Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Worst Grandmother of the Year”

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, every kitten looks like a nail..."

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every kitten looks like a nail…”

The Ethics Quiz concerning the grandmother who disciplined the children under her charge by killing a cat and her kittens with a hammer prompted a superb thread with many able participants. It also explored many rich ethics topics—child abuse, animal abuse,  property, child-rearing, discipline, punishment, law vs. ethics, and more. The entire thread is well worth reading, and it also generated a Comment of the Day that summarized and expanded on the themes and issues discussed. texagg04 has provided several COTD, but I don’t know if any have been better than this one. As a bonus, tex’s comment has persuaded me that I need to add another rationalization to the list. That should be up later today.

Congratulations and thanks to all the Ethics Alarms readers who weighed in so thoughtfully on this story. Tex’s honor here is in part yours as well.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Worst Grandmother of the Year:

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Ethics Quiz: The Worst Grandmother of the Year

hammer71-year-old Josephine Bell told police officers responding to a call at her home that she had warned her grandchildren that if they did not clean their rooms, she would take their pets away.  They didn’t, she said, so she killed the children’s cat and four kittens with a hammer. The oldest child found the dead cat in the freezer, and called the police.

Granny was charged with a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals, and is in custody at Madison County Jail on $15,000 bond.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

What should be society’s response to conduct like this, and what should happen to Bell?

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Of Course Declawing Cats Should Be Illegal. Do It, New York!

cat clawsA Washington Post article about a proposed bill in the New York legislator to make declawing cats illegal is headlined “Is Declawing Cruel To Cats?” A similar headline would be, “Is Pulling Their Teeth Out Cruel To Dogs?” Of course it’s cruel. Not only is the practice often painful for the animal, it takes away a cat’s primary means of self-defense. In some cases this literally drives cats crazy, making a secure, happy animal neurotic, fearful, and nasty.

Assembly Bill 1297 is the creation of New York state assembly member Linda Rosenthal (D), the same legislator who pushed through a law last year banning the tattooing or piercing of pets. She gets the ethical principle here: surgically altering animals for the owner’s amusement and convenience is wrong. “People often use their animals in very selfish ways,” she says. “This is mostly done because people care more about their furniture than about their cats.”

Exactly. If you don’t like cats, don’t get a cat. Declawing a cat is de-catting it. Maybe taking away a dog’s ability to bark is a better comparison.

To anticipate the inevitable questions: “Does this principle apply to neutering as well? ” and “Should it?” my answer today is “I have to think about it.”

Declawing, however, is an easy call.

Pass the law, New York.

Sarah Palin, The Animal Gene, and Some New Year’s Inspiration

Trig on dog

Gandhi famously said that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I’m not sure that’s true, but it certainly is true that respect for the lives and welfare of animals is a useful symptom to diagnose sound ethical values, and the tendency toward animal cruelty is signature significance for a human being that I would not turn my back to in the dark.

The issue is complicated by the divergence of humans into “animal people” and “non-animal people,” with the latter claiming, with some justification, that they are not cruel or callous toward animals, just willing to recognize that they are, well, animals. These are the people who cannot understand someone wanting to take a sick day to mourn the passing of a cat. On the other hand, they are also clear-eyed about those animal lovers who dress their parrots in elaborate costumes and who hold birthday parties for their dogs. Those who live in the country or on farms are an interesting case: they are not prone to sentimentalize of anthropomorphize animals like city folk. Dogs and cats sleep outdoors unless there’s a freeze on, and they have jobs to do. My wife’s sister sold the family horse to a dog food company, and the two didn’t speak for months.

Sarah Palin blundered into this divide this week when she posted pictures (above) of her son Trig standing on the family dog in an inspirational post about overcoming obstacles. Now she’s being attacked for promoting cruelty to animals. Some points on this:

1. Many are always looking for justification to vilify Palin. This time, she gave them legitimate ammunition.

2. The sequence looks staged to me: otherwise, why was anyone taking photos of this?

3. If so, then this just wasn’t an innocent but mistaken choice by a special needs child, but the directive of someone who should know better.

4. Of course one doesn’t ever sit or stand on a dog, or allow or encourage a child to do so, unless we’re talking about a very small child.

5. We don’t know that Palin didn’t admonish Trig after the fact, while saluting his ingenuity.

6. It was still an irresponsible choice for the point she was making.

7. Assuming the dog isn’t ill, drugged of dead, however, he doesn’t seem in distress. One thing about dogs: if you are hurting or ignoring them, they aren’t shy about letting you know.

8. Trig is developmentally disabled. Animals, particularly dogs, have incredible tolerance and intuitive kindness in such situations. That was the real lesson of the photos.

Now, to wipe those images out of your mind, here are a group of photos showing normal, non-celebrity, non-Palin, human beings here and elsewhere demonstrating the kind of kindness and compassion for animals that we all should aspire to. Continue reading

Ethical Feline Of The Year: Tara the Cat

The rescuer and  the rescued (photo from KERO, Bakersfield)

The rescuer and the rescued (photo from KERO, Bakersfield)

You may have seen this video already, but as I may never again have the opportunity to honor a member of one of nature’s least ethical creatures for exemplary ethical conduct, here is the amazing tale of Tara the Cat.

In Bakersfield, California, four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo, who is mildly autistic, sat on his bicycle outside his family’s home when the neighbor’s chow-labrador mix, who “doesn’t like children or bicycles” according to his owners, escaped the yard through an open gate , saw the boy, and attacked him. Surveillance footage shows the dog grabbing the boy’s leg and pulling him to the ground, and beginning to shake him. The Triantafilo family cat, Tara, saw the attack and charged to the rescue, leaping on the dog and chasing him off.

The boy’s father posted the video of the jaw-dropping episode to YouTube, and you can see it below.

I have had cats and lived with cats, and one cat in particular, my wife’s Siamese, broke my heart when he died. Nonetheless, cats are nature’s sociopaths, charming but ultimately self-centered,  cruel and lacking in empathy. They are not pack animals or group oriented, and “loyalty” is not one of the characteristics that anyone would say distinguishes the species. There is a reason why the film “Cats and Dogs,” which posited that the two rival creatures were really alien races of superior intelligence secretly battling for dominance on Earth, cast the cats as the villains. Cats can’t be trusted, and there is no such thing as an ethical cat.

Or so we have always been told.

Tara (the video is not a hoax) is either an outlier, or this is just one more example of how scientists don’t understand animals as much as they think they do. She clearly places herself in danger to rescue the most vulnerable member of her family. The cat assessed what was happening, set out to rescue the child, and did it efficiently and well.

I have never heard of such a thing. There are other YouTube videos that show cats engaging in ambiguous conduct that is termed a rescue, but such episodes always involve the cat protecting itself or its general vicinity from an intruder. At first, I thought Tara’s video was staged, like “The Incredible Journey.” So far, it doesn’t appear to be.

Thus we have to conclude that, contrary to lore, conventional wisdom and propaganda from the Ministry of Dogs, cats—some cats, one cat, this cat—are capable of  conduct that in a human we would regard as altruistic, ethical and courageous acts. Tara not only rescued a little boy from serious harm, she also elevated the status and reputation of cats everywhere.

Now that’s an Ethics Hero.

And here’s the astonishing video:

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Facts: Daily Mirror, ABC

Ethics Quiz: The Case of the Human Cat

This is not only an ugly story, but also one that many people are incapable of analyzing dispassionately, or even rationally. I’m going to try.

Michael Puerling is a landlord…some would call him a slum lord…in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.  A tenant in the upper unit of his property had adopted a black and brown stray cat, which she named Sage. Puerling told the woman she couldn’t keep a cat, so she evicted the feline, which eventually took up residence in the vacant lower unit. Puerling discovered the cat had after it had been making itself at home for months, tearing up furniture and generally making the apartment a giant litter box. According to the landlord, he opened the doors and windows and tried to get Sage to leave, but the cat hid under the kitchen sink. Then Puerling tried to remove the cat by hand…not a good idea, as any cat owner could have told him. When he couldn’t grab the scruff of Sage’s neck, he yanked the cat out by his tail, with the predictable result–the cat went crazy, and attacked him.

So Puerling bashed the Sage’s head in by swinging him by his tail against a slab of concrete outside. Continue reading

Cats, Kids, and Caretakers’ Betrayals

Perhaps most enraging of all unethical conduct are blatant breaches of trust by a person who has accepted the significant responsibility of protecting and caring for a life in need, whether it is a child, an aged parent, someone who is sick or disabled, or an animal companion. It is  frightening to realize that so many weak and needy lives must rely for their survival on people devoid of basic ethical instincts and common sense. Yet every day, thousands upon thousands of caregivers betray that desperate trust, with only a small percentage of the resulting tragedies making the news. Here are three that ruined my morning:

How many children locked in a car?

In Missouri, police rescued ten children—that’s 10, X, T-E-N, 5 times 2—- whose mother had  locked them in her car, in the afternoon sun, for at least two hours outside a local bar, while she and a male companion patronized the establishment.  Mackisha B. Johnson and Christopher M. Jones were arrested outside the Alibi Lounge on Thursday and charged with misdemeanor child endangerment. The temperature outside was 99 degrees with a heat index of 101, police said.

I would rate such an incident as having signature significance,* proving beyond any reasonable doubt that Johnson is an unfit mother and that to leave any of the children in her care for another second is tantamount to aiding and abetting child abuse. Never mind though; motherhood advocates will be caterwauling that the children are better off with their biological parent, even though she tried to broil them while she was getting smashed with a boyfriend primed to father #11. Continue reading

PETA’s Definition of Being Ethical to Animals: Kill Them

Good...play dead, and maybe PETA will leave you alone...

I have long believed that PETA, the Norfolk, Virginia-based “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,” not only gave ethics a bad name, but also people, and you might as well throw in pita bread while you’re at it. This conviction was partially based on such stunts as PETA’s using Michelle Obama in ads without her permission and offering to pay Octomom money to put a billboard on her lawn comparing herself to an overly fecund pet.

Then there is PETA’s fondness for killing puppies and kittens. Continue reading