Category Archives: animals


Update 1:

Thomas Towle, the Mildura driver who killed 6 teens and seriously injured 4 others, has been sentenced to 10 years in gaol. I told you it would be interesting to see what his sentence would be! Although Towle was convicted of dangerous driving (a lesser offence), he will be serving more time than the average sentence for culpable driving (a greater offence). Cummins J chose to treat the sentence as culmulative rather than concurrent, meaning that Towle was sentenced for a longer time. The defence had tried to argue that because the maximum penalty for dangerous driving was 5 years, the greatest Towle could face would be 5 years.

Update 2:

Someone else is thinking about whether animals with higher cognition should have more legal rights. I got there first! (thanks to Dave Bath)…

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Filed under animals, courts, criminal law, driving, law

Not just monkey business

What happens if a person is brought up in a way that is more likely to cause them to act violently? Should they be criminally responsible for their actions? That’s a difficult enough question, but what happens if the perpetrator of a crime is a monkey? These questions are raised by the case of Chico the delinquent pet macaque.

Chico had already been in trouble with the law previously. When US Federal agents had visited the home of his owner some years ago, Chico had acted aggressively and threw faeces at the agents (although he was not the subject of their investigation, of course). This probably didn’t help his cause in the eyes of the law.

On the present occasion, he escaped from his home in Spokane and bit three people shortly thereafter. He was then taken into custody and held at a local humane society. Because he had bitten people, there was a chance that he could have infected them with rabies or herpes B, both of which are fatal to humans. The only way of testing for rabies is a post mortem test of brain tissue, and accordingly, it was decided that he should be put down.

One can’t help feeling sorry for poor old Chico. Apparently it’s a very bad idea to keep monkeys as pets, and they commonly become aggressive and violent. The bottom line is that in many cases, they can’t be “domesticated”, but nor can they then readapt to normal primate society either. Further, some monkeys carry diseases which can be transferred to humans. Many macaques carry Herpes B.

Should a primate like Chico have “quasi-human” rights or “primate rights”? Some might argue that we show no qualms about putting down dogs who bite humans, so a monkey is no different. However, monkeys are much closer to humans genetically speaking. Should they be given more of a chance than a dog?

Here it seems that Chico was put down primarily because of the health concerns involved, but it doesn’t seem fair that he has to pay the ultimate price for that: his misbehaviour is a direct consequence of his owner’s behaviour in treating him as a pet. Incidentally, it appears that his owner will be charged with keeping a dangerous animal. She is already awaiting sentencing for fraud proceedings in relation to a false college degrees sold over the Internet.

I can’t help wondering what would happen if a larger primate (such as an orang utan or a chimpanzee) killed a person. Should it be determined if the primate had understanding of its actions if it was proposed to put the animal down? To establish criminal liability, it is required to establish that there was an actus reus (criminal action) and a mens rea (criminal intention). It has been argued that chimpanzees could potentially be more rational than human beings (in an experiment involving the economist’s ultimatum game). Do chimpanzees and other great apes have the moral agency required to be prosecuted for a crime? I am sure I have seen a documentary where a grieving chimpanzee mother carried around her dead baby for days, until some other chimps from the group took the baby away. It was actually very distressing to watch. Clearly the mother and the other chimps had a concept of death, and what is more, the mother had a very human reaction to her child’s death.

On the other hand, having a “quasi-trial” for an animal could become farcical. There is a long and dishonourable tradition of animal trials. The most common animals which were the subject of such trials were pigs, bulls, cows or horses, or pests such as rats, mice and weevils. Edward Payson Evans wrote a book called The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals in 1906, which cited a variety of cases, including the prosecution of a number of moles in the Valle D’Aosta in 824, the charges against a cow by the Parliament of Paris in 1546 and the conviction of a Swiss dog for murder in 1906. It’s well worth reading this article in Cabinet Magazine for more details of the book – I think I need a copy.

Back to Chico: a case such as this does raise serious issues as to how we deal with criminal offences, whether committed by human or primate.

  • How much should ill-treatment and bad upbringing explain criminal conduct?
  • If monkeys can become aggressive through a particular kind of upbringing, is the same true of humans?
  • How genetically close should an animal be to a human being before it is treated like a human before the law? (if at all)
  • What if it can be shown that a particular kind of animal has some sort of moral understanding akin to human understanding?
  • What if a human perpetrator has very little moral understanding of the consequences of his or her criminal actions? Does this make them able to be treated like an “animal”? (I would argue not – that’s what universal human rights are all about – but it’s an interesting question)

It’s a pretty sad case all in all. It sounds to me like the US is in dire need of some laws with regard to keeping primates as pets – primates are very like us in some ways, but they are not substitute children, and they do badly in a domesticated environment.

(Via Short Sharp Science blog, from New Scientist)

(Hat tip to Dave Bath for bringing this case to my attention)


Filed under animals, crazy stuff, criminal law, death sentence, good and evil, Guilt, human rights, morality

Animal meme

An interesting animal I had

Really it would be an interesting animal owned by my family. There was Blinky the daredevil silken haired hamster, who liked to hang off the top of her cage and drop off. She was psycho.

Then of course there’s the family dog, an insane but loving Jack Russell who lives with my parents. My daughter has taken to chasing him. Despite his usually insane attitude, he takes this very well, and just puts his ears back, and gives me a look which says, “See how much I love you? See how nicely I’m putting up with this strange little creature?”

An interesting animal I ate

A stir-fried beetle in Cambodia. It wasn’t actually the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. Sort of like a crunchy peanut if you tried not to think about it.

The worst thing I have eaten is raw sea urchin (uni) in Japan. Yuk. Don’t do it.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal

Um, I fed flake to my goldfish, making him a cannibal of sorts. And I tried out all sorts of food with that crazy hamster named above. She really liked crab.

An interesting animal at the museum

I was always fascinated with the stuffed Phar Lap at the Melbourne Museum. Phar Lap, for non-Australians, is a famous race horse who won many races before dying in suspicious circumstances in the US. He was huge. That’s what fascinated me.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat

Just about every animal is interesting in its natural habitat as far as I am concerned. Even spiders.

Once there was a golden orb weaver outside our kitchen window, and it was fascinating to watch her weave her web. Apparently these kind of orb weavers have the strongest silk of any spiders in the world.

And once I saw a wombat in the snow at Mt Buller. It was walking down a ski run in a perfectly unconcerned way, but I was concerned someone might run into it accidentally, not expecting to see a wombat in the snow. I stood in front of it and shielded it from skiiers until it went off the run.

Now I have to think of people to tag. Hmm. I tag Lad Litter (he always has interesting stories to tell), Jim Belshaw (likewise), the Blonde Canadian and Cherry Ripe.

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It’s a dog’s life

Apparently there is a booming industry for lawyers in the US who represent animals, particularly in the context of relationship breakdown and estate planning. As the Legal Soapbox commented the other day, a US property development mogul left a substantially larger bequest for her dog than she left for any of her human relatives. And pet custody disputes are increasingly common. According to the article above, vets are called on to say which “parent” the dog prefers.

It is true that dogs often have preferences for one partner over the other. My family dog loves, loves, loves my mother. He honours my father (whom he regards as “top dog”) but he cries when my mother leaves the room to go to the toilet (yes, separation anxiety issues).

The article raises interesting issues. Pets are incredibly important. Before we got our family dog, I never quite understood (yeah, we had three fish and budgie and two hamsters, but they weren’t quite the same). I love our dog, and he has been supportive to me in some hard times. Seriously! He always knows when you are sad and tries to comfort you. When our family friend’s marriage broke down, and she came over to our house and began to cry, the dog immediately got on her lap, whimpered and tried to lick the tears away. He is a bit of a psycho (he’s a Jack Russell – concentrate of dog) but he is a very sensitive soul. The important thing, I suppose, is that he loves you unconditionally.

But…what happens when pets start getting more rights (and better paid legal representation) than some people? I’ve always felt slightly squeamish about those ads for pet food for “picky” pets, just because I’m sure that there’s many people in the world who get food of a lesser quality, and some people who are starving. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, cats and all animals, but the concept of gourmet pet food just strikes me as over-the-top, when many people don’t have the luxury of clean water and food at all. So what happens when a dog has a top attorney but an inmate on death row can only get a legal aid attorney? Or, in a less extreme example, a person without assets gets ripped off by a company but can’t do anything about it because he can’t afford legal representation, but the guy next door has a relationship breakdown and his pet gets legal representation? It’s all about whether animals are equivalent to humans. Of course, in one sense we are all animals; but should animals such as dogs get the privilege of a lawyer when some human beings don’t get those privileges?


Filed under animals, courts, human rights, law, morality, society