A cautionary tail, er tale!

In an extraordinary decision, a jury in Marion County recently found a man not guilty of animal cruelty. The basic facts are not in dispute. The defendant amputated the tails of five one-month old kittens who belonged to another person. The law is also not in dispute. Florida statute 828.12 states:” A person who…unnecessarily mutilates..any animal… commits animal cruelty” .

I am hard pressed to view tail amputation in this instance as anything other than unnecessary mutilation. Indeed, a website hosted by a DVM who specializes in cats provides the following information:” The tail is an important part of the feline anatomy and is actually an extension of the spine. The bones of the tail (vertebrae) are bigger at the base and get smaller toward the tip. Soft discs cushion the spaces between the vertebrae and allow flexibility. The tail muscle and nerves facilitate tail movement and play a role in bowel control. This complex tail structure of bone, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels can easily be injured. “ Accordingly, save for a medical issue with a cat’s tail that should always be addressed by a licensed vet, the amputation in question certainly appears to meet the definition of cruelty to animals. On what basis, then, did the jury return a verdict of not guilty?

Only the jurors themselves can answer that question, of course, so in the absence of their clarifying statements we are left with conjecture. Here’s my guess—the jurors, similar to the defendant, are adherents of and acculturated to the philosophy of animal welfarism. That philosophy is simple and prevalent: animals are here for human use and amusement, and humans are obligated to treat animals only as humanely as is convenient to us. So if in my culture we always amputate tails of cats (as the defendant’s sister testified), and I poured Iodine in their open wounds (don’t try this at home!), that is acting humanely. After all, they’re only cats!

Let’s give the jury the benefit of the doubt and opine that, had the defendant cut off the ears or noses of the cats, or gouged out their eyes, or amputated their legs, the decision would have been different. Let’s hope so! Here’s the problem. Once you admit and allow any unnecessary harm as being humane, there is no stopping point. What is needed is a philosophy that not only prescribes any unnecessary harm to any animal, but one that pushes humans to cherish the lives of all animals, enhancing lives and avoiding harm at all costs. We need a philosophy that recognizes the worth and integrity of all life, that views all life as a miracle and that seeks to alleviate suffering and want wherever possible.

This philosophy is Schweitzer’s reverence for life, best articulated as:

“A man is ethical, only where life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellowmen, and where he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.”

Animals, especially domesticated animals that humans have caused to be bred, must be viewed as precious lives with a right to be here, with a right to expect human stewardship of their existence. We humans must alter our view of animals to one where we use our intelligence and organizational capacity to make animal lives, all lives, better, to enhance and promote life, and to work to alleviate and eliminate suffering wherever possible.

It is too late for the jury to overturn its verdict, and for the defendant, what’s done is done. The only thing left is to examine what happened and learn from it. Any culture that acquiesces in the slightest harm to animals must be modified, as that acquiescence inevitably leads to an acceptance of greater harm to animals as being the permissible norm. We see this today in our state where animals are bred for human caprice, often illegal, mistreated and then cast aside or killed when they no longer serve a human purpose.

From this day forward, may the jurors and defendant, may all of us view all harm to animals as something to be avoided at all costs, and may everyone, by the adoption of a reverence for life as an ethos, seek to remediate harm to animals and through our words and deeds help prevent future pain to innocent creatures. Their lives are in our hands—may we seek to serve them with compassion rather than subject them to brutality. The needless suffering of any creature diminishes me, for I am involved with life. Therefore never ask for whom the bell of accountability tolls, as it tolls for us all.

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