Several posts on this blawg have commented on the troubling reality underlying the legal status of animals, which is that so long as animals remain property under the law, any legal advances are only made in terms of animals’ relationships to humans, not for the sake of any inherent right to autonomy. I return to the issue briefly today because of an article I read Tuesday. It seems Room For One More, a no-kill shelter in nearby Hopatcong, NJ, no longer has room for any. Because they have lost their lease, the shelter must close down, and may euthanize some of the animals when it closes. Michelle Stymacks, the shelter’s operator, says, “Unfortunately, euthanizing them is a possibility. If we can’t place them, that’s the only other option.”
In a sadistic way, I would love to see NJ DYFS close, and have Christine Mozes report that while she hopes to find homes for all of the children, most of the adoption agencies are full, so they will have to resort to euthanization, as they have no room for them. On a less cynical note, the legal implications surrounding this article frustrate me. First of all, I personally think that there should be more safeguards in the law for non-profits when it comes to leases. Keeping this to animal concerns, this closure illustrates how baffling property status over animals can be. If you own a dog and decide to kill him via lethal injection administered by a veterinarian, the law will not stop you. If you find someone else’s dog on the street and decide to kill her via lethal injection, you will face legal consequences, but, as always, only to the extent that you have damaged the property rights of the dog’s owner. If you find that same dog on the street, however, and cannot readily ascertain an owner, the killing is once again permitted, no matter how many dogs and cats you kill. This is how we view shelters in this country.
Now I don’t mean to fully villify Room For One More; they have brought in animals from far worse conditions, and have done what they can to rehabilitate them. I also understand that when the money dries up, there is nowhere else to go, and releasing all of the animals into a world where they could not find food or shelter is cruel. I also believe that Stymacks is fully aware of the consequences of this action. What I do mean to villify is the way that even non-profit no-kill shelters must operate under the “animals as property” paradigm, and that therefore rescued animals are no more than found, abandoned property. Again, for all those who claim that this is a result of over-population of companion animals, that it is a necessary hardship, I ask you to think about how you would react if this were the same situation featuring abandoned infants.