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Animal welfare and our role as stewards of God's creation

By Scott Tibbs, December 11, 2007

An absolutely sickening account of a hamster being tortured to death and two letters to the editor about the senseless shooting of a local family's dog got me thinking about animal rights and welfare, and where humans stand in all of this. Once the immediate emotional reaction to these stories is over, I think it is useful to examine these issues in a more dispassionate, logical manner.

First, do animals have a "right" to kindness? The answer to that question is "no". If animals had a "right" to kindness, there would be no predators that kill animals and eat them alive. Are humans to be kind to animals? The answer to that is "yes" - we are stewards of God's creation and are to treat what He has given us with respect. Human beings are unique in nature. We are made in the image of God and can commune directly with Him. Therefore, there are different "rules" for us that lower life forms simply cannot understand.

Human beings have both the right and obligation to use nature for our benefit. (See the command in Genesis to "subdue" the earth.) In some cases, this might involve killing animals. This should be done in as quick and painless a way as possible. We are not, under any circumstances, to needlessly inflict pain upon an animal, especially out of sadism.

A decade ago, I wrote a letter to the editor in which I said of a cat who had been set on fire and tortured by local thugs: "Get over it already!" I do believe the reaction to the cat burning was overblown, but I regret writing this particular statement. Watching your pet suffer is a very difficult and painful thing, and I should have shown more respect for those who cared about Olivia. I also regret a statement I made in an opinion column in the Indiana Daily Student to the effect that human beings have no responsibility to be kind to animals. As the owner of two Beagle mixes, my views have evolved and matured over time.

While harming an animal does not rise to the level of harming a human being, the monster who tortured that hamster to death clearly needs to be punished. First, it has been demonstrated that people who take sadistic pleasure in hurting animals generally turn their attention to human beings later. These people must be identified and dealt with before they can harm a human being. Secondly, I believe it benefits society to send a message that we will treat life with respect, specifically vertebrates which can feel pain. At the same time, we can't go overboard. As with so many things, common sense is the key.

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