Two recent animal cruelty cases are drawing attention to a strange and grisly question: when is it okay to kill your pets?
Last week, animal rights activists in Nova Scotia were outraged when a woman who pled guilty to animal cruelty charges was fined just $5 for drowning two newborn kittens in a bucket of water. Meanwhile, last month, a New Brunswick man was acquitted of animal cruelty altogether in the deaths of his five Pomeranian puppies, which he killed with a hammer. (He was, however, found guilty of neglect, and of injuring a puppy that survived the blow.)
According to University of Ottawa law professor Daphne Gilbert, these cases aren’t as simple as they seem because it’s perfectly legal to kill pets in Canada. Animals are considered personal property under the law, and people have the right to dispose of their pets as they choose, she says, as long as it’s not done “in a way that was intended to inflict suffering.”
So while taking a hammer to puppies may seem inhumane, the judge ruled that since the blow rendered the dogs unconscious, they didn’t suffer. As for the kitten-drowning, prosecutor Bill Fergusson said he offered to settle with the woman for $5 because if he had gone to trial, he would probably have lost the case.
Sean Kelly, chairman of the investigation committee for the SPCA, is furious about the small fine, and is filing a formal complaint with the Public Prosecution Service. But Gilbert says she agrees with the prosecutor. “Drowning isn’t necessarily a cruel method,” she says, adding that the case was further complicated by the fact that the woman had asked the SPCA to remove the kittens’ stray mother before they were born, and the organization refused, citing a lack of resources.
Gilbert says a movement is under way to amend the 100-year-old animal cruelty law, which could “make it clear what constitutes cruelty,” and elevate the status of pets above mere property. If pets had “some kind of independent standing,” she says, “then you could question the decision to euthanize two healthy kittens.”