Should animal abuse be a Class A felony? And who defines “abuse?”

Livestock owners, pet lovers and animal enthusiasts beware — animal cruelty is now considered a Class A felony, and the FBI has agreed to elevate the status of this crime to its own category and will track this data just as they do for other serious crimes like homicides.

At first glance, this might seem like progress in animal welfare and care. After all, we certainly don’t want people who purposely abuse their animals to go unpunished. It’s been shown that many of the most violent criminals began their series of abuse with animals before moving onto people. So yes, in those extreme cases, I can see how this could be beneficial information to have.

However, what concerns me is this: Who is defining “abuse?”

The FBI defines cruelty to animals as: “Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.”

According to the Washington Post, “There will be four categories of crimes: simple or gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse — like dog fighting and cock fighting — and animal sexual abuse.”

Unfortunately, this definition is open to interpretation. Is castration and dehorning in cattle considered “mutilation?” What about spaying and neutering? How about confinement buildings in the dairy, poultry, pork and veal industries? What about in the case of major blizzards or hurricanes, where cattle are outside in the elements? How about in situations where a baby calf fails to thrive? If a calf is sick, is it abusive to give it antibiotics? Is it abusive to let it remain sick and refuse to give that animal medication?

You can see where the definition of what constitutes abuse becomes a slippery slope. The people behind the creating and enforcing of laws like this might have little to no experience in animal care and animal husbandry, and I fear they might have outside influences like animal rights activists in their ears telling them what to do.

I recently saw this situation in action when a South Dakota dog owner was arrested in front of her family and had her Husky dog seized because the neighbors called animal control and reported that the dog had been outside too long in the cold.

Yes, you read that right — a Husky, known for running through bitter temperatures across the harsh Alaskan terrain in the world famous Iditarod, supposedly was suffering when playing in the snow in the backyard of a city residence on a South Dakota afternoon.

The story happened in December. Jessica Swain, a Sioux Falls, S.D. resident, was arrested in her home in front of her children and their dog was forcibly seized from her family as a result of several phone calls from neighbors reporting the dog being outside too long. According to the Swain family, the dog “Mickey” gets to play outside in the snow often as Huskies love to be outside. He has access to the house, and he has an outdoor dog shelter and water available outside. The dog was later returned to the Swain family home, but the traumatic experience will always be remembered by Jessica and her family.

Read more about this story here.

Many ranchers have dogs, and I know I’m not the only one who lets my dog roam the ranch and have the freedom to come and go as she pleases. Our Labrador, Quinn, has access to the garage where she has food, water and bedding, but she also gets to exhibit natural dog behaviors by playing outside, running, chasing rabbits, and burying treasurers around the ranch. Yet, I had a city friend of mine tell me this was abusive behavior, and she didn’t like that I countered that a dog kept in a big city apartment all day and only allowed outside for short walks and to go to the bathroom could also be considered abusive.

Yes, it’s a slippery slope, indeed.

The moral of the story is this: We need to be very careful about animal abuse being treated as a Class A felony as we could see some innocent people behind bars due to the outcry of activists who would prefer animals didn’t exist in the first place. What’s more, when society believes that humans are equal to animals, that’s when real problems start to take shape.

I believe in animal care, but I also believe that humans are more important. I would love to see society start focusing on feeding hungry people, helping the homeless get off the streets, and providing for those in need. We can be compassionate for animals, but if we forget our humanity, what else is left?

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

 

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