Is shooting an animal to put it out of its misery “animal cruelty”? What if you were the one who caused that misery in the first place? Mr. Comber, an Ontario resident and creator of his own wildlife sanctuary, shot at a dog while attempting to scare it away from his land. Unfortunately and accidentally he wounded the dog, a wound he thought was too serious for the dog to survive. After Mr. Comber realized this, he shot the dog to put it out of its misery.
It is a crime under our Criminal Code to be cruel to animals, and Mr. Comber was charged with animal cruelty. Presumably, one of the rationales for criminalizing cruelty to animals is that when someone is cruel to an animal, it’s easier for them to be cruel to another human being. There is some evidence to support this theory.
As a young man in Alberta, I once worked on the kill floor of a meat processing plant. I witnessed hundreds of pigs slaughtered every day. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. I always wondered how cruelty to animals was a criminal offence, yet the mass slaughtering I witnessed was OK. I guess it comes down to us having to eat. Despite what some vegetarians believe, we humans eat and are designed to eat almost anything – including meat. At least putting an animal down quickly presumably isn’t cruel.
In another recent case, a Toronto man was charged with cruelty to animals when he hit a raccoon many times with a shovel. The raccoon cried loudly and a neighbour called the police. Would this man have been charged criminally with animal cruelty if he had killed the raccoon quickly?
Mr. Comber was found not guilty. The Court found that he was justified in firing the first shot to try and scare off the dog. And the second shot was also justified because Mr. Comber honestly believed that the dog could not survive the accidental wound and was in a lot of pain. It was humane to put the dog down.
Domesticating animals as pets or for food has been part of who we are for a very long time. Be nice to your animals. And that’s our legal opinion.