Three years ago, in February of 2009, a resident of Auckland, New Zealand killed his family dog and barbecued the body. Concerned neighbors informed the SPCA, who arrived at Paea Taufu’s home to find the dog’s body roasting over an outdoor fire.
The SPCA investigated the incident, but eventually came to the conclusion that no crime was committed, because the murder was carried out ‘humanely’. According to the man’s story, the dog was killed swiftly and painlessly. In what proved to be a classic example of the absurdity of animal welfare laws, New Zealand considers this perfectly legal.
Garth Halliday of the Auckland SPCA told reporters that the family had become ‘tired of the dog’, and decided he was becoming a pest, especially as he was riddled with fleas. Rather than treating the fleas and finding an appropriate home for the dog, they decided to simply kill and eat him, a practice that is commonly accepted in several non-Western countries.
According to Taufu’s wife, “Dog, horse, we eat it in Tonga. It’s good food for us.”
As someone whose life has been enriched greatly by my experience with dogs, it’s hard not to see this as an exceptionally gruesome act, and as somehow different to the barbaric and unnecessary slaughter that occurs on a massive scale every day so that people everywhere can enjoy the taste of flesh. Dogs, after all, are treated as family members in many loving homes throughout the world, and it’s hard not to fall under the spell of speciesism that causes us to see dogs as somehow entitled to a greater degree of protection than animals used by agriculture.
But this incident offers us a remarkable opportunity to examine such cultural prejudices and see them as they really are: meaningless justifications for cruelty toward some that we would not tolerate toward others.
If Paea Taufu worked in a slaughterhouse, he would be killing animals all day long, and not only would it not be considered controversial, he would be paid money for it. Even more absurd, the very same people horrified by Taufu’s moral crime against his dog would unhesitatingly buy the flesh of his other nonhuman victims for their own summer barbecues. The difference? Dog = Family Member. Lamb = Food. So we have been taught.
To the vast majority of people, animals are judged edible and inedible according to irrelevant characteristics. Pigs, just like dogs, are intelligent, social, affectionate creatures, who love a tummy rub and will greet their people with wagging tails. Cows sorrowfully mourn the loss of their young, and can bellow for days after their babies are taken from them to be killed and eaten as veal. Turkeys have the ability to experience deep emotional connections with people, and chickens are often psychologically traumatized for life after being rescued from egg production facilities.
All of these animals are shut out of our general circle of compassion or empathy, and collectively, are killed by the billions every year, for no reason other than that they fulfill our desire for certain ‘foods’. In the US alone, we kill 317 land animals every second of every day. That does not even include the billions of aquatic animals killed every year, and it equals almost 20,000 every minute, and over 1,000,000 every hour.
In no way am I trying to suggest that people should not be horrified by this story, nor am I suggesting that there is anything defensible about killing a family member, or any animal, for any reason, in any way. What I am suggesting is that those who are horrified by stories such as these ought to think carefully about why they find them horrifying, and what our reaction tells us about our own crimes against innocent animals.
We disregard our moral responsibility toward these animals because it is convenient. But in so doing, we unwittingly stunt our ethical development, and thereby inhibit the social progression of humanity. The evolution of civilization is a continuous path toward learning the difference between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. To cling so stubbornly to the practice of enslaving animals for food and other pleasures, is to deny the need for the evolution of society, as though our widespread problems with violence and cruelty do not indicate some deeper issue that needs to be addressed.
To be deeply saddened by the murder of a family dog is a sane reaction to a horrific occurrence. The hypocrisy begins when we shut off that sadness in reaction to the murder of other animals simply because our culture has taught us that ‘cow, pig, chicken, sheep, fish… it’s good food for us’.