The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Beverley Spencer

All creatures great and small

June 26 2014 26 June 2014

When I was growing up, we shared our home with a series of dogs, cats, fish, turtles and newts. With the exception of the aquarium dwellers, all of them were bona fide family members. Some were strays who took up residence with us; others came from shelters. But we loved them all and mourned the passing of each furry friend.

Today, my husband and I have a handsome Golden Retriever named Hudson. He too is a bona fide family member who enjoys treats, toys and going to the dog park to play with his peeps. Spoiled? Maybe a little. But his gentle disposition and unflagging devotion bring us so much joy that it’s hard to imagine life without him.

As a pet lover, I am incensed by cruelty to animals. So were the thousands of Ottawa residents who recently signed a petition urging a judge to jail the man who beat a dog almost to death then tossed her in a dumpster to die. (His sentencing is pending at this writing. The Crown is seeking four years.) But do we care as much about how the animals we eat are treated? What about animals used for transportation or entertainment? Are we willing to avert our eyes from the suffering of creatures who don’t share our lives or touch our hearts?

As Kim Covert reports in our cover story, the confusing state of animal law reflects our conflicted views about animals. We criminalize cruelty to dogs and cats, but make exceptions for cows and pigs (only “unnecessary” pain and suffering is prohibited when it comes to those bound for the dinner table.) We fine someone for killing a racoon and don’t stop to think about how our chicken or veal or pork ends up on our dinner plates.

The law will remain confused until society resolves conflicts about the role of animals and how they should be treated. Perhaps we can start by challenging our own ideas about which animals are worth protecting — and whether they need to fetch our slippers to qualify.

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