Category Archives: Animals

Ethical Quote Of The Day: Marjorie Ingall

pibull pile

“Let’s not generalize about an animal based on the shape of its head or the texture of its coat… Individuals are individuals. Generalizations—about dogs, or about people—are odious.”

—–Marjorie Ingall in her review of Bronwen Dickey’s new book, Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon

I have several times,in posts here about the senseless, ignorant and unethical vendetta pursued against “pit bulls” [Ingall: “Pit bulls’ (meaning ‘any dog that looks the way we think a pit bull looks’) “], compared the reasoning of the anti-pit bull Furies to the logic of racism. Thus I was especially pleased to read Ingall’s essay, while she called “Pit Bulls—the Jews of the Canine World.” Another sample…

Nowadays, people associate pit bulls with thugs. And the word “thug,” as we all know, is barely coded shorthand for a young African-American man. (Truthfully, I’d thought of pit bulls being Jews … but comparing pit bulls to African Americans is even more resonant, in terms of the stereotyping both face.)…Study after study has shown that pit bulls are no more likely to bite than any other breed…Fear of the word “pit bull” and misplaced fear of the breed, combined with a healthy dose of racism, have trumped common sense.

You can find the Ethics Alarms post on this topic here.

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Comment of the Day, Law & Law Enforcement, Race

The Ethics Lessons In The Tragic Death Of Harambe The Gorilla

The primary lesson is this: Sometimes bad things happen and nobody deserves to be punished.

The tragedy of Harambe the Gorilla is exactly this kind of incident.

In case you weren’t following zoo news over the long weekend, what happened was this. On Saturday, a mother visiting the Cincinnati zoo with several children in tow took her eyes off of a toddler long enough for him to breach the three foot barricade at the Gorilla World exhibit and fall into its moat. Harambe, a 17-year old Lowland gorilla male, took hold of the child, and zookeepers shot the animal dead.

Then  animal rights zealots held a vigil outside the zoo to mourn the gorilla.  Petitions were placed on line blaming the child’s mother for the gorilla’s death. Other critics said that the zoo-keepers should have tranquilized the beast, a member of an endangered species. The zoo called a news conference to defend its actions.

Lessons:

1. Animal rights activists are shameless, and will exploit any opportunity to advance their agenda, which in its craziest form demands that animals be accorded the same civil rights as humans. Their argument rests equally on sentiment and science, and takes an absolute position in a very complex ethics conflict. This incident is a freak, and cannot fairly be used to reach any conclusions about zoos and keeping wild animals captive.

2. Yes, the mother made a mistake, by definition. This is res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” If a child under adult supervision gets into a gorilla enclosure, then the adult has not been competent, careful and diligent in his or her oversight.  The truth is, however, that every parent alive has several, probably many, such moments of distraction that could result in disaster, absent moral luck. This wasn’t gross negligence; it was routine, human negligence, for nobody is perfect all the time. You want gross negligence involving animals? How about this, one of the first ethics essays I ever wrote, about the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin holding his infant son in one arm while feeding and taunting a 12-foot crocodile? You want gross negligence amounting to child endangerment? Look no further than the 6-month-old waterskiier’s parents. Taking one’s eyes off of a child  for a minute or two, however, if not unavoidable, is certainly minor negligence that is endemic to parenthood. Zoos, moreover, are not supposed to be dangerous. Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement

Why Are So Many National Parks Visitors Vandalizing Nature?

bison calf

My initial impression was that this trend is another canary dying in the mine (yes, I know THAT isn’t a canary!), as being and acting stupid and unethical becomes increasingly culturally acceptable. My theory holds that the public sees so many rich, powerful, successful public figures exhibiting these traits, and yearns to adopt their habits and values

The most recent example is the episode represented by the photo above. Well-meaning but ignorant tourists in Yellowstone National Park, where no human is supposed to get within 25 yards of the wildlife, decided to “rescue” a bison calf they found away from its herd, so they stuffed the animal into their car. They drove it to a ranger station, where they were cited for violation of park rules.

In effect, they had killed the calf. When the young bison was returned to the herd, the mother rejected it, and the beast began approaching humans, seeking food and company.

The park had to euthanize it.

Said the park officials in a statement,

“In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous and illegal behavior with wildlife. These actions endanger people and have now resulted in the death of a newborn bison calf.”

Morons. The Park Service should release their names, or give some Yellowstone wolves their scent. This is not a new taboo; there is no excuse for any visitor to a National Park to think this is responsible conduct.

Not fatal but equally infuriating is the tale behind this photo: Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Citizenship, Environment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Where Do You Get The Idea That It’s OK To Insult My Dog?

Rugby2

I was walking Rugby yesterday—that’s him above from a recent commercial photo-shoot–and ran into a young woman walking her West Highland Terrier. I like Westies, as does Rugby (but then, he also likes mail carriers, squirrels, my sister and once wagged his tail at a cockroach…), and I made some positive comments about the breed.

“Well, your dog certainly looks like he hasn’t missed many meals!” was her response. The ethicist programming blocked me from saying what first popped into my head, which was, “Well, neither do you, bitch,” and instead I attempted to enlighten her by saying, in a moderate tone,

“Actually, Rugby is an authentic, Jack Russell Terrier Association-certified Jack Russell, meaning that he is not the long-legged, faux monstrosity the AKC calls a “Parson Russell Terrier,” nor the much smaller toy-like version it calls the “Russell Terrier.” Jack Russell Terriers of the Irish, as in genuine variety, are certified by their personality and hunting traits, and not by looks alone. Thus they vary more in physical traits than AKC breeds, bred for show, and since the bulldog is part of the strange and wonderful alchemy that makes these dogs the bundles of joy they are, some Jacks, like Rugby and his still mourned predecessor Dickens, have a thick bulldog build, with a broad chest and stocky body. They are all muscle (“unlike your simpy terrier”–the ethicist filter blocked this too), and you may be surprised to learn, given the fact that he is at this moment acting more lively than your young dog, that Rugby is just short of 13 years-old, and thus just a bit heavier, but not much, than he was in his youth when the vet said he was as perfect a specimen of the breed as he has ever seen. Val Kilmer or Kirsty Alley he isn’t. He remains unslowed by time, and those meeting him for the first time often mistake him for a puppy, which is undoubtedly how he sees himself.”

She just walked on, hearing little of it.

Why do people think that making gratuitously critical comments about a stranger’s pet is any less rude and disrespectful than insulting a child or anything else that the individual obviously cares about? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Character, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Love

Fairness Quandary In Britain: What To Do With A Dog That Ate His Master?

No photo of Buster is available, but this is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and if this image  fills you with fear and revulsion, you're an idiot, at least when it comes to dogs.

No photo of Buster is available, but this is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and if this image fills you with fear and revulsion, you’re dangerously ignorant, at least when it comes to dogs.

In Waterloo, England last September, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Buster (or Butch…he apparently answered to both names, much in the way I answer to my wife when she calls me “Jack” or “You Idiot”…) found himself in a situation reminiscent of the infamous 1972 Andes plane crash that forced its survivors to resort to cannibalism. His master died suddenly, leaving the dog trapped in the apartment without access to sustenance. After an undetermined amount of time and increasing desperation, Buster  decided “Oh, the hell with it” and ate a sufficient amount of his best friend to stay alive..

I know—“Ick.” Buster may well have felt the same way. Once police had made the grisly discovery, however, Buster found himself in big trouble even though he was was in an emaciated state that suggested that he didn’t do this for fun. The police claimed he was a danger to the community, and the deceased’s family made it clear that it wanted Buster to be put down. Dog lovers and animal rights groups insisted that Buster was a victim of circumstance and that absent evidence that he had plotted to convert his live master into a feast, there was no precedent for blaming the victim in such a case.

After all, those passengers who survived in the Andes by eating the bodies of their less-fortunate companions were not executed. They appeared on talk shows.

Why the different attitude? Well, let’s see: Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Law & Law Enforcement

Animal Ethics: Oh No! Prairie Dogs Are Serial Killers!

Aww, look at the cute little prai---MY GOD, WHAT IS IT DOING TO THAT SQUIRREL???

Aww, look at the cute little prai—MY GOD, WHAT IS IT DOING TO THAT SQUIRREL???

Here’s the most troubling quote from the article in Gizmodo about a biologist’s startling discovery that prairie dogs routinely kill baby ground squirrels because they don’t like baby ground squirrels…after all, they are herbivores:

“Pop culture loves to portray herbivores as peace-loving pacifists—just look at Zootopia as the latest example of this—but who can say what other barbarous acts are going undocumented in our backyards? Are rabbits stealing into burrows to throttle chipmunks in their sleep? Do elk and buffalo lose their cool and impale each other over prairie grass? These are the sorts of unsettling questions biologists will have to start asking.”

The reason those questions will be asked is the work of biologist John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. His observations of prairie dogs, resulting in a paper published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicate that the cute, fuzzy mammals “will chase ground squirrels—usually babies—and if they catch them, they shake them violently. While they’re shaking, they’re biting the back of the neck to sever the vertebral column. Sometimes they grab by the head and literally debrain the baby. It’s violent, savage, and awful.”

There is a reason for this violence: ground squirrels and prairie dogs compete for the same grasses as food. It is the first known instance of a mammalian herbivore killing another mammalian herbivore on a routine basis, and Hoogland’s research indicates that it’s “just business”: the fewer ground squirrels there are; the more food there is for the prairie dogs and their young.

Clearly, prairie dog society is organized according to extreme utilitarian principles: the ends justify the means….at least when it comes to ground squirrels.

I think the ground squirrels should build a wall.

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Filed under Animals, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Twitter Makes Us Stupid, Twitter Makes Neil deGrasse Tyson Look Stupid, Twitter Allows Neil deGrasse Tyson To Make His Fans Stupid

bats

Great.

Twitter is a wonderful medium for people who can only digest simple thoughts, as well as for those whose full powers of observation and analysis can be expressed in 140 characters. For everyone else, the social media device is an invitation to emote with inadequate thought, and to demonstrate undesirable character traits like arrogance, carelessness, recklessness and poor judgment.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, for better or worse, currently fills the niche of Pop Culture Smart Person, or PCSP. This is a role that has genuine cultural value, and has fallen in the past to such figures as Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and Stephen Jay Gould, among others. Smart people accepted by the broader culture can do more to help banish bad ideas, myths and biases than years of formal education, but they must wield their power with care, guard their credibility and appearance of integrity, and most of all, not abuse the trust of their fans.

In these matters, Tyson is a most irresponsible PCSP.  He ventures into partisan politics too frequently, is a media attention addict, and worst of all, he is addicted to Twitter, where he regularly tweets factoids barely worthy of a bubble gum wrapper and makes jokes that display his sophomoric sense of humor—for example, “If you removed all arteries, veins and capillaries from your body and laid them end to end, you’d die.” Steven Wright, he isn’t.

Those tweets are just embarrassing. However, it is affirmatively damaging when a man recognized as being educated and wise issues outright false scientific facts, like he did with a recent tweet announcing,

“If Batman wants so badly to be a bat, he might be more intriguing if (like Marvel’s Daredevil) he were also blind, like a Bat.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Popular Culture, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology