It’s not OK to taser animals

When I was four, I had a pet goat called Skipper. It wasn’t most the most creative assignment of names. Skipper skipped around a lot. I also had a ewe called Mary (who, incidentally, had a lamb).

Last week, New Zealand Police released a video of an officer using his taser on a goat back in 2016. The officer is seen tasering the goat, which he later described as ‘stressed and uncooperative’, 13 times. The goat is seen in severe distress. Turns out that the police have used their weapons to subdue quite a few goats in recent years. Chickens and cats too.

How it that this kind of action toward an animal is considered plausible, and for such a minor offence like ‘getting in our way’? Remember when animals played with us and comforted us, and forgave us for giving them unimaginative names? Animals have taught all of us valuable lessons about empathy and responsibility, whether they lived with us, were in our storybooks or were not real animals at all but stuffed ones sitting on our bed. They were our teachers. Animals are known to help in rehabilitating offenders for these very reasons.

My postgraduate class and I have been discussing how our society is not just anthropogenic but actively speciesist. How as adults we shuffle our childhood animal mentors into categories like stock, wildlife or pest, based on how useful they are to our wellbeing. These sorts of categories justify us raising animals just so we can eat them and use them for our entertainment on racetracks, and in arenas and zoos. They neutralise our acts of hunting down and killing animals on ‘safaris’, or what we call in New Zealand ‘back bush’ experiences. They allow us to sterilise and ‘euthanize’ animals without their consent. It is no wonder that in order to protect animals we have to put them in ‘sanctuaries’ far away. We systemically abuse animals in just about everything we do.

The New Zealand Police recently ruled against the use of tasers on non-human animals. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t do much for bobby cows and battery caged chickens and the hundreds of thousands of rabbits, deer, mice, rats, fish, birds, pigs, cows and guinea pigs used in experimental research in New Zealand every year, or the scores and scores of other animals we exploit and disregard.

Green criminologists call for species justice which recognises the rights of a non-human animal to live as a sentient being. If we were concerned with species justice we would have laws that would not only prohibit a person to corner and assault a frightened animal like the officer did the goat, but actively shift our thinking that the universe revolves around us. British philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed such laws back in the late 1700s in the Principles of Morals and Legislation. He wrote:

“The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer? Why should the law refuse protection to any sensitive being?”

The world would look very different now, I imagine, if the powers that be had listened then.

Sarah Monod de Froideville, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. 

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