Friday, June 04, 2010

Killing Someone's Pet.

There's a disturbing story in the news about a teenager who, in the course of robbing a home with another kid even younger than himself, killed the dog in the home so that it wouldn't disturb them.  The kid found a hammer in the home, a trailer really, and hit the dog on the head.  The kid says he only wanted the dog to stop barking.  When the dog stopped moving, he put it on a bed and covered it with a blanket so he wouldn't have to look at it while he and his accomplice continued the robbery.  The owner caught them in the act and the kids are now in the system.

The mother has said something to the effect that she doesn't understand what the big deal is about killing the dog.  "Dogs don't go to heaven," she says, "People do."  Well, ain't that just dandy.

Yeah, that makes me mad.  That makes me very mad.  In my Short List of Things I Believe, I have two items related to this.  First is the one that says "All death is tragic.  Not all deaths are equal in their tragic value."  The second is that cruelty to animals, especially killing them, is only one short step away from killing humans. 

My sensibilities are offended to the point of outrage about this whole thing.  I normally don't like to play with suppositions and speculations, but in this case I can't help but think what the kid might have done if it had been a baby left behind for any reason.  One that was crying and wouldn't shut up.  Yes, I have to start with the assumption that this kid probably would have left the baby alone and would have either left the trailer before committing any robbery, or would have taken some stuff and fled quickly.

The threads of details, though, continue to add up to weave a picture of a family that has no respect for life, no respect for their neighbors, and no understanding of cooperating with themselves or their neighbors.

I don't know if this is an indication of any sort of larger problem in society.  This kind of crap goes on all the time.  I wish it didn't.  Animals, pets, are generally not able to defend themselves against a determined human predator.  We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves.  We have a responsibility to take care of those who rely on us.  To kill a dog because it's in the way is deplorable.  Despicable.  Disgusting.

What sort of punishment should be applied for this killing, I don't know.  We start to get into a gray area of moral relativism when we make the argument that killing an animal is worthy of greater punishment than harming a human.  Except that I do believe that anyone who would kill an animal, someone's pet, would more readily kill a human in the right (wrong) circumstances than others who would not kill an animal.  It is an act that demonstrates a generalized lack of respect for life.

Is that different than killing a spider?  Or a mouse?  What about a mole that is digging in the garden?  Do the lives of more complex animals have more moral value to us than the simple ones?  Do domesticated animals mean more to us as individuals, or as a society, than the rodents and predatory animals?

All death is tragic.  Not all death is equal in its tragic value.

Higher-order species, the more complex animals, are not sentient in the way we consider ourselves to be.  But, they are aware.  They understand the world around them in their own limited ways.  Consider the possibility of a species more developed than ourselves examining the way we perceive the world around us.  They would be fascinated (I hope) or disgusted (I fear) by the way we operate with our limited perceptions as compared to their own. 

That is a sort of relativism maybe.  But we have to consider that it's only by a trick of fate and evolution that the ancient ape-like creatures developed cognition in the way we've come to understand it, and not the canine- or feline-like ones.  Plus, evolution isn't done with us yet.  The roaches may take over the world yet.

We kill for food.  We kill for sport.  Somehow we've come to a social agreement (mostly) that certain animals are OK for killing.  That's fine.  We are a predatory, carnivorous, omnivorous species.  But we betray the trust placed in us, and fail in our responsibility, when one of us kills a pet.

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