Wrath

Seth Victor

            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.      Continue reading

U.S. v. Stevens, The Post-Mortem

David Cassuto

There’s little good here.  In Stevens, the Supreme Court struck down a law that aimed at and succeeded in curbing the market for crush videos and other animal mutilation.  To be fair, the law was seriously flawed.  But the Court’s analysis is worse.  However, the holding could have been worse still, so I am at least a little relieved as well as disappointed.

18 U.S.C. s. 48 banned depictions of cruelty “in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed” if that conduct violates federal or state law “where the creation, sale, or possession takes place.”  It exempted depictions possessing “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.” 

Mr. Stevens operated a website called “Dogs of Velvet and Steel.”   He marketed videos of dog fighting, of dogs attacking pigs, and other similar works.  One would be hard pressed to find any redeeming social value to his wares and the Court makes no attempt to do so.  In fact it spends very little time analyzing the law as it relates to Mr. Stevens.   It instead focuses on the law’s potential applications to other cases not currently before it.  As a result, the opinion runs far into the weeds.   Continue reading

The Sin of Pride

Seth Victor

I have kindly been invited by Prof. Cassuto to guest blawg for a week while he attends all-night parties in Ipanema furthers the efforts of international law in Brazil with ambition that never fails to make me feel lazy in comparison. For now I hope to interest you with a thematic series of posts. I am going to explore how animal law issues are based around the Seven Deadly Sins. The seven sins, or vices, are eerily applicable to the branches of animal law most often discussed. As always, the law can only change to the extent that it reflects the will of the people it governs. Change starts with individuals, and knowledge is the first step. With that in mind, permit me to dive into the first vice.

Pride

 Pride is the classic vice. It is the cause of many a Greek tragedy, and in the Judeo-Christian tradition it not only causes the division of heaven and hell, but is the consequence of eating from the tree of knowledge. Why is pride such a bad trait? Aren’t we encouraged to take pride in our work?

Pride becomes a problem in excess. Pride is a sin when love for oneself exceeds empathy for others. “Others” include animals. There is inherent pride in nearly every law, a pride in being human. The American legal system enforces the notion that you, simply by being human, should be and are more respected and valuable than any non-human. That is a whole discussion in itself. A more specific application of pride is vanity. How we look shouldn’t matter, or at least Saturday afternoon specials tell me as much. Yet the cosmetic industry is booming, and for every Lifetime movie, there are twelve teen magazines letting you know daily how much better looking you could be if you would just try a little harder, and oh yeah, buy this, it will help.

Animals bear the brunt of our vanity. You wouldn’t want to drop perfume in your eye to see if it is going to irritate you. Of course not. Luckily for you, rabbits are lining up by the thousands, ready to take the hit. By “lining up,” I mean being born into captivity and having no voice whatsoever in what happens to them.

The cosmetic industry, at least among the people I know, eludes the public eye in ways the other animal exploitation cannot. Unlike clothing or food, there is no obvious immediate connection between the product and the animal upon whom it was tested, and the consumer can easily be ignorant of the relationship. Because of this blindness it is essential that the laws governing animal testing be solid. Continue reading

U.S. v. Stevens — The Decision is In

David Cassuto

And the result is as expected.  The law goes the way off all things.  I shall have more to say on this shortly.

World Week for Animals — Making the Case Against Vivisection

David Cassuto

We´re in the middle of World Week for Animals, during which people the world over speak out against vivisection.

People often point to the need for animal experimentation to alleviate human suffering.  Putting aside the basic objection to torturing one sentient creature for the benefit of another, the premise lacks foundation.  Animal models have always been the path of least resistance.  To justifiably claim such experiments are necessary requires evidence that those seeking to carry out the experiments have unsuccessfully attempted to learn what they seek through other means.  Assuming the absence of other means, necessity would also require, at minimum, a good faith attempt to create one.  To date, precious little resources have been expended to create alternatives to animal experiments and, when such options exist, they are often ignored.    Continue reading

The Return of the Bully Pulpit — Obama´s Conservation Initiative

David Cassuto

Children in the United States spend about half as much time outside as their parents did.  Between 1995 – 2020, more land will be converted to housing in the Chesapeake Bay area than in the previous three and a half centuries.  Theodore Roosevelt is one of Barack Obama´s favorite presidents.  And President Obama will likely never shoot a bear.

This is some of the takeway from the launch of the president´s new conservation initiative — an admirable effort to cobble together a coalition of the willing to do something other than bomb other nations.  The idea is to bring federal and  state governments and the private sector together to encourage outdoor recreation, connect wildlife migration corridors and facilitate the sustainable use of private land.  In a time of little available $$ and dwindling public will, this seems like a useful way to refocus the national gaze on the natural world.  Particularly strategic (and true) is the argument that conservation initiatives create rather than cost jobs.     Continue reading

Cool Job Opening

David Cassuto

In case you’re looking…

Staff Attorney

Location: Washington, D.C.
Supervisor: Vice-President, Conservation Law

Position Description

This position is based in Defenders’ Washington, D.C. National Headquarters office and requires working knowledge of federal environmental and natural resources law and significant litigation experience. Primary emphasis is on litigating cases under federal wildlife and natural resources laws to conserve biological diversity, and helping to develop and advance Defenders’ conservation policies.

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