Animal Welfare and the FBI

According to a recent article by Sue Manning for the Associated Press, the FBI is turning animal cruelty into a Top-Tier Felony. For years, according to the article, the FBI has filed animal abuse under the label “other” along with a variety of lesser crimes, making cruelty hard to find, hard to count, and hard to track. The bureau announced this month that it would make animal cruelty a Group A felony with its own category — the same way crimes like homicide, arson and assault are listed.
This change will help the FBI track crimes nationally and should boost efforts at the State level, as well. In Georgia, cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor and is defined as “when [a person] causes death or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering to any animal by an act, an omission, or willful neglect”. It is something we see all too regularly on the evening news, but seldom with any consequences for the perpetrators.
Animals might not have rights, at least not as we understand “rights”, but why shouldn’t they have some protection under the law, including international laws. In June of 2006, the United Nations General Assembly approved a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration, before the world, was intended to impart worth and dignity to those people who have no representation in the United Nations. It affirmed that indigenous individuals “have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples”.  The Declaration also affirms that all people “contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures”. These individuals have no economic power, no military power, no standing in the world community. They are just people – and they have rights and protection.
I wonder if some groups of animals don’t deserve some similar protections. Why couldn’t we say, for example, that elephants “have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct creatures” or that beluga whales “contribute to the diversity and richness” of our planet?
Author Barry Lopez wrote in his award winning 1986 book, Arctic Dreams, that “we have irrevocably separated ourselves from the world animals occupy. We have turned all animals and elements of the natural world into objects”. “Because we have objectified animals”, he goes on to say, “we are able to treat them impersonally” and, I might add, cruelly.

There aren’t many things on which I would like to turn back the clock. I really like my indoor plumbing and my air conditioned home, but it is a shame we can’t reclaim that personal connection to the natural world that was enjoyed by our ancestors. Being cruel to animals is just plain wrong. We shouldn’t need the FBI to tell us that. But I do like the idea that if someone is cruel to animals they might find a black SUV in their driveway, and two agents in dark suits and sunglasses knocking on their door.

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