A disturbing story emerged from Weld County over the past couple of weeks, concerning a property with several animals — pot-bellied pigs, goats, and the like — in reportedly varying states of distress. The reports tell of animals living in squalid conditions, with inadequate protection from the elements, and with several dead creatures sharing the pen with them, in varying degrees of decomposition.
This is the kind of thing that sickens and angers most everyone, including — perhaps especially — those who make caring for animals on the states farms and ranches their living, and their lifestyle.
This particular situation becomes rather complicated by the apparent fact that either no law is being technically broken, or that the exigent circumstances prevent the discovery of what specific legal violation is taking place. The Weld County Sheriffs Office has been dispatched multiple time to the property, but has thus far been unable issue any citations or show probable cause for a warrant to investigate further. Given the rather horrific official descriptions of the creature’s living conditions, this suggests that either a) the property’s resident (whom the owner has been unable to evict) is managing to keep just this side of applicable legal statutes, in which case efforts to examine the law (probably at the local level) for egregious oversights applicable to the specific situation is in order; or b) it is an issue of enforcement, wherein local officials lack the resources or expertise to discover the specific violation, in which case an effort should be made to ensure that the proper resources are appropriately allocated. Once again, “defunding the police” would not be an especially helpful epithet.
However this abhorrent situation is resolved, it is reasonable to assume that it will be something that virtually everyone, of any political stripe, could support. Addressing a situation like this, and delivering animals from wretched circumstances of neglect, appeals to the universal sense of duty most people feel towards the animals over which, biblically and historically, we have been given dominion.
The shame is that, like most public matters anymore, fanaticism threatens to drive a needless wedge. The fear persists that any movement made to protect these animals from the alleged miscreants cruelties will be broadened to envelop even the normal and appropriate practices that constitute proper animal husbandry. And unfortunately, recent political history suggests that those fears are well-founded.
I recall reading an account of Oliver Wendall Holmes being asked to define a fanatic, and his answer went something like this: we can all accept that a property owner has rights to the space over his house, to the extent that his neighbor cannot build a horizontal extension that protrudes over the roof. The fanatic will conclude that that right extends as a shaft of air over the house piercing into the heavens, so that no child’s kite or aircraft can pass through without express permission. That’s about as good a definition as I’ve heard.
Fanatical interpretations disallow comparative judgements. In other words, the one who takes the issue of animal rights to the extremes will abandon, as a matter of dogmatism, the ability to distinguish between the responsible rancher, farmer, or pet store owner — or pet owner, for that matter, for who are we to think we can “own” animals — and the type of deranged individual who keeps animals for purposes known but to them, in squalid conditions and neglects their basic care.
The state is full of ranchers and farmers who, this past weekend, went out in the bitter cold, several times throughout the day and night to make sure feed was available and accessible, to chop ice for watering holes, to put out ample straw bedding, and to check for any signs of discomfort or distress in the animals in their care. Several, I wager, risked frostbite to nurse a calf, and more than one likely carried a newborn calf into their house to warm it in the bathtub. Noble efforts to right a wrong should not put these people’s livelihoods at risk.
The sad situation in Weld demands, and the animals there deserve, a full and proper inquiry, and on that point there ought to be universal agreement. This — not closing pet stores or dismantling animal agriculture — is where the moral imperative of animal protection is best and most nobly directed.