Nanny State Running Amok

Enraged over an argument, a young woman snatched up the family gerbil and crushed it to death. Now she faces criminal charges. A felony!

The accused doesn’t seem like a very nice person. Anyone who would slaughter a harmless family pet in such a manner isn’t someone I would invite over for afternoon tea.

But, even so, I can’t help but wonder if this is an appropriate use of scarce government resources.

Read the news article, and please note that the author listed the causes of death for the rodent. Did the Medical Examiner perform an autopsy on the deceased? It would seem so.

Do any of our readers have memories of dissecting a rodent for biology class? Maybe you had to kill the rat as part of the process. I wonder if you would land in jail if you tried it today.

I see that this sorry little drama is taking place in New York, a bastion of Liberal groupthink. Even so, I would be surprised if the votyers there were happy to learn that this is what the tax dollars they pay for their criminal justice system is buying.

30 thoughts on “Nanny State Running Amok”

  1. Animal cruelty should be considered a felony, as it is consider so in a majority of States.

    More to the point, is “scarcity of resources” the deciding factor in enforcing the law or upholding morality? Are we only to prosecute first degree murder or, if we are to prosecute all murders, should we use to concerns about “scarcity” to not prosecute burglary or prostitution? At what poit does “pragmatism” or “utilitarianism” become oral turpitude or outright immorality? You tread here o dangerous ground.

    If the matter is one of “scarcity” perhaps it is the broader allocation of resources and, more to the point, how these resources are created that are at issue. If you are saying that a nation supposedly as advanced as the USA cannot afford to prosecute the law or even enact what is obviously proper law, then I would say that we must reexamine how we generate wealth or allocate portions of it to the justice system. Surely the solution is not to countenance immorality, and, in case you need reminding, killing innocent animals for no good reason is a profoundly immoral act with broad implications and effects.

    But I really think that it is the law itself that somehow troubles you and not “allocating resources” at all. This appears to me a red herring. You may have reasonable objections to “anthropomorphizing” animals or somehow attributing to animals “rights” that they do not properly deserve or hold, but I can assure you that there are better and wiser arguments for these sorts of laws than these one. If my hunch is right, I would ask you to address the issue head on and not by the back door.

  2. Hattip,

    Whether James comes in by the front door or back, the economic door or the moral door, bringing felony charges for killing a gerbil is incredibly stupid. Rather than blame the law enforcement process, however, it seems to me that the real culprits are the legislators who put felony gerbil murder on the books. They are elected to balance the matters you raise – to determine whether something is a crime that merits the allocation of scarce resources to investigate and prosecute.

    We cannot let idiots pass isiotic laws, then put the burden on law enforement and the courts to discern which laws are idiotic and look the other way.

  3. In my High School each group of four killed its own lab rat, and the accepted method was to swing it by the tail and crack its head against the table edge.

  4. Mr. Waddell defined my position very well. Thanks, Bill!

    The main question is whether or not cases like this deserve to be treated as a felony. Hattip says it is, even going so far as to attempt to conflate killing a gerbil with 1st degree murder, and then procedes as if it is a foregone conclusion that every right-thinking person would agree. I, however, do not.

    What is a felony? It is supposed to be a crime that shows that a person can no longer be trusted to take part in society in a positive way. Many rights enjoyed by the majority are forever barred from someone convicted of a felony, such as the right to armed self defense. On one side of the line are minor crimes that may show a lack of impulse control, and on the other side are grouped people who have shown through their actions that they are too destructive towards the rest of us.

    This means that the lives of people convicted of felonies is made harder in many ways. Finding a job, for example, can become very difficult. What business owner would trust someone who committed a felony? Killing a gerbil doesn’t rate.

    But ever more offenses have been deemed felonies in recent decades. It has been said that we are all criminals, all unknowing, because of the extra laws that have been added to the books. I think this is a particularly silly example.

  5. Years ago I served on a jury in Kings County Criminal Court. The accused was a homeless man who chased a legally blind woman and her 12yo daughter in the ATM enclosure of a bank in remote Brooklyn location and, pretending he has a gun in his jacket pocket, attempted a robbery. By happy (for mother and daughter) coincidence, the group was visible from the street, where exactly at that moment a patrol car was passing. The bum was arrested on the steps of the bank.
    The jury was stalled for 5 days, because half of us refused to convict the man. One said the man was “only joking”, the other – that 2 policemen and 2 victims conspired to put a black man behind bars (one of the policemen was black, and the victims – dark-skinned Hispanics). Finally we came to agreement, but only because one of the juty members (an entertainments lawyer…) was able to convince the opposition that the man will benefit by being in jail: it was winter, and the guy had nowhere to go.

    Here’s the NY justice for you (or the voting public, or who comprise the juries in our city, or what have you). I am not surprised by the gerbil story. Cute rodents are so much easier to feel sorry about.

  6. James,

    The silver lining for the gerbil slayer is that your statement, “Finding a job, for example, can become very difficult. What business owner would trust someone who committed a felony?” is not entirely true.

    “Hoping to help reformed felons land jobs, the Detroit City Council is considering an ordinance that would require businesses that do work for the city to remove questions about past criminal convictions from job applications.”

    Once her considerable debt to society is duly paid and she gets out on parole there is a bright future waiting for her in Detroit.

  7. My daughter had a hamster named “Happy” (Gerbils are illegal in California). One morning, she pounded at her parents’ bedroom door. When I rather irritably asked what the hell the matter was, she replied that our dog had licked Happy to death. The hamster had escaped and met a fate worse than…

    Well, you fill in the blanks.

    That is surely a felony-level offense yet the dog was never punished or even scolded. After all, maybe she was just being friendly.

  8. “Wall Street” by Stanley Weiser & Oliver Stone, 1987


    Gekko and Bud sit alone, wreathed in steam.

    BUD (sweating)
    Nice club, Mr. Gekko…

    Yeah… not bad for a City College boy. Bought my way into this club and now every one of these ivy league schmucks is sucking my kneecaps…I just got on the Board of the Zoological Society, cost me a million; that’s the thing with WASPS — they like animals but they can’t stand people!

  9. Michael,

    Unless the statute of limitations has run its course, you may want to pull your comment down. Admitting to aiding and abetting such a felony on a publically accessible web site might be a serious mistake.

  10. “a young woman snatched up the family gerbil and crushed it to death”.
    Richard Gere shaves head in grief-wracked protest.

  11. I am going to have to respectfully disagree. This is something that should come to the attention of the law.

    I come from a rural background in which human’s interacted with domestic and wild animals on a continuous basis. I have seen a lot of animals die and I have killed hundreds myself either because they were pest or because they were made of tasty meat.

    Humans have to kill animals but why and how we kill them matters greatly. Cruelty to animals is a serious sign of potential sociopathy. We don’t want a society which ignores individuals who torture or kill animals for mere pleasure.

    There was case in a local community when I was a child. Property owners began finding dead deer who had died of infected wounds. Upon investigation it was found that a local teenager was shooting deer in the flanks with a .22 rifle. It is almost impossible to kill a deer with a .22 and he wasn’t actually trying to kill them. He was just mad and wanted to hurt something. Now virtually everyone in the community hunted but everyone was horrified and disgusted at the teenagers treatment of the deer. He was lucky to escape to the law because otherwise just about anybody would have beaten the crap out of him.

    My grandfather advised, “If you want to know a man, look at his dog.” Dogs record their private treatment in their public behavior towards their masters. The way people treat animals is a strong predictor of their treatment of humans, especially humans they have power over.

    The proceedings and penalties in this case do seem overly severe. They were probably intended to punish prolonged neglect or dog fighting and now they are being applied to the impulsive actions of a stupid teenager. It’s a misdemeanor offense at best.

  12. Maybe the woman was hallucinating and thought she was in California. Therefore, she was trying to save the ecology from gerbils. Half the people in California are hallucinating anyway, why not her ?

    Bill, the statute has run. That daughter is now a lawyer. She never got another hamster, though.

  13. The way people treat animals is a strong predictor of their treatment of humans, especially humans they have power over.
    Popular myth.

    Godwin’s law notwithstanding, the clearest example of the statement above being false in practice is Nazi Germany. Hitler adored his German Sheppard Blondi and was a vegetarian; Canaris was always surrounded by dachshunds, and altogether all modern ideas of animals having rights originated in Germany of 1935-40.
    See, for instance, this article by Martin G Hulsey:

    …whenever animal activists argue today that giving rights to animals will produce a kinder, gentler society, it is perfectly appropriate to point out that the only modern civilization to officially embrace a philosophy of animal rights did not turn out to be more kind or more gentle.

  14. “The way people treat animals is a strong predictor of their treatment of humans, especially humans they have power over”

    There is more truth to it than you give credit, Tatyana. Hitler may well have been a mass murderer and simultaneously kind to animals, but he also never personally killed anyone in his life (including his WWI stint during hich he did a good job of avoiding face to face violence). He easily ordered murder, but kept the actual blood and guts at very long arms length. He was only capable of murder in the abstract.

    Jeffery Dahlmer, however, is usually offered up as the poster child for the sort of sociopathology that evolves from having no empathy for the suffering of animals (easily accesible to children) to having no empathy for the suffering of humans.

    Not all animal abuse evolve into violence toward other humans, but I believe you will find that just about everyone who kills people they barely know for little or no reason without remorse has a history of being pretty crappy to animals too.

  15. Tatyana,

    … the clearest example of the statement above being false in practice is Nazi Germany.

    No, the statement would only be false if I had stated that cruelty to animals is a deterministic predictor of cruelty and violence towards humans. But I didn’t. I just said it was a “strong” predictor which I think all available evidence suggest that it is.

    More to the point, I was talking about individual physical violence. Actually, striking out to physically injure a living thing is much different than supporting a political agenda. Pulling the trigger to end the life of an animal causes more emotion than supporting a war on the other side of the planet. This I can attest to personally.

    Politics is intellectual and relatively emotionally flat. Physical violence is an immediate thing and emotional. It’s the difference between talking about being punched in the face and actually being punched in the face. There are a lot more people who can play a video game about boxing than can physically climb in the ring.

    A person who can casually and personally inflict pain and death on animals for no good reason is very dangerous because the empathic mechanisms that make us feel the suffering of animals are the same ones that make us feel the suffering of our fellow humans. In the end, it is that empathy, the mirroring of the pain of others, that puts the breaks on our lashing out violently.

  16. It depends upon how “felony” is defined at the locale and the situation of the killing, doesn’t it? If someone picked up your four-year-old’s hamster and dashed it’s brains out for spite in front of the child who’s to say what the value of the “hamster” was? Is it a felony if someone takes a baseball bat to your car windows? Which hypothetical perp did the most harm?

    Whatever criminal charges the perp may face, civil penalties could be substatial, and rightly so, depending upon circumstances.

  17. Divide people into groups according to how they treat animals. Then determine 1) what percentage of people who are cruel to animals are cruel to humans and 2) what percentage of people who are kind to animals are cruel to humans. Does anyone doubt how the results would skew?

  18. James, I live in Brooklyn, NY (where this case occurred), and I’m delighted my tax dollars are being spent punishing cruelty to animals. Your argument that scarce resources are being squandered seems a cheap deflection. How about the millions New Yorkers spent changing street signs from “ALL CAPITAL LETTERS” to “Leading Capitals Only”, or renaming the Triborough Bridge the RFK Bridge, or putting bicycle lanes everywhere? Yet the foundation of your argument is that this prosecution is what wastes scarce resources?

    I alway sense a religious element in arguments trivializing cruelty to animals: That Man was created in God’s image. People seem to underscore that uniqueness by justifying the abhorrent treatment of animals. It’s just sad to note the flip tone of some of the statments here: James’s playful punishment of not inviting such a person to tea, or Brett’s placid description of a (decades obsolete) method of killing lab rats.

    But rejoice! Just because this woman is being prosecuted, she’ll likely get no more than a slap on the wrist. Perhaps you can undo these laws, as some of your respondents suggest, and maybe bring back cockfighting and bear-baiting as well. You’ve already succeeded in making crush videos legal once again.

  19. Shannon,
    “The way somebody treats animal” is not the same as “he inflicts pain to animal”.
    Active hurting, deliberate torturing IS a sign of psychotic behavior.
    But I am talking (and you talked, at first) in more general terms – that behavior with animals predicts behavior with humans. This is not true. There is just not enough correlation.
    Personally, out of my limited experience (and I realize it is anecdotal) I think there are many examples of people loving their pets and being total jackasses and cads to human beings. OK, you don’t like Nazi example, fine – two words for you: Leona Helmsley.
    before “supporting war on the other side of the globe” Naxis started at home. Germany was a site of increasing violence to “undermen” for years before it stretched abroad. And the same people who cherished their rottweilers and dobermans were beating Jews in the street.
    All it takes is to come up with classification: this creature deserves empathy, and this one – doesn’t. A lot of normal, not psycho people can subscribe to this distinction. It’s not for nothing there are stories of people who “wouldn’t hurt a fly” who turned out to be violent against people.
    I have no doubt re: the results of your hypothetical test; the latter category will be more plentiful.

  20. Interesting points. The Nazis dehumanized the people they wanted to murder. Germans who might treat their pets and “Aryans” well treated other people as pests to be exterminated, or worse. But if you take Nazis and other totalitarian ideologues out of the picture is my conclusion from my thought experiment really wrong?

  21. AndyP weighs in …

    “Yet the foundation of your argument is that this prosecution is what wastes scarce resources?”

    Actually, then foundation of my argument is that the offense doesn’t warrant a felony charge. But I don’t blame you for not getting that.

    “I alway sense a religious element in arguments trivializing cruelty to animals …”

    Thank for attributing that old time religion to my position, but it is nothing more than projection on your part. I am an agnostic, and have been for the past four decades or so.

    “Perhaps you can undo these laws, as some of your respondents suggest, and maybe bring back cockfighting and bear-baiting as well. You’ve already succeeded in making crush videos legal once again.”

    So I object to a felony charge being applied to something that warrants a misdemeanor, and that makes me a savage who wants to see deliberately inflicted pain? Thank you kindly for the free psych evaluation, as well as the clarification of my motives! I’m certain that it is worth every penny I paid for that professional opinion.

  22. I don’t know – were there any experiments?
    Again, anecdotally, speaking of my own experience: whenever I see exalted sentimentality, it makes me suspicious. Whether it is towards a favorite pet, or nostalgic idealized past, or towards particular social group – it rings a bell: this person covers up his deficient empathy. Which, come to think of it, should be universal, equal to all groups. When it is focused, instead, on only one group, we get PETA.
    Also (that is one of my core beliefs): animals are not equal to people. If there is a situation where I have to make a choice whom to save, an animal or a human being, I’ll choose a human being.

  23. Tatyana,

    Again, anecdotally, speaking of my own experience: whenever I see exalted sentimentality, it makes me suspicious

    I think we are talking about two different ends of a spectrum. Groups like PETA don’t care for animals. They are just interested in using people’s compassion for animals as a weapon to dominate and control them. If PETA cared about cows and other domestic animals, they wouldn’t be so energetically trying to destroy the animal’s economic and ecological niche. If people don’t eat beef, cows go extinct. You don’t have to be a ecologist to figure that one out.

    Again, there is a huge difference between the things people say and the physical acts they carry out. As I said, I grew up around animals, and interacted with them from birth to death. As well, my entire community did. So I got to see how people’s physical behavior towards animals was reflected in their physical behavior towards animals. It is a very strong predictor.

    The science on the matter backs me up. Criminologist used to talk about the homicidal triad for mass or serial killers. The triad was a set of behaviors observed in youth that tended to correspond with sociopathy in adulthood: bed wetting, fire setting and cruelty to animals. In the last 15 years or so, bed wetting has been largely eliminated and fire setting downgraded as a predictor but cruelty to animals remains a powerful predictor of sociopathy. Like I said above, the empathic mirror neurons that enable us to feel the pain of others activates for animals almost as strongly as for people.

    Sociopath who “like” animals do so for the same reason they “like” inanimate objects. A sociopath that enjoys riding horses may seem to “love” horses and treat them very well but if he suddenly decides he likes riding motorcycles instead, he will be just as seemingly emotional towards his motorcycles.

    Many sociopaths appear to like animals more than people because they can control animals. Animals impose on us little and give much. Sociopaths like that sort of relationships. Sociopaths still need to belong and to feel part of a group. Animals give them that feeling without the give and take that humans require. However, when push comes to shove, they won’t hesitate to dispose of the animals if they feel it will benefit them.

    Speer famously said that Hitler liked his dogs because only they and Eva Braun never wanted some political favor from him. I would also point out that he only acquired his dogs after he rose to prominence and he chose a large, powerful breed that would communicate a image of manliness to the German people. You would have a better case if he doted on an old, arthritic, flatulent small poodle.

    Or to put it in a modern context, if you see a man walking a couple of pitbulls in spiked collars your first thought isn’t, “Boy, he must love animals!”

    You are correct that compassion towards animals can be abused but then again all compassion can be abused. That is no reason not to be compassionate.

  24. Shannon,

    let’s return to the post. So you are saying, since “criminologists” profiled sociopaths to have history of cruelty to animals, anyone who displays said cruelty is a sociopath. Sociopath, by definition, is a danger to society. So why not isolate such person when “cruelty” is first noticed? We’ll do common good, right?

    But what do you define as cruelty? If I smash an insect (roach, f.e.) – is it cruelty? What about something bigger – a snake, say, or a mouse? A rat? A pigeon? How an impulse to take an anger to a rodent is worse than killing a waterbug? Or the a cuteness of an animal make a difference – shooting a fox cub is worse than use a baseball bat on a baby scorpion? [I’m not touching on an issue of rare or Red Book animals]
    I’m afraid, by your guidelines a whole lot of people, possibly bigger part of global population, would qualify as sociopaths.

    In my view, “cruelty” only appears when a person enjoys torturing someone weaker -be it a cat or a human child, physical or mental. Still, cruelty to a human should be punished more severely than cruelty to an animal – because we all have rights, people and animal, but our rights are not equal.

    Luckily, jurisprudence has progressed from the biblical times: killing someone’s wife is no longer equal to killing someone’s mule. And those who want to return to that system, siting “civilization” as reason, in reality are the worst kinds of retrogrades. When our courts dish out worse punishment to killer of rodent than to someone who kill (or threatened to kill) a human – especially a helpless human – that means our Justice system is anything but just.

  25. PS

    rereading the article linked to in the post, I notice something else: that this “sociopolitical” behavior of the Gerbil Slayer was reported by her own father, who called the authorities on her.
    Well, who is displaying unnatural inhuman tendencies here? I think that so called “father” should be prosecuted first. Who knows, what other dangerous social deficiencies he has? Better be safe now than sorry later!

  26. I have to side with Tatyana on this one, Shannon. While I am all for penalties for animal cruelty to be enshrined in our laws, I am extremely uneasy with the justification of enhanced scrutiny from the authorities because they might become serial killers. Such a path is a slippery slope that quickly leads to witch hunts.

    Let me illustrate what I am saying through an oblique approach.

    The majority of violent offenders are men, as are virtually all serial killers. Doesn’t that mean, using your very own argument, that people born male should be monitored by the police and courts?

    I mean, they are exhibiting characteristics found in the majority of felons, and in the vast majority of serial killers! How could it be any more clear that they are potentially dangerous and destructive? Even though they have not done anything to warrant such suspicion, we have to keep an eye on them anyway!

  27. Just a quick comment, when animals are dissected for the purpose of identifying a cause of death it is called necropsy not autopsy. cheers

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