MY VOICE: A fine line: When does hurting animals become animal abuse?
Several weeks back I attended the hearing for Dr. Joel Rice and the shooting of seven cows on his property. I sat and listened to a veterinarian give testimony about how two of the cows suffered due to gunshot wounds.
As I left the courtroom, I was struck by the thought that we are walking a very fine line when it comes to our laws that govern what constitutes animal abuse.
Let’s get a few things straight: I’m not some vegan who lives on endless salads. I like a big, fat, grass-fed beefsteak. I also hunt animals for food. I’ve heard many stories of hunters wounding an animal and then losing it in the woods. Since before the time of Jesus, human beings have hunted and managed animals for food and profit. I’ve branded, castrated, dehorned and tagged more goats and cattle than most city folk have ever seen. It’s a grisly business. I’ve watched countless livestock stagger, fall and pass out from the pain I’ve inflicted. Are these events animal abuse? You bet they are. Is it illegal? Nope. Do we accept and overlook these facts? Yes, we do.
Driving the endless back roads of our beautiful state, I’m often appalled by the numbers of livestock jammed into paddocks with nothing but bare ground surrounding them. Feedlots where the stench hits you a mile before you come upon the blackened, dead ground where the cattle spend their days imprisoned. Feedlots that serve cattle the fecal waste of chickens, referred to in the industry as “poultry litter.” Are these examples of animal abuse? You bet they are. Are they illegal? Nope. Do we accept and overlook these facts? Yes, we do.
Countless wild animals — beavers, otters, seals, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, bears and other fur-bearing animals — are killed every year to support the fur industry. We care more about our vanity than the suffering of the animal that we never see locked in the bloody jaws of a steel trap. Is this animal abuse? You bet it is. Is it illegal? Nope. Do we accept and overlook these facts? Yes, we do.
Rice loves the land he lives on with a deep, personal passion. His 1,200 acres are open to the public, including hunters, because he wants to share the riches of his land with his community. Cattle are the one exception because his land has been overgrazed. He’s trying to restore the soil and bring back native plants that attract more wildlife. For more than five years, Rice looked the other way while cattle owners knowingly allowed their cattle to break the law and trespass on his property. Do we accept and overlook these facts? Yes, we do. Why? I’ve named countless examples where we allow animals to be abused and we accept and overlook the facts of their pain and suffering.
I’m not saying it’s fine to shoot a cow that wanders onto your land. It’s not. If Rice was keeping 100 caged and starving dogs in his barn, I would be the first vote to convict him. However, that’s not what happened here. Rice realizes the magnitude of his mistake. He also realized that he needed to make things right, which he did. He apologized to all the cattle owners. Additionally, he made a public apology. Some have said he’s trying to buy his way out of his punishment. There are countless cases where a judge will fix monetary fines to a sentence. In this case Rice voluntarily paid almost $50,000 in restitution to the owners of the seven cows.
I say the charges of animal abuse that Rice faces should be dropped. Not because he’s an exemplary citizen in our community — he is. But rather, because it’s time to take a good, hard look at the countless, blatant inconsistencies in our laws regarding animal abuse in our world. Let’s call it a day, let this man move on with his life and his work in our community, and hope that we have all learned a lesson on the value of respecting our neighbor’s rights.
George Byers, 31, is a ranch hand in the Grande Ronde Valley