In February of this year, a resident of Auckland, New Zealand killed his family dog and barbecued the body. Concerned neighbors informed the SPCA, who arrived at the man’s home to find the dog’s body roasting over an outdoor fire.
The SPCA investigated the incident, but recently came to the conclusion that no crime was committed, because the murder was carried out ‘humanely’. According to the man’s story, the dog was killed swiftly and painlessly. In what proves to be a classic example of the absurdity of animal welfare laws, New Zealand considers this perfectly legal.
Garth Halliday, of the Auckland SPCA, told reporters that the family had become ‘tired of the dog’, and decided he was becoming a pest, especially as he was riddled with fleas. Rather than treating the fleas and finding an appropriate home for the dog, they decided to simply kill and eat him, a practice that is commonly accepted in their native Tonga.
According to the man’s wife, “Dog, horse, we eat it in Tonga. It’s good food for us.”
As someone whose life has been enriched greatly by my experience with dogs, it’s hard not to see this as an exceptionally gruesome act, and as somehow different to the barbaric and unnecessary slaughter that occurs on a massive scale every day so that people everywhere can enjoy the taste of flesh. Dogs, after all, are animals who are treated as family members in many loving homes throughout the world, and it’s hard not to fall victim to the speciesism that teaches us to see dogs as somehow entitled to a greater degree of protection than animals used by agriculture.
If Paea Taufu worked in an animal factory, he could be killing animals all day long, and not only would it not be considered controversial, he would be paid for it, and regular people would buy the animals’ flesh to eat it themselves. The difference? Dog = Pet. Lamb = Food. But this incident offers us a remarkable opportunity to examine such cultural prejudices and see them as they really are: meaningless justifications for cruelty toward some that we would not tolerate toward others.
To the vast majority of humanity, animals are judged edible and inedible according to irrelevant characteristics. Pigs, just like dogs, are intelligent, social, affectionate creatures, who love a tummy rub and will greet their people with wagging tails. Cows sorrowfully mourn the loss of their young, and can bellow for days after their babies are taken from them to be killed and eaten as veal. Turkeys can experience deep emotional connections with people, and chickens can be psychologically traumatized for life after being released from an egg production facility. All of these animals are shut out of our general circle of compassion or empathy, for no reason other than that they fulfill our desire for certain ‘foods’.
Although I admit that my own cultural prejudices kick in when I hear about a dog being killed to be turned into meat for a family lunch, I can’t help but feel that there is a certain hypocrisy being displayed by the general reaction to this incident, as though there is some sort of significant difference between the value of the life of a dog and the value of the life of a pig, a cow, or a chicken, animals who are killed collectively by the billions every year. In the US alone, we kill 317 land animals every second of every day. That does not even include the billions of aquatic animals killed every year, and it equals almost 20,000 every minute, and over 1,000,000 every hour.
I am not suggesting that people should not be horrified by this story, nor am I suggesting that there is anything defensible about killing a family member, or any animal, for any reason, in any way. What I am suggesting is that those who are horrified by this story ought to think carefully about why it is horrifying, and what our reaction to this tells us about animal use in general. The only reason we are not equally moved by the brutal murder of other animals is simply because we choose to ignore it. The reason we ignore it is because we benefit from it, and are therefore complicit in it.
We disregard our ethical responsibility toward these animals because it is convenient, but in so doing, we unwittingly stunt our ethical development, and thereby inhibit the social progression of humanity. The evolution of civilization is a continuous path toward learning the difference between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. To cling so stubbornly to the practice of enslaving animals for food and other pleasures, is to deny the need for the evolution of society, as though our widespread problems with violence and brutality do not have some deeper cause that needs to be addressed.
To be deeply saddened by the murder of a family dog is a sane reaction to a horrific occurrence. The hypocrisy begins when we shut off that sadness in reaction to the murder of other animals simply because our culture has taught us that ‘cow, pig, chicken, sheep, fish… it’s good food for us’.