have recently become aware of an academic program called the Institute for Critical Animal Studies. Based in Syracuse, NY, its website ( states that it is “the first interdisciplinary scholarly center dedicated to promoting critical scholarly dialogue and research on the principles and practices of animal advocacy, animal protection, and animal-related policies in the fields of social sciences and humanities.”

The website also has links to a journal and an annual conference.  The Institute is calling for submissions for an upcoming conference. The following is information I received by email:

7th Annual
for Critical Animal Studies

Call For

Transforming Higher Education Into an Ethical Space and Place for Learning
Saturday April 25, 2009
Yale University
Hosted by:
Yale Affiliates Animal Rights Network
Co-Sponsored by:
Ecopedagogy Association International
Institute for Critical Animal Studies
Transformative Studies Institute
University of Connecticut Vegan Huskies
Wooden Man Records
Outdoor Empowerment
Hartford Food Not Bombs
Hog River Collective

We welcome proposals from all community members, including but not limited to nonprofit organizations, political leaders, activists, professors, and students. We are especially interested in topics such policy reform and activism in higher education in relation to critical animal studies, animal rights, and/or animal liberation. We are also interested in reaching across the disciplines and movements of environmentalism, education, poverty, feminism, LGBTQA, animal advocacy, globalization, prison abolition, prisoner support, disability rights, indigenous rights/sovereignty, and other peace and social justice issues. Paper presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length.

We are receptive to different and innovative formats, including, but not limited to roundtables, panels, community dialogues, theatre, and workshops. You may propose individual or group ‘panel’ presentations, but please clearly specify the structure of your proposal. Preference will be given to papers focusing on the program theme, linking environmental and nonhuman animal advocacy.

Please send proposals or abstracts for panels, roundtables, workshops, or paper presentations no more than 500 words. Please send with each facilitator or presenter a 100 maximum word biography.

The Deadline for Submissions is March 1, 2009

Accepted presenters will be notified by e-mail by March 15, 2009

Please send proposals, abstracts, and biographies electronically to:
Deric Shannon
Conference Director

-Suzanne McMillan