Torture Hunting

Today on the ski lift, my seat mate told me about a hunting club that adjoins his property.  The club is comprised of people — all to the manner born — who get together to hunt animals and then not kill them.  For example, they “beagle,” which for them involves letting loose hunting beagles to flush and chase rabbits.  The humans, though, are just along for the chase.  They do not kill the rabbits that get flushed although sometimes “the beagles do get the rabbit.”  The club also stages other kinds of hunts none of which have as their aim the death of the animal pursued (despite the occasional casualty).

Both I and my seat mate found these practices very dismaying.  Yet, I’ve been thinking all day about why I find this practice at least as troubling as the type of hunting which involves killing.  Part of me bristles at the idea of toying with the animal (“if you’re going to hunt it, at least, kill it!”) but I recognize the irrationality of such feelings.  Certainly, from the animal’s perspective, it’s better to survive such encounters than the alternative.  So, why is this type of hunting so disturbing?

Perhaps it’s because it lacks any telos other than casual torment.  With the more typical kind of sport hunting (I here intentionally exclude hunting for food, which in my view requires an entirely different analysis), the purpose is to kill rather than torture.  The desire to torture is to my mind more disturbing and anti-social than the desire to kill.  So, I am just that much more unsettled by the fact that there are clubs devoted to its practice.

At least that’s my working hypothesis.

David Cassuto

Hoarding Babies, Hoarding Animals

Lolita Buckner Inniss (Cleveland-Marshall, Ain’t I a Feminist Legal Scholar, Too?, Visiting Prof at Pace Law School) and I have posted to SSRN our essay, Multiple Anxieties: Breaching Race, Class and Gender Norms With Assisted Reproduction.  The essay is about is about misplaced attention on women’s bodies.  Focusing on Nadya Suleman, the California woman who gave birth to octuplets in January, we explore socio-legal anxieties about gender, race, class and geography.  To theorize about the increasing availability of reproductive technology is to uncover a deep ambivalence about “choice” as it applies to women and their bodies.

The public reacted strongly and negatively to the Suleman’s story.  How could anyone have octuplets?  And how could anyone have octuplets when they already have six other children?  “She must be crazy,” the internet commentators suggested.

There is a way in which Suleman is being read as kind of “collector” or “hoarder” of children, the way some people hoard animals.  Animal hoarding is characterized (here) by The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium by the presence of these criteria:

  • More than the typical number of companion animals
  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling

As I read the negative criticism of Suleman, the outcry comes not only from the fact she has “more than the typical number” of children, but also that she seems to lack an independent (i.e., non-government) source of financial support for the children’s “nutrition, sanitation, shelter” and medical care.  In interviews, Suleman presents as a calm and “beatific” presence, as if she is in some kind of denial about her ability to care for the children.

In our essay (full version here) Professor Inniss and I attempt to unpack the “multiple anxieties” that Suleman’s story has exposed.  Some of those anxieties are about race and class.  If a wealthy person has “more than the typical number” of children (or companion animals, for that matter) how likely are they to be read as a (crazy) hoarder?  Not very likely, is my guess.  With both children and companion animals, the wealthy can outsource the work to paid caretakers.  The wealthy are more likely to live in larger residences.  This in turn reducing the immediate negative impact of the presence of many children (or animals) on other occupants of the dwelling.  Plus the wealthy have permission to be “eccentric.” Middle-class and poor people who exhibit the same behaviors are “crazy.”

I do not wish to suggest that having 14 children or companion animals is normatively good or even wise.  But I do think we should be explicit about the biases that we bring to a determination of some idealized, “typical” (read: acceptable) number of children or animals.

-Bridget Crawford

A Time for Every Purpose Under the Sun

September is Hispanic Heritage Month.  October is Gay and Lesbian History Month.  November is American Indian Heritage Month and Hire-a-Veteran Month (in Massachusetts). January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and Financial Wellness Month.  February is Black History Month and National Weddings Month.  March is Women’s History Month and Irish-American Heritage Month. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Haitian Heritage Month.  June is Celibacy Awareness Month and National Safety Month.  July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month and National Vehicle Theft Protection Month.  August is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Psoriasis Awareness Month.

Vegetarians?  “Meat-Free Month” is right now — March (more info here).

-Bridget Crawford

Large Eggs, Small Eggs, No Eggs

David Cassuto

This article about how the British Free Range Egg Producers Association encourages consumers to eat smaller eggs has been getting a fair amount of play (including this post at Feminist Law Professors).  The producers note that (for obvious biological reasons) it is harder and more painful for a hen to lay a large egg than a small or medium sized one.

One could hardly quibble with the notion that laying large eggs causes more stress to the hen.  It bears emphasizing, however, that this recommendation comes from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.  Whatever one thinks of the efficacy of free range (some varying views, here, here and here), both in the US and abroad, the practice has at its goal a less stressful environment for the hens (though it still involves the mass killing of male chicks).  If one is consuming factory farmed eggs, the size of the eggs doesn’t matter a whit.  The hens that lay the eggs live in battery cage hell for as long as it takes for them to become utterly spent, following which they get discarded like garbage (except that there are so many of them it has created a disposal problem).  Worrying about egg size when the animals endure conditions whose cruelty defies the imagination is like worrying about a blood blister on a sucking chest wound.

Why is murdering a human being worse than wrongfully killing a nonhuman animal?

Killing an animal in violation of anti-cruelty statutes is universally punished less severely than murdering a human being. Is this practice morally justifiable? I believe it is. In order to understand why, we must transcend the “sentience argument”. Both animal welfare and animal rights advocates believe that the rights/interests of animals stem from the fact that they’re sentient beings. Animals should be protected from torture, for example, because they can feel pain. Given that causing pain is the paradigmatic instance of wrongful conduct, society should criminalize unjustifiably inflicting pain on animals.

The sentience argument cannot explain why killing a human being is prima facie more wrongful than killing a nonhuman animal. Since both human and nonhuman animals have the capacity to feel pain, it would seem that harming them is equally wrongful. What, then, accounts for the generalized intuition that murder is worse than wrongfully killing an animal? In my opinion, what typically entitles humans to more protection than nonhuman animals is that they possess morally relevant traits that animals lack – a capacity for self-consciousness and an acute awareness of the future.

These traits matter because beings that are self-aware and have a sense of the future are more prone to suffering than creatures lacking these features. Self-conscious beings, for example, fear death not only because of the possible pain that the process of dying might cause, but also because of the suffering that having advanced knowledge of one’s demise might cause (think of the suffering of a prisoner in death row who agonizes when he contemplates his future death). Furthermore, since self-conscious beings that are aware of the passage of time make plans for the future, killing them entails not only terminating their existence, but also taking from them the possibility to fulfill their plans and aspirations. Killing beings lacking these characteristics does not harm them in the same way. Given that they have no awareness of the future, they are not conscious of the significance of their death. Since they lack the ability to plan for tomorrow, they have no sense of the meaning of death or of what they lose by not waking up the next morning.

I acknowledge that some animal law advocates may object to my proposal because it might be interpreted to afford rights depending on the degree of similarity that exists between nonhuman creatures and human beings. In spite of this possible criticism, the view I propose here should not be rejected as speciesist because the distinctions drawn here are not grounded on the basis of the being belonging to a particular species, even if it is claimed that some species deserve more protection than others. Ultimately, the amount of legal protection is dependent on the being’s capacity for self-consciousness and awareness of the future, not its belonging to a particular species. The fact that human beings typically share those traits is beside the point, for what really matters is the traits, not the species.

Luis Chiesa

Simon B. Smith on “Constance May Bienvenue: Animal Welfare Activist to Vexatious Litigant”

Simon B. Smith (Monash – Australia) has posted to SSRN his 2007 article, “Constance May Bienvenue: Animal Welfare Activist to Vexatious Litigant.”  Here is the abstract:

Constance May Bienvenu (1912-1995) was a passionate animal welfare activist. She was also the fifth person declared as a vexatious litigant by the Victorian Supreme Court (1969) and the first woman declared by the High Court (1971). In the 1960s Bienvenu led a reform group that challenged for control of a conservative RSPCA (Victoria). Though unsuccessful, there were significant consequences from the legal challenges. This article explores the passion and extraordinary determination of Bienvenu and her supporters. It traces the responses of a conservative RSPCA and its legal advisers struggling to maintain the status quo and notes the unintentional consequences of involving the legal system in community disputes. Finally, by tracing Bienvenu’s determination to secure substantive reform, this article demonstrates the challenge self represented activism presents to a legal system more comfortable with arcane procedures and legal form.

The full article is available here. Animal welfare activist and “vexatious litigant”? I look forward to reading learning about her by reading this piece.

-Bridget Crawford

From the Mailbag: An Action Alert

NYLHV E-News & Action Alerts


Ringling whistleblower Tom Rider speaking at press conferenceThe New York League of Humane Voters will hold a press conference outside of Madison Square Garden (33rd and Seventh Avenue) on March 24th at 12pm.  The press conference will happen less than twelve hours after Ringling Brothers parades wild animals through the streets of Manhattan prior to their annual stay at Madison Square Garden. NYLHV’s John Phillips will discuss the status of Intro. 389 with the media and share how New Yorkers can ensure this is the last year that wild animals appear in the circus in NYC. Please attend and show your support for this important legislation!On March 30th, join New York League of Humane Voters staff and friends at Counter Vegetarian Bistro (105 First Avenue) in the East Village for a night of drinks, food and fun to celebrate a week of educated activism for circus animals. The event at Counter is a great way to catch up on the progress of the bill and learn what you can do to help. Counter Bistro has generously agreed to donate 20% of the evening’s sales to NYLHV. Come early for drinks and stay for dinner.

NYLHV needs your support to get this important bill passed and end the use of elephants and other wild animals in New York City circuses.