I did not intend to include wrath as the second sin, though according to Dante I am already out of order by putting pride first. In light of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Stevens, I feel that this post is timely.
Wrath is a terrible vice in the context of animal-human relationships. Wrath isn’t simply rage or force, a knee-jerk reaction at a perceived slight. This isn’t the classic “heat of the moment” response to seeing your spouse in bed with another lover. Wrath has a cool down period, a time to contemplate feelings, but instead of cooling down, those feelings grow into hatred, revenge, and a desire to punish. Wrath is a very conscious and intended vice, and for that reason it is a very human one.
I am not claiming that other species are exempt from wrath, especially those species that share the same capacity for higher thinking as humans do. Why wrath is so dangerous in the animal-human context is that while other species may possibly carry out premeditated violence, only humans find it necessary to subjugate a number of other species and vent their wrath on countless animals who have no inclination to return the punishment. The ASPCA and HSUS have documented hundreds of cases against a variety of animal victims of varied species. Dogs may be the most commonly abused of them all.
There is something about dog abuse that strikes a chord with the general population. Average citizens who are normally indifferent about animal issues will rally around the plight of abused dogs. Casual animal rights advocates will lament the condition of a kennel in disrepair, while in the same breath order a double-patty cheeseburger with bacon. Why is this? I think it is because dogs are able to abide by the maxims we are taught as children better than any of us are able to do. They treat you as they would want to be treated. Mark Twain, an animal rights advocate, says it best, writing, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” Can anyone reading this honestly say they have met an Irish Setter who didn’t have a smile on his face? Ignore a dog for hours, and he is still ecstatic to nuzzle you if you have a bad day. It is not surprising that people are so appalled by abuse against an animal that embodies so many of the sympathetic qualities we admire.
Yet it persists. Awareness of dog abuse increased in 2007 when Michael Vick was arrested for the dog fighting ring he ran out of his house, but everyone from the prosecutor to the reporters knew that his operation was only the exposed tip of the iceberg. So much abuse goes unrecorded. In certain company it is socially acceptable to kick or beat a dog if you are annoyed with your day, your life, or the weather. Maimed dogs are common place in shelters. Pit bulls have become the poster children of dog fighting, a sport that glorifies savage behavior for the gratification of base and senseless violence satisfied vicariously through the suffering of others. These are no ultimate fighting matches, where the participants are fighting consensually. These are victims, raised in a world of neglect and loneliness, literally fighting for their lives. This abuse is all deferred and misplace wrath. Did a dog verbally berate you a work today? No, but dwell on it for a while, maybe pick up a wrench and take Spot out back, and it all works out, right? Better yet, rent the best fights on DVD and watch them at Justice Roberts’s house. It’s your American right.
The good news is that this is the area of animal law that is receiving the most press, and the one that has the most potential for immediate improvement. While a vegan lifestyle is daunting to many people, law preventing the violent exploitation of domestic animals is a prospect most can accept. Wanton animal abuse receives attention in the media, and forty-seven states treat at least some form of animal abuse as a felony. Dog fighting is a felony in all fifty states.
The trouble I have with this vice is its prevalence. Violence is so engrained in our society, and kids are taught from a very early age, be it through a parent or Looney Tunes, that violence is not only okay, but also sometimes funny. Wrath is consuming and destructive. Laws prohibiting violence against humans that carry much graver penalties than those that protect domestic animals are still only able to deter, but not fully prevent, people from submitting other to their wrath. Stronger animal protection is paramount because animals are voiceless, and they suffer in the dark. At the risk of repeating myself, we as a society must remain vigilant and carry the recent momentum for animal protection to our legislators. If the laws command greater punishment for those who chose to harm animals, perhaps abusers will think twice, and maybe invest in a martial arts class instead of a puppy.
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal law, animal welfare Tagged: | animal abuse, animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal law, animal suffering, animal welfare, ASPCA, Dante, dog fighting, HSUS, Mark Twain, Michael Vick, pets, pit bulls, seven deadly sins, U.S. v. Stevens, wrath