On a farm in Northern California, a woman on thousand acre cattle farm trained her Australian Shepherds to patrol the perimeter of her ranch, she trained them to push the cows back when they got too close to the road. She credited them with saving more than a score of animals in less than a year.
Last October, she became concerned when the three dogs failed to come home at the usual time, they were gone all night. In the morning, she received a call from the police. Someone driving by saw the dogs out in the field, stopped their car, leashed them, got them into their car, and took them to a private home. They called the police, and under new laws regulating the car of animals, the police must investigate all accusations of animal abuse.
The police came to the woman's farm, issued a ticket for animal cruelty and abandonment. She was stunned that her working dogs had been taken away. She called the people who seized the dog and they told her she was guilty of abuse for letting her dogs run free in an open field on a warm day and would not return the dogs.
The people who took the dogs, said the police, patrol farms and private homes looking for animal abuse and cruelty to report.
A court hearing was scheduled for six weeks later. A veterinarian testified to the dog's excellent care and health, the rancher pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of neglect in order to end the ordeal and get her dogs back, she paid a $700 fine and $1,000 in boarding fees and other fees to the "rescue" group. Because she pleaded guilty to the one misdemeanor, she has been entered into a state and national animal abuse registry for life, and can never adopt a dog from an animal shelter. She has adopted many homeless dogs in her life and treated them well. Her name on the registry can be found online by anyone – I found it in seconds. It can never be removed.
In her state, there is a statute of limitations on rape accusations, there is none on charges of animal cruelty.
The police would not reveal the name of the people who informed on her in secret, she was only told the name of the rescue group and the address where she could send a check.
In New York City, the carriage drivers live in a perpetual horror of harassment, uncertainty and accusation. Not one of them stands accused by the law of abuse, cruelty or neglect, not one of the dozen examining veterinarians has found any kind of mistreatment or suffering in the horses, yet they are accused of crimes almost daily, their work and gatherings disrupted, their customers threatened and intimidated, their livelihood, way of life and property in real danger, the mayor seeks to ban them from their work and the city.
Next month, the City Council will conduct hearings on the ban proposal. The city has formed a commission to review the environmental impact of such a ban, and appointed a prominent member of the animal rights group – NYClass – which is spearheading the movement to ban the horses, to chair the commission.
In February, someone informed to the police on a young farmer working in New York State in the local food movement to sell the meat of his animals, raised on pasture, grass and natural feed. His mission is to sell healthy food and tell people where it comes from. Police raided his farm, seized three of his horses, he was accused of 13 counts of neglect and cruelty. Two veterinarians examined his animals and found them healthy.
Even before any of the charges have been brought to trial, the prosecutors offered to drop 12 of the charges if he would walk away and plead guilty to the single charge. He refused, saying he would never plead guilty to one thing he had not done. The horse rescue facility where his horses are kept asked him to pay $7,800 in boarding fees for the first 90 days, his horses have been on the farm for four months. He has no idea who reported him to the police, who were responsible for his mug shot being aired all over regional television, or for what reason the police appeared in mass on his farm.
In March, someone reported a 74-year-old woman to the police for having seven feral cats in her trailer, in an area zoned for four animals per home. An informer claimed the cats were let outside daily to hunt, one was hit by a car. She was accused of abuse and cruelty, her cats were seized, the rescue group that took them will not return them, they do not live the way they say the cats ought to live, she faces a $1,150 fine for neglecting all seven. She is terrified of her impending court appearance, she has never so much as had a traffic ticket in her life. Farmers everywhere report that people call the police when horses lie down to sleep or when cows have snow on their backs, or when an animal dies and it is a few hours before the body can be removed. Sometimes, they are ticketed for failure to provide shelter or heated barns after informers call the police.
In Santa Monica, Calif., a farmer and pony lover is accused of torturing her ponies and abusing them by giving rides to children. She is also accused of having dirty water and of failing to treat the cracked hooves of one of the ponies. Three separate investigations by the police and animal control officers found her innocent of all of the charges, they found them utterly baseless. She lost her permit to give pony rides, is desperately seeking work and sustenance for herself and a way to keep her ponies fed and alive. Her accusers pored through her Facebook posts and reported evidence that she drank vodka and liked to shoot guns, thus was unfit to give rides to children.
In Manhattan, someone informed on a homeless man living in a van with his beloved dog, they said the dog has a growth that needed to be treated. Police seized the dog – he had been taken to a vet numerous times – who was taken to an animal rights shelter and killed without his knowledge. A fast food worker in Delaware left his small dog on the porch when he went to work, animal rights workers took the dog off his porch and then killed it without telling him
What do all of these stories mean? First of all, they mean that the animals who truly suffer – the billions kept in often horrific conditions in industrial factory farms – are left to live and die in the most brutal ways while helpless, usually impoverished people and farmers and animal lovers are subjected to a new, chaotic and increasingly cruel system of animal justice. It seems in our zeal to give animal's rights we are taking them away from people, it seems we are unknowingly – most of us – creating a vast and well-funded army of enablers, people who sneer at conventional notions of fairness and justice and cause.
We are enabling people to be lawless and invasive, all in the name of loving animals. A national social movement has arisen that values the lives of animals far above that of people, and that wantonly abuses people in the name of protecting animals. We encourage them and reward them for operating outside of the law, for ruining the reputations of innocent people, invading their privacy, destroying their reputations, subjecting them to expensive and endless trials and enormous costs and fines, raising money under pretenses that are often false, and falsely and ignorantly of accusing people of crimes that are not crimes under the law.
The new system of animal justice encourages people to ignore the law and the legal process, to steal the property of citizens, it rewards informers who spy on their neighbors. The new system does not follow established notions of law and justice, it encourages vigilantism, beyond the law without public vote or approval.
The new enablers refuse to seek the expertise of behaviorists, trainers, or apolitical veterinarians.They are well-funded, they are skilled at raising money online, often with images of tortured and sick animals, they hire lobbyists and lawyers that local politicians support and police must seek to enforce, often with no knowledge of the real lives of animals.
Helping animals is an almost sure-fire opportunity for fund-raising. Who, after all, supports the abuse of animals? How powerful and righteous an experience it is to patrol the homes and farms of fellow citizens and judge other people and unleash the police with a telephone call? It is so much more exciting to judge than to be judged.
As Americans become more and more disconnected from farms and the natural world and the real rights of animals, the movement that speaks of animal rights seems to have lost all reason or rationality. None of the people in New York City seeking to ban the horses, seem to know a thing about horses or animal life, the mayor seeking to ban them has never owned a dog or a cat.
In many of these cases – I am a lifelong supporter of animal rights – people without any qualifications or accountability are turning into a rogue inquisition, increasingly setting upon the poor and the helpless, or in the case of farmers, the forgotten and misunderstood. In the case of the carriage horses, reports of abuse are invented, distorted, often parroted again and again by a manipulable media. These accusations are hurting people, and frightening them. In a democracy, it seems dangerous to submit people like the carriage drivers or the farmers or animal lovers to this kind of lawlessness and mob brutality, and to reward people for harming human beings.
The carriage drivers have broken no laws, violating no regulations, yet they are the subject of relentless persecution. How can this be just?
What after all, is the difference between people who commit crimes, including animal abuse, and people who don't? If there is no difference, then we are moving quickly towards an Orwellian, not a democratic, society.
When all of the animals are gone – these militias are driving many out of the lives of everyday people, will they stop and disband? Or, as is more likely, they will simply move on to other targets, raise money in other ways? Do we really wish to encourage secret informers, invasion of privacy, vigilante law enforcement?
People with animals are now often finding themselves in impossible positions, often having to choose between their animals and financial ruin or the truth. The animal system of justice is closer to Stalin's courts than American legal traditions. If you are accused, you are guilty. If you are innocent, you must be punished. Ordinary people with animals in their lives are now routinely reported to the police by anonymous informers, they face public humiliation, enormous fines and great trauma even if they are found innocent, as it seems the vast majority are.
Under the law, animal abuse is defined as the willful neglect or mistreatment of animals resulting in grievous death or injury. There was no grievous death or injury in any of the incidents I described above.
Jefferson warned that freedom is precious, it can be lost by a single great blow or die by a thousand cuts. Animals need protection from the privations of greedy and ignorant people, people need protection from the privations of ignorant and righteous mobs that claim to speak for animals and their rights.
I mentioned four or five people above whose cases I know, whose stories have been confirmed by me, by journalists, by authorities. They are different. Some are rich, some are poor, there are farmers, animal lovers, ranchers, ordinary people. What unites them is that their human rights have been denied. And to deny people their human rights, said Nelson Mandela, is to challenge their very humanity.
Their can be no rights for animals if there are none for humans, no movement on behalf of animals is moral or just if it enables people to jeer at law and decency and human dignity. A just society would seek out the people who stole the rancher's dogs, who killed the homeless man's dog, who took the pony operator's life and livelihood from her without cause. They ought to experience the horror of being charged with numerous counts of human cruelty and abuse, their photos paraded on television, they ought to be shamed and humiliated, fined and hauled into court before their friends and families, their resources drained, their work taken from them.
Then, perhaps, there can be a true and meaningful discussion about the rights and welfare of animals and the rights and welfare of people. When we understood the importance of both.