A 25-Year Prison Sentence for Beating Up a Dog Is Not Justice

“In early February 2019, a passerby filmed Fonseca as he punched his dog on his porch. He kicked and choked him and hit him with a piece of wood. The video was shared with Animal Care Services (ACS) of San Antonio, which questioned Fonseca, who told them that that was his way of disciplining Buddy. The dog was removed from Fonseca’s home, aided to a full recovery, and placed with a new family that presumably has a better handle on obedience training.

Fonseca, meanwhile, will spend the next 25 years in prison. While I love dogs as much as the next person, this is not justice. Fonseca’s sentence for beating up his pet—which was his property under Texas law—grossly exceeds most punishments Texas dispenses for those convicted of assaulting a human being. Defendants found guilty of an assault causing physical harm face up to a year in prison. When the alleged victim is a government official, security officer, emergency services worker, family member, or date, that punishment may be anywhere from two to 10 years behind bars. And when someone brandishes a deadly weapon and causes serious physical harm, they may land behind bars for anywhere from two to 20 years.

The city of San Antonio boasted about forcing taxpayers to house Fonseca in a steel cage for the next 25 years—for $22,751 annually, well over half a million dollars total—for losing his temper and beating an animal.”

“So why is Fonseca, 56, getting what amounts to a life sentence for hurting his dog? While Norwood’s statement suggests this is about sending a message to other dog punchers, the government says Fonseca had felony priors for crimes of retaliation and drug possession.

It’s difficult to argue with a straight face that a years-old drug possession conviction should be used to increase his sentence for hurting Buddy. Fonseca’s consumption habits may harm himself, but invoking that offense at sentencing is not about keeping San Antonio safe. It is about securing a sentence that would otherwise be impermissible under the law. Access to that kind of leverage is one of the primary reasons law enforcement groups oppose ending the war on drugs.

And while the same cannot be said for “crimes of retaliation,” in which people threaten government workers, Fonseca had already paid his debt to society for that, just as he had for possessing drugs. It’s certainly reasonable to consider a criminal defendant’s history at sentencing—someone who assaults people over and over again, for example, should not receive the same sentence each time.

But even if you find animal cruelty to be abhorrent, as I do, a decades-long prison term is not the appropriate response to all objectionable behavior—something we often forget in the context of the U.S. system, which is utterly addicted to lengthy prison terms. Desensitized bystanders may view Fonseca’s punishment as normal. It shouldn’t be.”

How Gordon Ramsay’s lamb slaughter joke explains our confusing relationship with meat

““the meat paradox”: the mental dissonance caused by our empathy for animals and our desire to eat them.

Australian psychologists Steve Loughnan, Nick Haslam, and Brock Bastian coined the term in 2010, defining it as the “psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering.” We empathize with animals — after all, we are animals ourselves — but we’re also hardwired to seek calorie-dense, energy-rich foods. And for most of human history, that meant meat.”

“Almost one in four American adults tells pollsters they’re cutting back on their meat intake — while the country sets new records for per capita meat consumption. We abhor the treatment of animals on factory farms, where 99 percent of meat in the US is produced, yet we dislike vegans. And even those of us who say we’re vegetarian or vegan are often stretching the truth.”

“One of the founding studies of the meat paradox literature, Percival told me, was the one published by the psychologists Loughnan, Haslam, and Bastian in 2010. They gave questionnaires to two groups, and while the subjects filled in answers, one group was given cashews to snack on while the other group was given beef jerky. The surveys asked participants to rate the sentience and intelligence of cows and their moral concern for a variety of animals, such as dogs, chickens, and chimpanzees.

The participants who ate the beef jerky rated cows less sentient and less mindful — and extended their circle of moral concern to fewer animals — than the group that ate the cashews.”

“Even exposure to strict vegetarians or vegans can elicit a “heightened commitment to pro-meat justifications,” Percival says about one study. This might explain why we see per capita meat consumption rise in tandem with rates of veganism and vegetarianism.”

“We make myths to justify our relationship with animals, too. One of the more popular ones is the “ancient contract,” which goes something like this: Animals give us their meat, and in exchange, we give them domestication and thus an opportunity to evolutionarily succeed. This concept was coined by science writer Stephen Budiansky in 1989 and has been touted by food writers Michael Pollan and Barry Estabrook, as well as iconic animal welfare scientist Temple Grandin.”

“We also use language to obscure; one study found that replacing “slaughtering” or “killing” with “harvesting” reduced dissonance, and that replacing “beef” and “pork” on restaurant menus with “cow” and “pig” generated more empathy for animals. Adding a photo of an animal next to the dish further elevated empathy, while also making vegetarian dishes more appealing to study participants.

Percival says the meat paradox can be found across cultures and time periods, and that “there is no culture in which plant foods are problematic in the same way.””

What’s killing the world’s biggest fish?

“The largest fish on Earth is a shark. Capable of reaching a length of up to 60 feet — roughly the height of a four-story building — whale sharks, named for their size, are so large that they make great whites look like minnows.

But even giants can disappear. Over the last several decades, more than half of all whale sharks have vanished from the ocean. Some populations have fallen by more than 60 percent.”

“A study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that cargo ships are likely a leading cause of whale shark deaths. Often, where you find high densities of these endangered fish, you also find shipping traffic, the authors found, and ships are already known to strike and kill these animals.”

“Whale sharks are not the only roadkill. Vast cargo vessels harm many species of marine giants, such as the endangered North Atlantic right whales, and some smaller creatures, like sea turtles. Ships also emit loud noises that disrupt marine life and spew planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“Shipping is a serious problem for giants of the sea,” said Robert Harcourt, a marine ecologist at Macquarie University in Australia who was not affiliated with the study. “We have an economy that’s derived from moving things around the world in a way that’s not taking into account the cost to the environment.””

“A good step toward decreasing collisions is figuring out where animals are most at risk, and that’s where this new whale shark study comes in. Large ships are required to report their locations, and the authors compared those points to the movement of hundreds of whale sharks, which they had previously tagged with satellite trackers. (This is no easy feat: “You’ve gotta have some nice long fins, a good pair of lungs, and sprint after it underwater,” said David Sims, a marine ecologist at the University of Southampton and a study co-author.)

The results revealed just how vulnerable these fish are: More than 90 percent of the ocean’s surface area that whale sharks use overlaps with the routes of tankers, passenger ships, and fishing vessels. Whale sharks tend to congregate near the coast, where shipping is especially busy”

“many of the sharks’ tracking devices stopped working when the animals entered busy shipping lanes, perhaps because they were killed by ships. (Some trackers even showed sharks swimming into dense shipping routes and then sinking slowly to the seafloor — “the smoking gun for a lethal ship strike,” as Womersley and Sims wrote in The Conversation.)”

“Making oceans safer for marine giants is conceptually simple, and one option is to route ships away from animal hot spots.”

“Even just slowing ships down can make a huge difference. The chance that a cargo ship will kill a whale falls to below 50 percent when it’s moving at around half speed (10 knots, or 11.5 miles per hour), compared to nearly 100 percent when it’s moving more quickly, according to one 2006 study.”

“there’s a big drawback to ships slowing down or going on a different route: It takes longer to deliver goods. That’s one reason studies like this don’t always translate into shipping restrictions. That drawback also makes alternative approaches, such as designing quieter ships or adding wildlife deterrents or propeller guards, appealing (although the benefits of these technologies aren’t well established).”

There’s a Covid-19 epidemic in deer. It could come back to haunt us.

“How the virus spreads among wildlife is a black box that scientists try to peer into through the tiniest of pinpricks. But what they do know is that when the coronavirus establishes itself in wildlife, it creates for itself a sort of insurance policy. We may be able to get the pandemic among humans under control, but the virus is likely to lurk in other species, making it that much harder to monitor and defeat.

The spread of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife is not the most pressing issue of the pandemic right now. Humans are still catching the virus from each other and dying from it. Still, these wildlife risks, if they are realized, could have serious consequences. Scientists want to be vigilant about dangers that could emerge from the wilderness.”

“Infections have turned up in cats, dogs, lions, tigers, pumas, ferrets, mink, certain rodents, snow leopards, and others. The CDC even has guidelines to protect pets from Covid-19. When a virus jumps from animals to humans and then back to animals, scientists call that spillback.

Most of these infections in animals appeared to be self-contained. An infected house cat presumably stays in the house when infected — it doesn’t start a chain of transmission. “They were all isolated cases,” Suresh Kuchipudi, a Penn State infectious disease researcher who collaborated with Kapur, says of known cases in animals.

The deer infections were different. “This is first time that a completely free-living animal species in the wild has been found to be infected, and that infection is widespread,” Kuchipudi says.

How the deer got infected in the first place remains a mystery, but researchers believe the outbreak came from humans. The virus circulating in the deer had similar genetic sequences to the virus circulating in humans at the time that they got it.”

“Whatever happened to start the deer outbreaks, it appears to have happened many times. The genetic analysis in the PNAS paper finds evidence of several separate jumps from humans into animals. Further research needs to be done to identify the exact pathway, and hopefully to prevent the next leap.

Once the virus jumps into the deer, they are also spreading it to each other, the studies find. “There was not just human-to-deer spillover, but there was also deer-to-deer transmission, as evidenced by genomic changes that would confirm that,” Kuchipudi says.”

“The pandemic in humans is much more urgent than Covid-19 in animals. All of the scientists I spoke to agreed about that. The coronavirus is still killing thousands of people every day, and that’s the problem that should get the bulk of our attention and resources.”

“On the other hand, the scientists say they want more visibility into what’s happening in the animal world. “We need wildlife surveillance,” Olson says, meaning more testing of animals for coronavirus antibodies — a sign they have been exposed — or active infections. “We just don’t have the tools to begin to understand the system, to even start mapping what’s going to happen here, because our ability to see it is so opaque right now.””

“Covid-19 outbreaks in animals are not situations we can plausibly control. Rather, they’re something to monitor in case they start to look like pressing problems.”

Pigs are as smart as dogs. Why do we eat one and love the other?

“Imagine a dog. She spends her entire life in an iron crate so small that she cannot turn around. Her tail has been cut off so that other dogs in cages jammed up against hers won’t chew it off in distress. When she has puppies, the males are castrated without painkillers. They are left close enough for her to nurse, but too far away for her to show them any affection.

Fortunately, this dog is a fictional creation. We have laws preventing people from treating pets this way.

Unfortunately, we are doing this to animals that are very similar to dogs. This is an all-too-real description of how we treat some of the millions and millions of pigs we raise for meat on factory farms.

So why do we treat the animals we eat in ways we would never, ever treat our pets?”