G.E. Mortimer: Nailing the pet-bashers

Animal-cruelty offenders escape conviction because the law is weak. They plead “I didn’t mean any harm, it was an accident.”

Some thug wielding a blade on a stick slashed and killed a gentle sheltie dog named Diesel who was walking on a leash with his owner.

This event bothers me in the night, more than the war horrors around the world. I feel  Diesel’s death when I’m half awake, and the feeling won’t go away.

The accused slasher – unidentified by police at the time of writing – appears in court on May 25 in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

A $2,000 fine and/or six months in jail is the heaviest punishment he could get for harming a creature that is defined by federal criminal law as “property.”

Property is a distant thought when I‘m out of bed, sitting at the computer desk and scanning blogs about animal abuse. In the mind’s eye I see a memory-picture of my long-ago terrier dog Kim, who learned to jump up high and let me catch him like a beach ball.

Cat Simba shows no respect for property as he walks across my keyboard, writing a random string of symbols.

Animal-cruelty offenders escape conviction because the law is weak. They plead “I didn’t mean any harm, it was an accident.”

That usually gets them off.

Judges in the capital region do send a worst-case animal-abuser to jail every 10 years or so.  The B.C. Liberals decreed in-province maximum punishments of $75,000 and two years’ prison – much tougher than any animal-abuse penalty in the federal Criminal Code. B.C. turned up the heat after the slaughter of 100 sled dogs in Whistler.

Federal planners are thinking about heavier penalties, in a new cruelty law. But longer jail time won’t be a big help; prison is a school for wounding and drug-vending.

As I pry cat Simba loose from the place he has taken up in front of the computer screen, and deposit him on the carpet, it occurs to me that brutal behaviour is too deeply rooted in the troubled minority of abusers to be cut loose by today’s social surgery. We can’t heal mental patients by locking them in narrow cells like battery hens.

At the moment we need the money-or-jail remedy as a fast fix, but in the longer term we must seek methods that stand a chance of working better.

Scientists have rambled through the literature and checked a pile of cases, and their findings are no surprise.

Abusers are likely to have been victims of abuse, and a big percentage of those who are cruel to animals are cruel to people.

In a four-year Canadian experiment during the 1970s, poor families that received a guaranteed income supplement showed an increased number of high-school graduations and fewer medical visits for accidents, injuries, and mental-health problems.

So the Canadian Council of Welfare reported.  My hunch is that a larger and longer family-income experiment would yield a money-saving reduction of many social ills, including reckless teen driving and violence toward people and animals.

Kennedy Stewart, NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, wants the Harper government to remove animal cruelty from the property section of the Criminal Code, strengthen federal cruelty law, and recognize animals as beings that can feel pain.

Stewart is a Simon Fraser University policy analyst. Prime Minister Harper would be smart to follow his advice.

I find this a comfortable hope as I go upstairs to read and take a siesta. Cat friend is curled up on the pillow.


– G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer and regular columnist with

the Gazette.

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