“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” Arthur Schopenhaur
I cringe when I hear about the latest animal abuse investigation. Hundreds of animals hidden away, living in a place barely resembling a home; offered nothing more than a rusty cage, muddy water and a crumb of food. Not every story is that gruesome, but they all come pretty close.
According to the Humane Society, in the U.S. alone, 10.2 million people are physically assaulted by their spouse every year and 70% of domestic violence victims said that their abuser also targeted the house pet. “There is overwhelming evidence that [animal abuse] is linked to crimes against people, including violent crimes and domestic violence,” said Mary Lou Randour, a psychologist devoted to animal rights advocacy. “It’s not about protecting people or animals, it’s [about] protecting them both.”
The way people treat animals is a reflection of the way they treat people. If animal abusers aren’t properly punished for their crimes, then an opportunity for abuse prevention is needlessly ignored. Defenseless animals placed in situations they are incapable of controlling is unacceptable. If animals were given more rights, and if those rights were strictly enforced, people would abuse animals less often.
The Human Society references a 2001-2004 study by the Chicago Police Department which “revealed a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.” Sixty-five percent of offenders who were arrested for crimes relating to animal abuse had been arrested for battery against another person.
Clearly, there is a correlation between human abuse and animal abuse. If that is the case, why are people who hurt animals punished less often and less harshly than those who abuse people? The Humane Society reports that in some states, a perpetrator gets a felony charge only if he or she has a previous animal cruelty conviction. Would people be okay if child abusers were only punished if they abused twice? The Humane Society “believes all states should allow felony charges for egregious cruelty regardless of whether the perpetrator has a prior conviction,” a position I fully support.
Animals’ capacity to experience pain and pleasure reveals greater warrant for more legal rights. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of the reforming utilitarian school of moral philosophy, stated that when discussing a person or animal’s rights, “the question is not ‘can they reason?’ nor ‘can they talk?’ but ‘can they suffer?’” All animals have the capacity to suffer like humans do. Animals experience “pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness, and motherly love.” Therefore, they should be entitled to basic rights and fair treatment.
A recent survey found that “nearly one-third of Americans believe animals should have the same rights as people,” a 25 percent increase from 2008 (CBS News). Only 3 percent of the people surveyed believe animals don’t require protection from harm and exploitation “since they are just animals”.
The Animal Freedom Foundation says that “animal rights are meant to set limits[on]human behavior.” In theory, the more laws and punishments we have against animal abusers, the more discouraged criminals will be from committing violent behavior. Of course, just because there are laws against an act of behavior does not mean people will follow those laws, but it’s a start.
Recently, there have also been changes to the way the court treats animal abuse crimes. On March 14, 2014, South Dakota was the last of 50 states to execute a felony provision for animal cruelty (Animal Legal Defense Club). Likewise, the FBI enacted a new system of catching potential or repeating animal abusers. As of January 6, 2016, the government agency will collect data on animal crimes “the way it does for other serious crimes like homicide” (Itkowitz) with the goal to collect statistics that will predict trends of animal abuse (Washington Post).
Although the new laws symbolize the evolution of a nationwide effort to treat animal abuse crimes more seriously, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. The debate of animal rights has been going on for centuries; it’s time for people to act according to their human morals and values. If more people stood up for animals and advocated for their protection by the law, states would take the crime of animal abuse more seriously.
I believe in equal rights for animals because we are morally responsible for taking care of our earth, which includes its animals. Animals deserve more rights because they suffer and feel the way we do. If we let people get away with abusing animals, who’s to say they won’t do the same to people?
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