Animal welfare issues have been on my mind lately—it is among the reasons why I have been transitioning to a vegetarian diet (with too many logistical issues and inchoate, moral principles to make the full swing to vegan). As a libertarian, I grapple with the seemingly intractable issues of what to do about animal abuse or what to make of the moral status of non-human animals (it is almost trite to point out that libertarianism has children and animal problems).
But as much as animal abuse offends my moral sensibilities, I still find myself getting all indignant about the spate of laws requiring animal abusers to register in their counties. The intentions are well and good—I admit that I find these courses of action emotionally assuaging- but these laws are overreaching insofar as certain individuals would be legally banned from owning pets.
A week ago, New York State Assembly members Didi Barrett (D) and Jim Tedisco initiated a bi-partisan effort to augment Buster’s Law with the creation a statewide registry that would be made available to all adoption agencies and organizations that deal with animals. As I mentioned earlier, this registry would proscribe pet ownership for those convicted of animal abuse indefinitely. Additionally, convicted offenders will undergo mandatory psychiatric evaluation until they are deemed fit to care for animals. Interestingly, there is nothing in the proposed legislation that requires adoption agencies to consult these registries.
Some libertarians may find this legislation sensible. But I am not one of them. I am concerned about the liberties of the alleged animal abusers. Frankly, I am not yet convinced that the moral status of non-human animals is equivalent to the status of human beings. Nor do I think that non-human animals have any rights. I cannot think of any way in which the relationship humans and non-human animals can be symmetrical. I accept the logical conclusion this leads me to: non-human animals are property (I am willing to change my mind about that). It seems excessive to treat abusers as criminals and subsequently ban them from owning pets.
Obviously, non-human animals are not property in the same way that my laptop is my property; sentience does count for something (hence the moral quandary that I am dealing with). I am very much in favor of creating a culture in which animal abuse is heavily stigmatized and allowing adoption agencies to take initiative in scrutinizing the backgrounds of their clients. To elaborate on the latter, I am thinking about voluntary forms of licensing (i.e. no state or federal mandates) and individual agencies requiring licensing or background checks (as opposed to a state-mandated, blanket requirement). In sum, I am in favor alternative ways of addressing and mitigating animal abuse.