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On Persecuting Dangerous Dogs Rather Than Dangerous People

This morning brings an interesting juxtaposition of dog-related articles in The New York Times: "For ‘Animal Precinct, Reality Subject to Dispute," by Glenn Collins, and  "States Weigh Safety With Dog Owners’ Rights," by Ian Urbina. Taken in toto, the message is clear: Americans are focusing more and more on "dangerous" dogs (individually and as breeds), and finding ways to persecute them (such as by putting them on statewide Dangerous Dog Registries or enacting breed specific legislation), rather than on the dangerous people who, intentionally or otherwise, create dangerous dogs.

The popular Animal Planet show, "Animal Precinct," it seems, hasn’t exactly been a boon for the animals, but has been for the show’s frequent star, Annemarie Lucas, who gets paid $141,000. Cruelty complaints have increased 70% since the show premiered six years ago.

And here’s how last year panned out:

  • 50,000 calls to the ASPCA hot line;
  • 4,191 were determined to be real complaints;
  • 103 of those included solid cases of intentional neglect or maltreatment (according to Dale Riedel, who directs the Humane Law Enforcement division);
  • 103 arrests were made;
  • 109 people received summonses.

There are two things to evaluate for success here: Is the show doing well, and are companion animal-abusers being brought to justice? The show draws 3.5 million viewers in peak weeks. Done. The show is doing well, although I wonder about who watches it. I can’t even look at the teasers and commercials.

But why have complaints increased? Why such a minuscule percentage of arrests? (And why is it that the ASPCA isn’t doing justice to horses, who clearly shouldn’t be forced to drag people around Central Park in the name of "romance"? Why on Earth are they still there?)

We here in America certainly come up with ideas in a jiffy to regulate (and persecute) animals we believe might be a threat to us. But when it comes to making real progress against people who abuse animals, we appear to be inexcusably ineffective.

Human animals have aptly demonstrated that we are a far greater danger to nonhuman animals than they’ll ever be to us. The reality that positions them in this perilous situation, is that they are merely property according to our laws. That’s the law that needs changing.

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