Population control is a powerful justification. If a species has outgrown its habitat, the population needs to be managed, lest the over-abundance of animals wreak havoc on the natural environment. And if that habitat wasn’t destroyed by the animals, but instead was converted into pools and condominiums, limiting the range of the animal, it seems that the solution remains the same.
I don’t intend to discuss the hypocrisy of population control as a whole just now. I bring it up, however, because the way in which it is done is of great concern. The problems with wolf hunts have been covered extensively in this blawg. Recently, their ranks of the persecuted have been joined by a perhaps unlikely bedfellow – hogs.
Citing environmental damage, Florida officials declared that the wild hog population is “out of control,” and the South Florida Water Management District has been trapping hogs over the last year. Trapping, apparently, is not working well enough or fast enough, and Sarasota county has decided that the better way to handle the problem is to send hunting dogs to take out the pigs. You can check out the news report, along with some clips of what this kind of hunt will look like, here. This is distinguishable from the hunts that lure hogs to the hunters to be shot, which is already common practice. This is further distinguishable from the hogs who are given to dogs purely for sport.
The complaint from many Sarasota county residents is that the hog hunt, even assuming it is necessary, is brutal and cruel. Though these hunts occur in other counties across the state, their legality has come under question. Before we get to the law, a quick pause to review what we are talking about; we have hogs who “tear up vegetation, they disturb the soil, and cause an immense amount of damage,” and who can’t be trapped quickly enough to satisfy the government because the hogs, as intelligent animals, have out-smarted many of the traps laid for them. This damage is the result of a natural suidae behavior called “rooting,” and it’s essential for their basic needs. As punishment for being hogs, these animals are going to be hunted with dogs who will basically maul them to death. Got it? Okay. (note: I realize that the native vs. exotic species issue in Florida already looms large. I’m side-stepping that facet of the argument today.)
I had the opportunity to read a letter to the County Commissioner regarding the legality of the hunt. I’m not sure who the author is, but the following passage raises some interesting questions:
“I urge the County Commission to reject the proposed hunts because the methods used are cruel
to the pigs, often fatal to the dogs, and dangerous to the humans involved.
Section 828.12 of the Florida Statutes defines “animal cruelty.” It states that: A person who
intentionally commits an act to any animal which results in the cruel death, or excessive or
repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, is guilty of a third degree felony. Under
this definition, It is a third degree felony to kick an animal. How is THIS hunt not? Is it because
of necessity? Is it because we honestly NEED to kill hogs in this way? Or is it just a little more
convenient than the alternatives?
You have just seen the video footage; this practice is the epitome of “unnecessary pain and
suffering.” The dogs used do not just track the pigs; they are trained to attack them. Did you see
the smiles on the hunters’ faces? Remember, people are paying to do this. This has nothing to
do with necessity—this is a blood sport, with the consequence of lowering the hog population.
Remember the images: Packs of dogs tearing into a pig’s flesh, mutilating it and causing
needless pain. This is to hold it in place while the human eventually catches up, and then
proceeds to stab the pig repeatedly, trying to find its heart. And this is the BEST CASE scenario.
In the worst cases, the dogs themselves get gored, maimed, and killed in the struggle. Not to
mention the danger of having humans in close-quarters knife combat with a wild animal.
Now, remember the language of the statute: 1) repeated infliction, 2) unnecessary pain, 3)
To be clear, the Florida Statutes allow the NECESSARY killing of animals, and I understand that
the hog population must be controlled. However, the method of killing must be humane, and
this is anything but humane. Even if this were the most effective way to kill wild pigs, pure
effectiveness is not the end-all-be-all of any regulatory scheme. Two of you are attorneys; I
know you understand this. I urge this Board to refuse to become accomplices to a practice
that should be prosecuted as a felony. No, none of you is likely to be prosecuted, or even
sued—qualified immunity takes care of that. But each of you is morally responsible for the
consequences of your decision.”
After reading this letter, I took a gander at some of the applicable laws. The first thing that struck me (though it’s really not surprising) is the very poor definition of “animal” for that cruelty statute. “The word ‘animal’ shall be held to include every living dumb creature.” Fla. Stat. § 828.2. How helpful. The hogs are pretty clever, but this should still include them, since they are traditionally “dumb” creatures. Now, one can get around “excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering” by killing animals in a humane manner. “Humane” isn’t defined, but I would venture that death by mutilation is not covered.
Floridians, of course, have a right to hunt under § 379.104 as part of their “cultural heritage.” In fact anyone who interferes with hunting by removing or frightening off game can be penalized. Game is defined as “all fresh and saltwater fish, shellfish, crustacea, sponges, wild birds, and wild animals.” So the animal cruelty statute prevents the cruelty to “all dumb animals,” but the hunting statutes allow for the hunting of “wild animals.” What the difference really is between the two, I am not sure.
The question remains whether the cruelty statute can prevent “unnecessary maiming” during a hunt, even if the killing is permitted. In Bartlett v. State, 929 So. 2d 1125 (2006), a Florida court of appeals decision, the court addressed the conflict between the two statutes in an instance where a possum was wounded several times with a BB gun. The court held, “We also write to observe that as section 828.12 is written, there is a potential tension between conduct criminalized by the statute and the lawful pursuit of hunting. Section 828.12 applies to even the unintended consequence of a lawful act. Thus, a hunter’s shot that only wounds an animal might lead the animal to suffer a ‘cruel death’ some time and distance from the initial shot. Under these circumstances, the hunter has violated section 828.12(2) by intentionally firing the shot that set the sad events in motion.” It added that the confusion needs to be addressed by the legislature, and suggested clarifying language, but that dicta has not yet been adopted.
Based on Bartlett, I gather that anyone who wants to challenge these hunts in Sarasota, or any county in Florida, would have a decent case that the hunts are in violation of the animal cruelty law, even if the action of hunting is protected. I’m very interested to see how this will work out if it goes to the courts. Hopefully, unlike with the bear hunts in New Jersey, legal action can be taken before the hunts commence. Population control is one thing. Doing it in a way that causes needless pain is another, and it’s something we should strive to eliminate and prevent.
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal law, animal rights, canned hunting, exotic animals, hunting | Tagged: animal abuse, animal cruelty, animal law, animal welfare, animals, dog hunting, exotic animals, florida, Florida hog hunt, hog hunts, hunting, Sarasota, Sarasota County, wild hogs |