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“Animal Cruelty” And Criminal Intent

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Police data from 2013 to 2017, as documented in this article in the Braintree & Witham Times, demonstrates how the vast majority of “cruelty” cases in the UK involve very few prosecutions or charges. In Basildon, there were 24 crimes logged, none of which resulted in prosecution. In Southend, only 3 out of 17 recorded crimes resulted in prosecution and in the entirety of Essex, 169 out of 253 crimes were unresolved.

The main reason for this is most likely the fact that, for an incident involving non-humans to lead to prosecution, criminal intent must be demonstrated. It’s very difficult to do that when animals are human property and where by law, you can do with your animals pretty much as you wish so long as there is a corresponding human benefit. For example, there may be a report of mistreatment towards a dog who is kept bound in chains, beaten and given minimal food and water. These acts in themselves will not lead to a conviction if it can be demonstrated that the owner is using the dog as a guard dog, and is treating the dog in such a way as to render him/her useful for the human purpose. Given that animals are property, a case will only result in a prosecution if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the treatment provided no benefit to human society, and thereby diminished the collective social wealth. This has very little to do with the animal him/herself, because the same treatment would be considered acceptable and necessary if it resulted in a corresponding benefit.

Such convictions, like the one mentioned in Braintree & Witham concerning the man beating his wife’s dog, are rendered meaningless by our current conventional thinking towards animals and the legal system itself. For starters, the sentences are incredibly small. In the case of the man who “admitted causing unnecessary suffering to the dog,” he was sentenced to a mere 20 weeks in jail and was ordered to pay £300 towards costs and an £80 surcharge. Hardly an adequate process of reform or education for an individual capable of pathological violence. But aside from that, the legal system protects and awards those who engage in the exact same behaviour as this man but who do so under the protection of so-called legal necessity. For example, those who are employed to slaughter animals for food and clothing, or who use them in biomedical experiments, engage in actions on a daily basis that are as bad if not much worse than what this man did to the dog. Yet this is considered acceptable, even desirable, in serving a purpose for the supposed benefit of human society.

The 169 reports of “cruelty” in Essex that went no where were most likely no different to the case involving the dog, but couldn’t be taken further due to the inability of the legal system to convict those who treat animals a certain way for a so-called legitimate purpose. In other words, the reason why “animal cruelty” laws are ineffective in protecting animals, is because these laws have very little to do with animals and everything to do with humans. In the rare cases where charges are made, they are not for the benefit of animals. How can they be when the very same legal system sanctions the raising and slaughtering of over 53 billion land animals every year for entirely unnecessary purposes?

Animal advocates need to be more aware of the realities surrounding these laws. When we celebrate a conviction, or suggest that “absusers” should be thrown in jail, what we’re really doing is supporting the current system that treats animals as things in the first place. If you’re going to shout angrily from the rooftops that all who engage in “cruelty” need to be punished, you’re going to be there for a very long time. Every non-vegan on the planet supports and demands acts of violence towards animals on a daily basis. Acts of violence that are no different to what that man did to his wife’s dog. This is not combated through reliance on the system that enables that exploitation to exist legally in the first place. Whenever these “cruelty” cases occur, educating people about why their concern necessarily means veganism is the only way to change how humans relate to animals. If we don’t, we merely perpetuate the speciesism responsible for creating the false divide between “abusers” and everyone else in the first place. In the absence of a vegan society, where the property status of animals has been abolished, convicting people of “cruelty” is as useless as it is counterproductive. It creates a non-existent “us and them” duality between non-vegans and other “abusers” who engage in conduct morally indistinguishable from that of any non-vegan. And it’s as useless as convicting a gunman of firing shots in a hypothetical society that allows the legal the shooting and killing of humans for sport.

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  • Linda McKenzie

    Excellent! Very clear. And yes, more animal advocates need to understand these realities.

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