Jewish World Review August 13, 2001/ 24 Menachem-Av, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Our masters: The animals -- ANDREW BURNETT, the man who drop kicked the late Leo the Dog, a brichon frise, into California freeway traffic, has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. Ridiculous.

For those of you who contributed to the pet industry's $7 billion in revenues for dog treats last year, read no farther. For those of you who refer to yourself as your dog's "mommy" or "daddy," avert your eyes. This is not a column for you.

Mr. Burnett should not so languish in prison. His one-time act of anger netted him more jail time than junk bond king Michael Milken put in or a DUI offense would bring. Some perspective is in order. Why not a creative punishment, say, sentencing Mr. Burnett to a month in residence with a woman with 93 cats?

Both the harshness of Burnett's sentence and the public outrage over Leo are disturbing. No postpartum depression, psychiatrists or media excuserazzi came to Mr. Burnett's defense. Leo's death brought more tears and condemnation than Andrea Yates' killing of her five children. The distinction between animals and us uprights is increasingly blurred. There is a difference between bumper-sniffing cats and us. For one, we designed and built the bumpers.

Philosopher Peter Singer is infamous for his bioethics position that human parents (given the lingo, we must specify) be permitted to kill their young for one month after birth should disabilities arise. But he objects to the taking of animal life by humans.

The environmental movement gives animals the trump card. During the July 12 Washington/Idaho forest fires, a helicopter water drop was delayed by 5 hours because "officials were worried that the helicopter would scoop up endangered fish" from the Chewuch River. Front-line firefighters made the water request at 10:00 AM. By noon a committee of a fisheries biologist, fire management supervisor and forest ranger met to debate an exemption. They voted "yea" on the water drop at 3 PM. But the fire exploded at 4 PM and four firefighters met their deaths as they ran toward the Chewuch River and the safe fish. A fifth firefighter will probably lose his hands from burns.

The delay for river critters was inexcusable. That there is even an approval policy in place while human life hangs in the balance is barbaric. Better a few snail darters gasping in shallow shores than humans consumed in flames.

The caribou should not hold veto power over drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. We need the oil. Contrary to animal doomsayers' predictions, the caribou will thrive. Since the time oil operations began in the Prudhoe Bay region in the 1970s, caribou herds have increased fivefold. They enjoy the warmth of the pipelines and companionship of teamsters. There is nary a fossil fuel protestor in the herds.

Ecocterrorists and econvandals, misguided in their zeal for fauna, abound. The Animal Liberation Front burned the Department of Agriculture buildings in Olympia, Washington because it manages animal populations, i.e., terrorist grizzlies.

Animal stupidity still foils them. When ALF released minks from farms, the minks, not knowing enough to head for the hills, formed cliques around farms and the toughs killed each other, including their young. Half died within one week of liberation.

The animal pedestal is not limited to environmentalists. Inappropriate species attribution abounds. Specialty vets provide eye care, skin care, orthodontia, and allergy shots. Owners (that term will soon change; master was banned decades ago) provide their dogs with antidepressants. I envision St. Bernards and Great Danes on Ritalin shooting up parks and fire hydrants. Their "moms and dads" will blame violent TV.

In Seattle, more folks showed up for a hearing on a dogs-in-the-park issue than for an open forum with the finalists for city school superintendent. Propose a leash law and you'll unleash fury, as in San Francisco, where parents of small children were harassed for expressing concerns about dogs running loose.

For a society addicted to convenience and the 24/7 life, animals are children without the hassles of day care and Saturday soccer matches. Little time commitment. No smart mouths. When Baltimore proposed a pit bull ban, the howls began. One owner whined, "My dog is my family member, my dog sleeps in bed with me, my dog is my therapy. And when people tell me my dog is dangerous because it has a fat head and big body, that's unfair." Do I sense a DDA coming? Dogs with Disabilities Act?

This animal obsession, whether by pet owner or ecoterrorist, has the same impetus as the gay rights movement, the abortion movement, the sexual revolution: me. No responsibilities. No reproduction. No propagation of our own species, fixation on others.

I sound my barbaric yawp. There's a reason they walk on all fours and we bathe. We are the superior beings here, in charge of earth's resources and its perpetuation. We should act, reproduce, use resources and sentence accordingly.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings