I generally don’t write a lot about cruelty cases towards cats and dogs unless it’s to compare the difference in how cruelty towards them versus the animals we eat is generally viewed. It’s not that cats and dogs don’t need the attention or are immune from suffering at the hands of their owners – far from it. It’s just that when they are found to be abused, it’s one outcry I don’t feel I need to add my voice to. Stories of animal cruelty that make the headlines involving dogs and cats are usually met with an instant public outpouring of anger and a call to action, having been long-established that it is socially unacceptable to abuse them. What I’m more interested in is A) despite it being socially repugnant to abuse cats and dogs, why do people still do it? and B) why do we continue to view the mistreatment of “pet” animals as any different from the animals we consider to be otherwise?
Recently there was a story that made the news, one that seemed to exemplify this contradiction.
A week ago today, in Collingwood, Ontario, residents alerted the police to what they thought was a coyote in the neighbourhood. According to one resident, coyotes had been a problem before and last Monday, several neighbours called animal control and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The OPP were the first to arrive.
It was nighttime and dark out, save for the streetlights. Residents watched (and filmed) the coyote wander into the middle of the road and eventually stop there, in full view of the headlights shining from the OPP patrol car. The car approached and lightly “bumped” the coyote. When the coyote did not move, residents watched in horror as the police car ran over the animal. The animal, still moving and alive (a witness can be heard saying in one video, “He’s still alive!”) is run over head-on for a second time after the officer does a U-Turn. The officer driving the car then gets out and shoots the coyote, all while residents look on in understandable shock and horror.
I’m tempted to just make this post a rant against the OPP but let me just say this instead: ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID?!? Who in the name of all that is holy deliberately runs over an animal in a residential neighbourhood when you know people are watching since they’re the ones who called? Is this seriously how police are “trained” to deal with animals? Because really – no one needs to attend college for that. It’s a week later and I still can’t wrap my head around the officer actually thinking this was the best way to handle the situation.
But then – ooops! A day later, it turns out the animal was not a coyote but a dog belonging to one of the residents. Blind, deaf and suffering from dementia, Merrick was a 21-year old German Shepard/Australian cattle dog mix who had gotten out of the yard that night and wandered into the street. Great job, OPP! Keep up the shitty work and I wish your PR rep all the best (I can’t even with your, “The OPP remains committed to the humane destruction of wild animals that pose a threat to public safety.” Bullshit. The only threat to public safety that night was a moron with a driver’s licence, a single gun, badge and brain cell).
This preventable tragedy aside for a moment, what’s interesting are the reactions when the public thought a coyote had been run over to when the discovery of a dog being run over. People were shocked and horrified when they thought the animal was a coyote and though most found the officer’s actions to be repugnant and excessive, many were willing to concede that they were doing what they thought necessary to protect the public. Now that the animal is discovered to have been a dog, people are outraged and want animal cruelty charges to be laid against the officer.
As I asked in my very first post on this blog: what defines unnecessary suffering? The conditions or the animal? I ask the same here: what defines animal cruelty? The actions or the animal? When the officer thought the animal was a coyote, even though Merrick was not behaving aggressively at all, there was something about the mere belief of her being a wild animal that gave the officer permission, in their mind (minuscule as it was that night), to run her over repeatedly with a car and then shoot her. Had they known she was a dog – even if she was a dog behaving aggressively – there is no way they would have killed her in cold blood. There is just no way. We stereotype animals as much as we do humans and we judge their life’s value based on what they look like rather than taking the time to find out who they really are.