As a population, human beings are all unique. Each one of us is a combination of our own individual genetics and environment. We are shaped by how we filter stimuli and how we think. Our behavior is an output of our own individual experiences, assumptions and perceptions, which are affected and distorted by our own personal values, beliefs, attitudes and expectations within a given location, setting or context. As individuals, we develop our own concepts, ethics and opinions, and this includes animal welfare (Tudge, 2015).
While we are now well into the 21st century, forceful restraint, startling, invoking fear, pain, and punishment are still commonly practiced in the pet care industry, including in day care, boarding, groomers and training facilities, and by owners themselves. However, opinions as to what constitutes cruelty differ vastly depending on who you ask. For some, any behavior or attitude toward an animal that is not deemed productive, helpful or in any way constructional to their physical and mental well-being is cruel or inhumane. For others, there are very specific lines drawn between the animals we nurture in our homes, the animals we farm for food production, and the exotic and wild animals some admire and protect from afar, but that others yearn to hunt.
According to Shelley-Grielen (2019), when cruelty cases appear across social media or in local news outlets, “it is not the everyday but the horrendous incidents that get media attention, e.g. the death of a dog by strangling during a nail trim in San Mateo, California (CBS SF Bay Area, 2016), a dog fatally mauled at a dog day care in Florida (Newby, 2017), multiple summer time deaths from heat stroke in a Florida grooming van (Birch, 2016), 23 dogs dying after being left overnight without cooling or ventilation in an Arizona boarding facility (Mitchell, 2016), abuses such as placing shock collars on dogs without owner knowledge at a Chicago day care to stop barking (Ludwig, 2017), or baked to death at a day care after falling unnoticed under a kiddie pool in South Carolina (Jacobs, 2016). After a covert video exposed a trainer at a Long Island, New York day care repeatedly jabbing a rod into a crated dog to stop him from growling was publicized (among other abusive practices at the site), New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky introduced a bill in late 2016 for licensing requirements for dog trainers.” (At the time of publishing, Kaminsky’s bill had not passed. Meanwhile, in June 2019, a bill sponsored by New Jersey Assembly Members Carol Murphy and Valerie Huttle requiring the licensure of dog trainers was introduced. At the time of publishing, that had not passed either.
When cases such as these are reported, they are often met with outrage from both local and wider communities. Often, rescue organizations seek donations for help and support in high profile cruelty cases and, in many cases, the outpouring of financial support far surpasses the monetary needs for the individual case. Ultimately, this public outrage for high profile cases often helps fund multiple scenarios and provide much needed resources for rescue groups to support the “less offensive” cases. In the court of public opinion, some may get angry and demand severe punishment for the offenders. Others may take an opposing view, voicing sentiments such as, “it’s just a dog,” or “there are bigger problems in the world,” or simply dismiss the event with no response at all.
According to Arluke (2002, p.421), “…humorous slants on cruelty are plentiful and can be seen in children’s cartoons and comics, as well as in adult advertising and movies and even occasional talk-radio programs.” Examples of cruelty such as blowing up pets, dragging them behind vehicles, or threatening them with weapons such as a baseball bat are commonplace and, in turn, become reflected in real instances of real cruelty in everyday life. It is, or should be, of enormous concern that “[o]ver a million websites oﬀer jokes about animal abuse or cruelty.” (Arluke & Sanders, 1996, p.40).
According to Tudge and Nilson (2019), “[a]s anyone who has ever shared their life with an animal knows, humans and their pets have a special bond. When we look at dogs in particular, the relationship is unique in that, across generations over tens of thousands of years, we have purposefully adapted this one species through natural selection to be more collaborative, more reliant and more functional to support our human needs. This selection process has resulted in hundreds of canine breeds working across multiple functions to support and collaborate with humans (Overall, 2013). Indeed, there are ‘fingerprints in dogs’ DNA that suggest convergence or coevolution with humans in neurochemical patterns.’ (Overall, 2016).”
Definition of Cruelty
Hunter and Brisbin (2016, p.17) define cruelty as the “infliction of suffering or pain by a perpetrator on an undeserving subject.”
In the companion animal relationship, humans are the perpetrators. How each of us chooses to treat pets is a voluntary decision but does vary due to our political and cultural diversity. Arluke (2006) discusses how the term cruelty may be minimized and glossed over as well as the school of thought that “abuse is done deliberately, while neglect is unintentional or even accidental.” Arluke (2006) also discuss opinions such as those maintaining that abuse results in tragic injury to animals, while neglect “only” creates hardship for them. Rowan (1993) suggests that the term cruelty should only be used in cases where the offender is in some way satisfied from the harm they cause. Regardless of where one stands on this point, however, and irrespective of the motives of the perpetrator and whether the cruelty be sadistic or negligent, no pet intentionally seeks to be punished and no pet deserves to be the victim of cruelty (Hunter & Brisbin, 2016).
As a result of political pressure applied by constituents to local governments, fueled by the general growth of the Animal Welfare Movement from the early 20th century onwards, where, “[b]y the end of the 1980s, membership in animal advocacy organizations had reached 10 million people in the United States,” (Encyclopedia.com, 2019), anticruelty laws have become more commonplace and fines increased. Nevertheless, “in many countries, states and counties, laws are woefully inadequate to protect the lives of dogs…Where such laws do exist, they are often weak, poorly written and/or not well-enforced, leaving gaping loopholes for perpetrators of animal crimes.” (Steinker, 2018).
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