Taxing Veterinary Care

Interesting story on NPR (read and listen here) about Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed plan to levy a 9% tax on veterinary care as part of an overall plan to close California’s $41 billion budget gap.  The proposal has raised concern that it will price veterinary care out of the reach of many Californians.  As a result, many animals will face abandonment or euthanization.  H.D. Palmer, of California’s Department of Finance noted that veterinary care is not being singled out; the state also plans to tax  auto and appliance repair, golf fees, sporting events and amusement parks such as Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm.

There is no denying that California’s budget crisis is real and that the state faces some hard choices.  Nonetheless, I look forward to the day when medical care for sentient, feeling creatures is not a line item comparable to greens fees or trips to Disneyland.

dnc

NY State Bar Association Student Animal Law Writing Competition

I just received notice of this student writing competition sponsored by the New York State Bar Association (check out their Committee on Animals and the Law).  It’s notable both because it’s a great opportunity for law students and also because 10 years ago, a student writing competition on animal law sponsored by a bar association likely never would have happened.

dnc

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE
2009 NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION’S
SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ANIMALS AND THE LAW
STUDENT WRITING COMPETITION
The Special Committee on Animals and the Law of the New York
State Bar Association is very pleased to announce the Second
Annual Student Writing Competition. The deadline for submission
is June 15, 2009.
The Special Committee on Animals and the Law was established to
provide information resources for the New York State Bar
Association’s members and the public about non-human, animal
related humane issues, which arise from and have an effect upon
our legal system. This competition seeks to foster legal scholarship
among law students in the area of animals and the law. This
competition provides law students with an incentive and
opportunity to learn more about this area of law.
Law students (which include J.D., L.L.M., Ph.D., and S.J.D.
candidates) are invited to submit to the Special Committee on
Animals and the Law an article concerning any area of animal law.
All submissions will be reviewed by a panel of attorneys and other
professionals practicing or otherwise involved in animal law. The
winner will be chosen in accordance with the attached rules. The
first place winner will receive $1,000 and a certificate of
achievement. The second place winner will receive $500 and a
certificate of achievement.

Uncoupling Circuses and Cruelty

If you follow the news and care about such things, then you know that the long-awaited circus trial has begun.  In brief, Ringling Bros. circus must defend against charges that its use and (mis)treatment of exotic animals in its care violates the Endangered Species Act.  Plaintiffs include the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Fund for Animals.  Among the acts alleged to violate the law include using of bullhooks to “train” elephants to perform stunts that have absolutely nothing to do with their typical behavior, chaining them continuously when they are not performing, depriving them of natural habitat and adequate exercise, and more.  Some of the activities that the circus argues constitute necessary training or discipline seem just plain vicious. A verdict against the circus would be a huge legal victory, with significant changes in the way animals are used in travelling entertainment shows almost certain to follow.  Read more about the trial and accompanying issues here, here, here and lots of other places as well.

I have not blogged extensively about the trial in part because it is so well-covered elsewhere.  However, the issue of circus animal treatment has been around for a long time and it would be nice if the media’s gaze could expand to include some of the anti-cruelty efforts going on at the local and grass-roots levels.  For example, last week, I met with the Committee to Ban Wild & Exotic Animal Acts – a group comprised of people in the Westchester community lobbying for legislation that would bar businesses using wild and exotic animals in their performances from county facilities.  This group and others like it, both in Westchester and elsewhere, have had some significant legislative successes (including ordinances in the towns of Greenburgh, NY, Stamford CT, and Quincy, MA).

People working at the local level often face hostility and/or indifference from their friends and neighbors, and their work–even when successful–goes unheralded.  That’s too bad.  Like most institutionalized animal abuse, exotic animal acts are market-dependent. Without venues in which to perform, companies devoted to such endeavors cannot long survive.  People like those in the Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts are working to starve the beast of animal exploitation.  Regardless of the trial’s outcome, such groups deserve our attention and support.

dnc

Update: Check out this article on two of the members of the Committee and their efforts on behalf of the circus animals.

Blogging from the Animal Moot

I blog from Cambridge, MA, where tomorrow the National Animal Law Moot Court Competition begins.  I have the honor of participating as a judge – something I have done for each of the last 5 years.  This year’s competition is sponsored by Lewis & Clark Law School’s Center for Animal Law Studies in collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).  It is hosted (as it has been since its inception) by Harvard Law School’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF).  Law schools from all over the country will participate – a testament to the growing recognition of animal law as a legal discipline as well as to student interest in the field.  For the final round, Judges D. Brooks Smith of the 3rd Circuit, Susan P. Graber of the 9th Circuit and Lee H. Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas will preside.

I’m delighted to report that Pace Law School will field teams in both the moot court and the closing argument competition for the second consecutive year.  Go teams!  My rooting interest aside (and, of course, I will not judge any rounds in which Pace is involved), this competition routinely features some of the best student advocacy it has ever been my privilege to witness.  This year will no doubt produce more of the same.

The moot problem involves the applicability of the federal 28 Hour Law (requiring that no animal be transported for more than 28 hours without food, water or rest) to chickens.  This is a live issue; a number of federal laws, including the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Animal Welfare Act exclude birds from their coverage and the legislative history of the 28 Hour Law offers little clarity on the matter.  Another issue centers on whether the 28 Hour Law preempts state anti-cruelty statutes for animals involved in interstate transport.  It’s an interesting set of issues that require advocates to grapple both with the stark, unlovely reality of the animal transport industry and with the law’s apparent indifference to same.

dnc

Why is it a Crime to Have Sex with an Animal?

As of 2001, engaging in sex with an animal was considered a crime in 23 states. The legitimacy of criminalizing such conduct is unclear. It could be argued that bestiality is a victimless crime that is made criminal solely because a majority of the population believes that such conduct is immoral. If so, the criminalization of bestiality would run afoul of a foundational principle of liberal political theory – John Stuart Mill’s harm principle. According to the harm principle, the state may only criminalize conduct in order to prevent harm to others.

Are there additional reasons justifying the criminalization of bestiality?

Some animal advocates have suggested that having sex with animals should be prohibited for the same reasons that justify making it a crime to engage in sexual intercourse with a child. Thus, Gary Francione has stated that:

“Even if animals can desire to have sexual contact with humans, that does not mean that they are “consenting” to that contact any more than does a child who can have sexual desires (or who even initiates sexual contact) can be said to consent to sex.”

This argument can be restated as follows:

(1) It is wrong for a person to engage in sexual intercourse with a living being that is incable of consent,

(2) Animals, like children, are incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse,

(3) Therefore, it is wrong to engage in sexual intercourse with an animal.

The problem with this argument is that it’s unclear whether the analogy between animals and children holds in this context. While (some) animals and children are similar in many ways (chimps perform as well as 2 ½ year old toddlers on some learning tests), I’m not sure that their capacity for consenting to sexual intercourse is one of them.

One of the reasons why we criminalize having sex with a minor is because we know that children are frequently traumatized as a result of sexual encounters. We also know that human beings are often unable to understand the physical, emotional and economic consequences of having sex before they reach a certain age. These concerns seem inapplicable in the context of sexually mature animals. If an animal routinely engages in sexual intercourse with members of its same species, why is it necessarily wrong for a human animal to engage in (non-forcible) intercourse with a sexually mature animal of a different species?  It would seem odd to claim in such cases that the sexual act may traumatize the nonhuman animal. It would also seem strange to suggest that it’s wrong to have sex with the nonhuman animal because he is unable to appreciate the physical, emotional and economic consequences of engaging in sexual intercourse. There is no reason to believe that having sex with a human causes more physical and/or emotional pain to an animal than engaging in sexual intercourse with a nonhuman animal.

Francione has also suggested that it’s wrong to engage in sexual intercourse with an animal because “bestiality is a phenomenon that occurs largely within the unnatural relationship of domestication; a domestic animal can no more consent to sex than could a human slave.” I’m not sure that Francione’s analogy between slavery and domestication holds. Many animal advocates believe that having pets is morally acceptable. In any case, Francione’s argument cannot explain why it is a crime to have sex with a non-domesticated animal.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating for the decriminalization of bestiality. Rather, I wish to spark a debate about the reasons that justify sending a person to jail for more than ten years for having non-forcible sex with an animal.  If we are going to lock someone up for a decade, we ought to at least be able to coherently and persuasively explain why it is legitimate to do so.  

Luis Chiesa