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Sun, Nov. 17

Animal rights, the moral side

Courtesy photo<br>Tillie, the killer whale.

Courtesy photo<br>Tillie, the killer whale.

We left our last article trying to balance the animal rights issue between moral, ethical, economic and religious values. We might concern ourselves with the moral issues first. This has to do with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character. This issue concerns itself with human to animal interaction.

Simply said, it is how humans should treat animals. We are most familiar with these issues concerning animals in our care and includes both domestic and wild animals. To further clarify, the animals in our care would include those under private care (pets and livestock), and those in institutions (research, zoos, sanctuaries, and aquarium parks).

The issue of protecting an animal against suffering in these two groups at first glance seems simple. But we soon find further clarification is needed. Someone must be in charge of actively performing the protection. How we treat the animals under the direct supervision of humanity constitutes a consideration for defining those animals as property. In this country we do consider most of the animals in these two groups as property.

Most of us do agree that giving our pets the necessities of life such as food, water, shelter and companionship seems to be the right thing to do. And protecting the animals in our care against unwarranted physical abuse from humans also is necessary. Without granting animals the same rights as humans we already have laws in place to cover these very issues. Considering animals as property also gives an owner the right to protection under the law against someone stealing or poaching the pet or livestock. Where the problem lies is in how far we take the law in legally defining what "protection against suffering" should include.

California, for example, has a law dealing with the length of time a dog can be tethered in the duration of a day. Tethering dogs for long periods of time with limited human contact has ended in tragic accidents and even death for some pets. And some dogs tend to get aggressive under the confining conditions of tethering. This becomes problematic when calculating what a reasonable amount of tethering time should be in conjunction with trying to enforce that law. A dog could get hurt in 15 minutes as well as five days. It is more often the circumstances surrounding the tethering that causes the accidents.

On the other hand, keeping a dog tied up so it does not run off and find its way into traffic might be a good idea. So should all cases where tethering is involved be considered suffering?

Interestingly enough there has been no dealing with the issue of exercise and stimulation for many other types of animals, such as those in research or some livestock such as horses. Some interest in this subject is now being addressed in the farming industry in many states, including Arizona.

Mass production farming and slaughter has caused an uproar from certain advocate groups because of the overcrowding practices when raising animals for food. This overcrowding is seen on mass production pig farms. The family farm in this modern age has become industrialized. Providing food for the masses with a money-making measure in mind has proved a new issue to address when it comes to animal rights. You can see how the issue of "protection against suffering" could snowball out of control if not clearly defined.

Surprisingly, the moral issues can gridlock when the tables are turned leaving the human on the receiving end of the abuse. How do we concern ourselves with the issue of animal-to-human interaction. Simply said it is how animals should treat humans.

I remember a case that involved two dogs killing a woman trying to enter her apartment after work. A neighbor and owner of the two dogs fought to keep her pets under her care, allegedly accusing the woman of provoking them. Ultimately, the dogs who killed the woman were euthanized. No provocation was found on the part of the woman who was killed. Considering these particular animals as property deems the owner responsible for them, as well as being responsible for the safety of the woman who was killed. Ownership of an animal also constitutes a responsible measure of control over it. How could this scenario have played out if these dogs had the right to a defense concerning the woman they killed? I'm not sure, but it is frightening at best to consider putting a legal system that bargains case outcomes in charge of deciding how an animal thinks. It also seems that in the final outcome this case, the lawyers are the only winning parties involved.

A more recent incident concerns the killer whale Tillie, at Sea World in Florida. Even with the past history of this whale being deemed dangerous and having now killed three people, the whale seems to be on the winning side here. Whatever the reason behind Tillie's killing behavior at this point still remains to be seen, but it still leaves the trainer and two other people dead. Questions of whether this whale should be in captivity or not still loom. The fact of the matter is this whale has been in captivity for more of its life than not. The whale is now estimated to be 30 years old and releasing it into the wild would run two risks - the whale may not be able to hunt for itself, which could result in its death from starvation; and it may find hunting nearer to human exposure easier, which could result in humans being the easiest meal.

Wild animals that have been imprinted by human behavior soon lose their natural fear. We then find ourselves on the defense rather than the offense when dealing with them. Especially when it involves a six-ton whale. Sea World has now entrusted itself with the care of this whale so now assumes the responsibility of the whale's actions, which also incurs any risks involved. Even though a trainer assumes the risks when working with dangerous wild animals, Sea World also is responsible in keeping its employees safe.

This is a hard issue at best to weed through. The whale has killed a fellow worker. To protect employees from further harm the whale could be euthanized. But Tillie's success as a stud whale in Sea World's reproductive program is vital. To make things more complicated this whale is insured for $5 million. To euthanize the whale would most likely determine Sea World's insurance on Tillie null and void. The issue here seems to surround more than just a moral one, of an animal killing a human being. It also encompasses an economic issue for Sea World. Will we soon be required to provide a defense lawyer for a six-ton whale that has murdered a human? Asking a question such as this seems quite ludicrous. But we might find ourselves facing just such a controversy in the future if we empower animals with the same rights as humans.

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