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LTE Regarding Society's Treatment of Animals

Nov 8, 2007

HOW a person treats an animal is a fair measure of how that individual views the world and their own place in it.

Those tender to all God's creatures will inevitably bear a sensitivity to the wider human condition.

Conversely, those cruel to animals are likely to lack empathy for their fellow beings. Indeed, studies have long established a link between violent adult behaviour and a predilection to cruelty to animals when young.

Society has come a long way since the Industrial Revolution in its respect for the animal world.

Endangered species are now protected, the hunting of many creatures is now illegal, licences are required to keep others, and laws regulate how all creatures - from pampered pets to those working fields - can be housed.

It is understandable, then, why animal cruelty always riles normally placid folk into talk of physical retribution.

It is equally fathomable why so many in the community are disbelieving of the punishments meted out to offenders.

Just this week we learnt of the one-month jail sentence - now on appeal for allegedly being "manifestly excessive" - imposed upon an 18-year-old man for kicking to death a defenceless kitten that had shown the offender nothing but affection.

A few weeks before, we saw the case of a young woman - in some drunkenly misguided Friday the 13th prank - slaughter a family's pet goat.

Earlier we heard of the man who cut off his puppy's ears for dubious aesthetic reasons - a twisted belief that, without them, the dog appeared more "attractive".

And, in 2004, we were horrified to learn of a group of soldiers in Townsville who had tortured tiny kittens in their barracks - a nauseating spectacle they perversely deemed entertainment.

There are other incidents too terrible to detail and, of course, the uncounted cases left unreported.

What motivates such blind barbarism and callousness is impossible to comprehend for any healthy person who has loved and cared for a pet, only to weep at its passing.

Naturally, many assume the law is somehow inadequate. But this is not necessarily the case: current Queensland legislation, last amended in 2001, provides for fines of up to $75,000 or two years' imprisonment for cases of animal cruelty.

It appears, instead, the fault lies with magistrates who are reluctant to impose a punishment even remotely approximating these penalties, with custodial sentences for even the worst offences more the exception than the rule.

Animal cruelty is an abominable crime, and the community remains wholly intolerant of it in any form.

It is also a preventable crime, and part of that prevention rests in stiffer penalties from the judiciary, including jail time, to send an equally stiff message to those insensitive to the plight of animals.

It has been said that a society is judged on how it treats its most vulnerable - among whom animals can also be counted. Perhaps the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham put it best when he stated: "The question is not 'can animals reason?' nor 'can they talk?' but rather 'can they suffer?'."

Animals co-exist with humanity; they must not be subsumed by us.

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