Definition of animal cruelty varies species by species

WEST PALM BEACH — We instinctively understood why a Loxahatchee man was arrested last week for allegedly shooting a stray cat with a bow and arrow. But why not when someone bow-hunts a deer?

Florida's governor is sending posses after pythons with clubs and machetes. A University of Florida professor is encouraging Palm Beach County homeowners to behead iguanas.

So why was a west Boynton teen arrested last month on charges of shooting ducks with a pellet rifle?

It turns out Florida's animal cruelty law is surprisingly vague, giving equal protection to cockroaches and kittens and doing little to spell out what constitutes cruel. How it is enforced has far more to do with our own cultural perceptions of animals and suffering.

Florida law says anyone is guilty of animal cruelty who "unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments … or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal."

There are no provisions for "unnecessarily" killing bugs. Or, for that matter, farm chickens, pythons or the termites gnawing your roof beams.

Is killing any animal cruel? The statute appears to say yes, if the killing is done unnecessarily and inhumanely.

But what constitutes humane?

The more an animal resembles a human — warm-blooded, big brained, furry — the more it is generally perceived to have human-like emotions and be capable of suffering, regardless of whether that is actually the case, experts say.

The animals that tend to benefit most in protections from animal cruelty laws are "companion animals," chiefly dogs and cats.

Definition of animal cruelty varies species by species 07/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 11:32pm]

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