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Auckland SPCA is Teaching Dogs to Drive

In an unusual media stunt, the Auckland SPCA is training three shelter dogs to drive.

Video here.

SPCA Auckland CEO, Christine Kalin, sums up the rationale as follows:

“I think sometimes people think because they’re getting an animal that’s been abandoned that somehow it’s a second-class animal … Driving a car actively demonstrates to potential rescue dog adopters that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The dogs have achieved amazing things in eight short weeks of training, which really shows with the right environment just how much potential all dogs from the SPCA have as family pets.”

So long as they’re not pit bulls, I imagine.

This is, of course, an awareness-raising stunt rather than a viable long-term programme but it raises another issue that is worth reflecting on: a common tendency to advocate for animals on the basis of intelligence – as demonstrated by their ability to perform human tasks – as the grounds for moral consideration which oblige us to treat non-human animals far better than we generally do.

But there are reasons to be wary of the focus on intelligence as a criterion for moral consideration and the double-standards applied between domestic and farmed animals are especially apparent here. Cows are at least as intelligent as dogs and pigs have performed much better in tests of intelligence than either. And yet, it is abhorrent to eat dog but not pig or cow flesh. The intelligence standard as a benchmark for moral consideration becomes disturbing when we realise that in application it would mean we may justify lesser concern for infants, or the severely mentally disabled. In Peter Singer’s famous limit example of the anencephalic (i.e. without a complete brain, only the brain stem controlling basic survival functions) child, the human would have less of a right to life than any fully functional animal. According to Singer, the only thing that prevents us from eating the child is ‘speciesism‘.

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Each Decade Seems to Have a Different Dangerous Dog: What’s the common denominator?

I happened across this on Facebook. The image makes a good point about the shifting historical conceptions of what are considered inherently dangerous breeds of dog. In the early twentieth century, Bloodhounds were considered to be a menace. There is one common denominator here.

Dog Killers Set for Trial

The two men charged with the dog killings in Wellsford have now appeared in court. It was pretty much a standard appearance to enter a plea, and they won’t be back in court for a few more weeks, when a pre-commital hearing will take place.  The surprising piece of information coming out from this appearance was that the two defendants have elected a trial by jury.   Had anyone asked beforehand, I would have bet heavily that they would have gone for trial by judge alone.  Seems to me that their only chance of success in this case is showing that the dogs didn’t suffer sufficiently during the killing spree, and were killed quickly.  As hard as that sounds to believe, it would have a better chance of success before a judge, who would have a strong understanding of the prosecution’s burden of proof, and would be less likely to be swayed by the emotions of the situation.  I struggle to believe a jury will care about technicalities in light of the number of dead dogs, the “massacre-like” nature of the killings, and the sheer craziness of it all.

The defence’s most likely strategy is to put the dog owner on trial, suggesting that he had too many dogs, that their own dog was killed by his, and that he consented to the killing and is the real person to blame.  They may well be able to weaken his credibility as a witness, and perhaps sway a few jury members who worry about dangerous dogs.  As I’ve indicated in prior posts, Mr. Hargreaves is no choir boy, and has a lot to answer for himself – but I still don’t see how attacking him buys an acquittal.

This case should be won or lost on the basis of the scientific evidence, and the SPCA’s ability to show that the dogs suffered.   Regardless of the reasons for the killing, it was done in a manner that the SPCA should be able to show was detestable, and the owner’s actions will not be enough to legally absolve the defendants of responsibilty for what happened.  Still, with a jury involved, it should be a rousing trial, and an interesting one to follow.

A few more thoughts on the Wellsford Massacre…

As more details emerge from what happened in Wellsford two days ago, the whole picture gets a great deal grimmer.  In New Zealand terms, this was a huge story, splashed all over the front page of the Herald, and it has garnered considerable attention.  Sadly, it says a lot about our view towards animals, and highlights some of the weaknesses of the existing animal welfare system.  Incidentally, if you haven’t done so, it’s probably worth reading what I had to say on this yesterday, as I don’t plan on repeating any details of the case that I talked about then.  But here are six additional things to think about:

First, the horrors of the incident should not be underestimated.  When SPCA inspectors, who see plenty of awful things done to animals every day, are left speechless – it’s pretty bad news.  The perpetrator of the act deserves the condemnation he’s getting now, and hopefully the jail time he deserves.  Let’s be honest.  That’s one pretty sick guy. Continue reading

Ummm… What’s There to Think About?

Depressing images from this morning’s New Zealand herald.  The lead story on the internet version of the paper is entitled ‘33 dogs massacred in ‘rifle-killing frenzy‘.

I’ll let you look over the depressing facts yourself.   I’m interested in the legal aspects of the case.  Consider the following facts set out in the Herald – keeping in mind that the Herald ‘facts’ are not necessarily actual ‘facts’:

Yesterday, holding back tears, [the owner] described the sounds of his dogs being shot – sounds that echoed off the quarry walls for 20 minutes.

“They were screaming, making sounds dogs just don’t make. When one was gone, the others knew they’d be next, but they had nowhere to go.”

In all, 23 pups and young dogs, which slept in the owner’s truck, were shot, as were a male and female dog living in a van wreck and eight adult dogs housed in a kennel. They were shot through the grating.

Four pups hiding under their mother in the van survived, as did two other dogs the shooters didn’t see.

These six were taken to the owner’s workshop in Wellsford, but one later died. None of the dogs had been registered.

Pretty despicable stuff, all arising out of a dispute between neighbours over actions taken by the dog.

Almost is frightening is the last paragraph of the story:

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said two investigators had visited the property and would determine whether the dogs suffered before they died. A decision would then be made on whether to charge the gunmen. Wilful ill-treatment carries a penalty of up to three years’ jail.

Ummm… Bob, what’s to think about?   Continue reading

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