I have been bitten by three dogs in my life.
The last time was about five years ago when I was walking home from work. I was crossing a field in the dark. A dog walker let her dog off the leash and it attacked me, biting me twice on the leg. To the alarm of the owner, I tried to kick the dog. I’d still like to kick that dog. Its name is Taba, medium build, reddish curly hair, a terrier cross.
But I probably wouldn’t kick it if I saw it again because the dog is unlikely to get the point that biting me is a bad idea. And I’m not angry anymore.
For the record, if I have to kick a dog to ensure my safety or the safety of others, I will do it. Domestic animals need to know their place. Humans are to be obeyed, not attacked, bitten or mauled. Depending on the circumstances, if I were a dairy farmer, I might kick a cow to get her to stand up when coaxing her didn’t work and chores were piling up. I might nudge her first with a boot. And when that didn’t work, I might give a kick.
But at what point is kicking a dog or kicking a cow illegal and when will it mean that I go to jail? A farm lawyer has said that a farmer caught hurting an animal is, in today’s climate, likely to get the same jail time as a man caught hurting another human being. I can understand why one man who flattens another man with a haymaker gets a three-month jail term. But it’s awfully hard to hurt a cow, even with a haymaker. I remember a young farmer, who a few years ago, couldn’t get his cow to move, so he punched it in the face and broke his hand. Lesson learned.
Animals are not human, not even close. Animals are locked into specific behaviour (instinct) in order to eat and breed. Humans have a tremendous capacity to choose and to change the environment around them. They have the capacity to love, invent and be courageous, to lead others to great things, and create conditions that allow animals to thrive and populate, protecting them from the savagery of Mother Nature. Not one animal has improved its environment in any lasting way. If it weren’t for humans, cows would be extinct. Humans see a higher purpose to their lives and the vast majority see a higher purpose in their destiny after death.
Equal punishment for hurting an animal or a human belittles the value of humans. In practice, no one treats animals as equals. Even animal advocates, who handle abandoned puppies and kittens, will euthanize them, if they can’t find them a home. Who dares even think of euthanizing a healthy six-year-old boy because we can’t find an adoptive parent?
Of course we should take good care of our animals. Of course animal abusers should face consequences. But we innately know that animals are different. I am all in for experiments that will lead to a cure for cancer, even if it means causing cancer in rats.
In the first Canadian case of animal cruelty involving dairy farm workers and a jail sentence, B.C. worker Travis Keefer got slapped with a seven-day jail sentence for his actions over a one-month period. He struck one cow three times on the hocks with a hard, rubber cane. On a second occasion, he struck a cow twice on the hocks. On another day, Keefer grabbed and pulled a cow’s udder, punched another cow and jabbed yet another cow in the face with a metal pole. He also twisted the tail of a cow until a popping sound was heard. That likely dislocated or broke the tail.
The case is being appealed but not by the defence. The Crown is seeking a harsher sentence, despite the fact that Keefer not only lost his job but is going to jail.
But Keefer is not a danger to society that he needs to be incarcerated. It’s his first conviction. He’s highly unlikely, knowing what now awaits, that he will ever recommit. A fine would have sufficed.
Most people are unaware that cows when attacked will act like they are not suffering to not appear weak to prey. With that in mind, it is easy to imagine that Keefer did not have a clear idea of how much suffering the cow underwent, even though what he did was cruel. But the Crown knows how much Keefer will suffer and would like him to suffer some more.
At the same time, I understand that laws change as society changes (and sometimes for the worse). In an alarming poll, 25 % of 2,500 Canadians surveyed in 2016 by the Centre for Food Integrity (formerly Farm and Food Care Canada) strongly agreed that animals should have the same rights as humans. That’s a significant number. As the centre’s director Crystal Mackay rightly noted: “It’s the vocal minority that often changes practices and policy.”
Farmers should always be concerned about the treatment of their livestock and they should not be above the law. But they need to ensure that their workers know what animal cruelty is. Otherwise, what a worker might think only causes a cow some discomfort, a judge might call a “disturbing image,” slapping a worker with jail time and the farmer with a big, fat fine. That might not be justice but it might become law.