The slippery slope of the animal welfare agenda

Try telling a rabid animal lover pets aren't people. I dare you.

Calm, well-reasoned discourse on animal welfare simply isn't possible. In Pet Nation, suggesting Fido isn't a full-fledged family member is akin to kicking a kitten. If you start that talk, you'll quickly find yourself longing for the comparatively civil debate surrounding abortion and illegal immigration.

Animal lovers have their own TV channels and super stores, not to mention thousands of websites. They mobilize as well as any union, and they throw lots of cash at their passion -- spending on pets keeps rising regardless of the state of the economy. Surveys indicate nearly 20 percent of pet owners put their animals' health care needs ahead of their own.

All this makes animal lovers at once frightening and very useful to our politicians.

Which starts to explain why Senate Bill 223 has lots of support in the Nevada Legislature.

SB223 would make a first animal cruelty offense a felony punishable by up to one year in prison. The animal welfare crowd has a name for the bill: "Cooney's Law."

Last year, a Reno homeless man killed his pit bull-beagle mix, Cooney, by slicing it open with a box cutter in a motel bathtub. He said a mouse had crawled inside Cooney, causing the dog great pain. He wanted to get the mouse out.

He took the dead dog to a shelter for disposal and explained what had happened. The shelter called police.

Under current Nevada law, a first offense for animal cruelty is a misdemeanor. Only upon a second conviction does the crime become a felony.

The clearly delusional homeless man was nonetheless found, arrested and jailed, but animal advocates say that wasn't nearly enough punishment for the brutality endured by Cooney. They want the law changed so a first offense is a felony -- as if that somehow would have prevented the poor dog's death.

During March 23 testimony on SB223, which attracted lots of animal lovers, Chuck Callaway, a lobbyist for Las Vegas police, informed members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee that first-offense domestic battery is a misdemeanor. Passing SB223 would make beating your dog a more serious offense than beating your wife, he said.

Hardly any animal cruelty cases come through county courthouses, reason enough to let this bill die. But putting the welfare of animals ahead of people, in statute? That's crazier than the neighborhood cat lady.

Nonetheless, don't be surprised if SB223 makes it out of committee by Friday's deadline for panel passage. Anyone who votes against a tougher animal cruelty law can be cast in a re-election campaign as Michael Vick. Why take that chance when pets can't vote, but pet owners do? Especially when sending out mailers that say you're "tough on animal abusers" is such a political winner?

That this legislation could have profound implications for farmers and ranchers won't get a lot of consideration. A few generations ago, most kids grew up around livestock. Through lots of hard work, the animals took care of you, not the other way around. The order of the world was clear. Animals were valuable property.

Today, the vast majority of youngsters are born and raised in the city. They don't hunt, they don't fish, they don't trap rodents, and they sure as heck don't slaughter pigs or pluck chickens. They laugh at talking animals in movies and on television, and they help care for their family pets, which in turn show them love and affection. Animals are family.

In that regard, SB223 is part of a much larger, incremental, deceptively dangerous agenda. Animal-rights advocates deploy the same talking points as child-welfare advocates in seeking more government protections. Like children, they argue, animals have "no voice" and "no choice in who their parents are."

And just as the child welfare system allows state intervention on behalf of kids, including the power to remove them from their homes and terminate parental rights, hard-core animal advocates want to be able to intercede when they think an animal might be neglected or cared for in a way that doesn't meet their standards. They want to be able to decide who's fit to have pets.

Already, lots of animal shelters deploy screening methods to qualify prospective adopters. They ask about your home. They ask about your ability to provide for the animal. If you want a cat, they ask if you'll have it declawed. (If you answer "yes," you won't get the cat). And they ask how much money you'd be willing to spend on veterinary bills if the animal is sick or hurt.

Indeed, just as many child advocates take the position that poverty constitutes "abuse and neglect," many shelters and animal-rights advocates, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, essentially take the position that the poor shouldn't be allowed to own pets. If you can't spend hundreds of dollars per year on high-quality food and you're unwilling to rack up a huge bill at the vet, no Fluffy for you.

Assuming you actually get a pet, there's no shortage of people telling you how to care for it. Bird advocacy groups want cats kept indoors, so they can't hunt our flying friends. But cat freaks are working to ban declaw procedures in cities and counties. Can these fascists at least get on the same page?

I've had pets my whole life. Five times I've had to put an animal down. I'll never forget any of them.

But my pets are my property. The last thing I need is anybody making my pets their business.

Animal cruelty is already a crime. SB223 is a short-term gain for lawmakers, but a long-term loss for the rest of us.

Glenn Cook ( is a Review-Journal editorial writer.