Saturday, July 8, 2017

It's a Dog's Life

It is, by now, a familiar story. An abandoned animal is found somewhere, and there is an outpouring of support as people clamor to be the animal's eventual savior; while at the same time public scorn is heaped upon whatever human is judged by the Court of Public Opinion to be the must culpable perpetrator. Meanwhile there is a parallel thread that questions why people aren't worthy of the same compassion.

Such is the case in the story of Chewy the chihuahua puppy, found in McCarran Airport over this past weekend. So many applications to adopt the puppy have come in that the animal shelter has stopped taking them, while at the same time, the shelter and the airport are also facing demands that they do something, presumably a form of necromancy or other divination, to track down the woman who left him behind while fleeing an abusive relationship. Whether to rescue or castigate her is not stated, but it's a safe bet that both motivations are in the mix.

Playing the role of calling for more attention to humans is shelter worker Darlene Blair, who laments: "I wish this story would bring more attention to the fact it's a felony to abuse an animal but it's not a felony to abuse a woman." That statement made me wonder*, so I looked up Washington State's laws on animal cruelty, mainly because that's where I live, even though the case of Chewy took place in Arizona. Suffice it to say that I didn't find anything in the Revised Code of Washington that counts as a felony when done to an animal that wouldn't count as a felony when done to a woman, outside of the fact that since women can legally consent to sex, it's possible to engage in sexual contact with a woman without automatically having committed a crime. But, at least in Washington State, it takes a bit of rooting through the criminal code to track down all of these provisions, as the laws on Domestic Violence reference many other parts of the code, while the rules against Animal Cruelty are neatly gathered and spelled out in one place, under a single heading that makes them easy to find. But the rules against Animal Cruelty are also fairly short - there are a number of items that fall under the heading of Domestic Violence that don't have a corresponding entry in Animal Cruelty.

But even with that, there are actions that are generally understood to fall under the heading of "abusive" that are not recognized as being criminal offenses. The Court of Public Opinion, especially the Social Justice Circuit, often has more stringent definitions of what constitutes abuse than lawmakers do, in part because the Court of Public Opinion is much more free to respond to its emotional reactions. A blazing row between lovers where one of them clearly has the metaphorical upper hand, and isn't afraid to use it, may seem clearly abusive to onlookers, but is still a difficult thing to legislate. And in that, the understanding that Chewy's owner committed a crime by leaving him in an airport bathroom, but the circumstances that lead her to that point are not felonious, can seem to be unjust, and Ms. Blair's statement well-taken.

But it's difficult to make the reprehensible into the illegal simply for the asking. The more laws rely on judgment calls, the more open to abuse - or the perception of abuse - they become. In the end, the law can't solve everything. While there's nothing wrong with asking it to, or wishing it would, the expectation that it will seems misplaced.

*There was a time when one could lawfully treat children in a manner that would have landed you in jail if it had been done to an animal, and many of the original laws against child abuse were modeled on animal cruelty statutes that were on the books already. In that regard, it wouldn't surprise me if there had been a time in which one could have gotten away with injuring a female partner in a way that was illegal for animals. But I would be surprised to learn that anyone alive in the United States today has first-hand memories of that time.

No comments: