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Today's Column: Mourning people as we mourn animals

What's crackin' friends and frienemies? Busy day, so I'll get right to it. My column in today's Miami Herald is about the outrage expressed in South Florida over the recent slaughter of a number of horses. This week and last, two young men were arrested for two of the killings, and they're facing serious criminal charges, as they should be. Supposedly they were killing the horses - other people's horses - not for sport, but to sell the meat to people who enjoy eating horse.

So along with just about everyone else in the Miami area, I was pretty angry when I read details of how these poor horse were killed. And I want the book thrown at the killers. But what annoyed me at a level much greater than my anger over the horse killings was the starkly opposite responses of readers to the horse killing news and concurrent but unrelated people killing news.

Comments on the horse killings were that the young killers should suffer horrible deaths and burn in hell, etc. On a story about a 15-year-old boy who was shot and killed at a Burger King a couple weeks ago, one reader commented that the boy's death was "no big loss; he should have been home studying."

Hmmm, so a 15-year-old kid, a victim, sort of asked for it 'cause he wasn't home studying. But if that had been a 15-year-old horse, the same reader would have written in that the killer should suffer the same fate as the victim.

I'm not saying that we should not take special care of animals. I get it. They're innocent creatures and depend on us. But just because humans have a cognitive level that allows us to better know right from wrong than four-legged animals, doesn't mean we deserve to be victims of cold-blooded murder any more than horses or dogs or cats deserve it. So only if you're innocent and not able to care for yourself do you deserve to be mourned or avenged for your murder? Doesn't make sense to me.

So my feedback on the column so far has been interesting - a mixed bag. Some folks agree with me. Others think I'm an idiot, because I can't compare innocent animals to humans...who may have asked for it.

I don't need to tell you what I think of that philosophy. But I will give you this analogy that I shared with a woman who emailed and told me that she makes no distinction between human and four-legged animal life, 'cause we're all animals:

I told her I didn't believe her, because while we may agree that when it comes to being victims, neither humans nor four-legged animals should suffer cold-blooded violence (unless they're cows or chickens preparing to be shipped off to the grocery. What? I'm just sayin'.). But if the topic is not victimization then human instinct will not allow us to value four-legged animal lives as equal to human lives.

So you're walking down the street and you come upon a house on fire. A woman laying on the front lawn begs your help and tells you her baby and her cat are both upstairs in different rooms - cat to the left, baby to the right.

Knowing you may have time to rescue only one of them, you run upstairs. Which way do you go? I'd argue that even the greatest animal lover is going to go to the right and rescue the baby first.

But why? They're both innocent creatures, right?

No answer necessary to that one. I think common sense will fill in the blank.

Anyway, check out the column here. And if you want to continue friendly (or unfriendly) debate about that column, go here to post a question or comment for my interactive chat that will take place from 1 - 2 p.m. today.

Either way, it's all good.

PS. Follow me at http://twitter.com/jamesburnett.

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Jeni Hill Ertmer

Thanks again, James, for another very well written and insightful piece. It is outrageous that people can -and obviously do -kill animals with no regard whatsoever for their ability to feel pain, as did the guys who butchered the horse while it was still alive. How cruel! But by the same token, the person who wrote about the killing of the teen, saying it was "no great loss" apparently has about as much compassion, feelings, etc., as did the horse killers.
Yes, I believe many people do love their pets as much as they love people and that they are "family." I've grieved many times over the loss of a beloved pet. I've lost many family members, friends too over my lifetime as well and grieved and wept -openly about those losses. And I have also wept over the insanity that exists in how people can randomly destroy others families too -and sometimes, those families also include animals.
In both instances here, it does make me wonder about man's inhumanity to man -and to animals, as well. We are supposed to be living in a civilized society but all too frequently events like these do make me wonder about how civilized are we, really?

James B.

Jeni, as always you flatter me. Thank you. I just wanted to get people talking about what I think is a problem - calloused 'tudes toward human victims of violent crime, as though they deserved to be killed...unless they were infants or elderly.

That doesn't take away from the outrage we should have toward cold-blooded animal killers. It just means we should feel equal rage toward human killers.

Thanks for getting that.

insomniac

maybe we are exposed to the killing of humans in the media to a greater extent than the killing of animals and so develop a hardened nature to it. also any killing of animals that makes the news is at the extreme and most horrifying end of the scale. you're not going to hear about a hit and run involving rover or fido.
i also think that we can feel empathy with any animal because they aren't 'human' and not for all humans because they are.
anyhoo i do agree with you about feeling equal rage whoever the victim, although you wouldn't want get to the point where the equality is zero feelings.

Pamela

Probably more of the animal lovers are drawn to and comment on the animal killing.

I feel badly when I see animals treated cruelly. (Don't know if that is one of the reasons why I am nearly a vegetarian now)

But, I feel outraged when it is done to children.

There is no comparison.

class factotum

Totally agree with you, James, but I did think of an old saying about why horse thieves were hanged immediately but murderers went to trial: Because no horse ever asked to be stolen.

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