Friday, March 13, 2015

Justice, not mercy, for animal abusers

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

There were some sensational crimes in early-colonial New England that were so horrible that they resulted in execution of the perpetrators—and their innocent victims.

Anonymous pamphlet, 1641
In 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII, a buggery (anal sex) and bestiality law was passed in England that prescribed hanging for the offender. The law was repealed by Queen Mary in 1553, but reinstated by Queen Elizabeth in 1563.

 In Ireland in 1640, John Atherton, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, was hanged for sodomy under a law that he had helped to institute. After his execution, gossip circulated that he had practiced zoophilia with cattle. With the Puritan war on all things Church of England, Church of Ireland, and Church of Scotland, it’s quite possible that the bishop was innocent of all charges and was the victim of a political conspiracy to be rid of him.

In the winter of 1640-41, John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, recorded, “A wicked fellow, given up to bestiality, fearing to be taken by the hand of justice, fled to Long Island [the one in Boston Harbor], and there was drowned. He had confessed to some, that he was so given up to that abomination, that he never saw any beast go before him but he lusted after it."

Also that winter, a young man named William Hatchett, who lived in Salem, was observed violating a cow while other people were at church, and he was hanged. The cow was condemned “to bee slayne & burnt or buried.”

In 1642 in Plymouth Colony, Thomas Granger, aged 17, pleaded guilty to buggery with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey. The teenaged boy was hanged, and the animals were killed and buried in a large pit with no use made of any of them. This was an extreme financial hardship for whoever owned the animals (his parents or his master). One milk cow was worth £30, horses were even more rare and valuable, and sheep were so needed for wool that there were laws forbidding their slaughter for meat. The value of the animals that had to be slaughtered because of the boy's lust was vast at a time of economic depression and privation because of the English Civil War. Goods and livestock were simply not being shipped over from England, and rations were short in America--people starved in Virginia. As for young Thomas Granger, Governor Bradford of Plymouth wrote that the devil worked unusually hard to snare sinners from among God’s chosen people because he knew what a great victory it was to do so.

In Boston in 1643, Teagu O’Crimi, an Irish slave or servant, “for a foule, & divilish attempt to bugger a cow of Mr. Makepeaces, was censured to bee carried to the place of execution, and there to stand with an halter [hanging noose] about his necke, and to bee severely whipped.” The punishment was as much a lesson for the community as it was for the slave.

In New Haven Colony (before it joined with Connecticut Colony), George Spencer and Thomas Hogg—remember this name!—did the dirty deed with sows; the sows produced offspring that looked like the alleged fathers. Spencer had a false eye and was balding. In February, 1642, a sow gave birth to a dead deformed piglet. The piglet was completely bald and had "butt one eye in the midle of the face, and thatt large and open, like some blemished eye of a man." From its forehead “a thing of flesh grew forth and hung downe, itt was hollow, and like a man’s instrument of generration.” Eyewitness testimony and confessions sealed the doom of Spencer and Hogg—and the sows and their litters, who were destroyed and buried.
1588 illustration from De Monstrorum
illustrating human/hog and human/dog half-breeds.
In 1662 in New Haven Colony, the case of William Potter consorting with a female dog and a sow resulted in the accusation by his own teen-aged son and wife, and then his trial and conviction. Potter admitted that he’d committed bestiality since the age of ten, in England. Before he was hanged, he pointed out his recent partners: one cow, two heifers, three ewes, and two sows, and they died with him.

In Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, I wrote a short anecdote about a big case that really happened in Providence, Rhode Island, and played out in Newport court (because they had a jail and Providence didn’t). I used it as a contrast to the situation which was happening at the exact time in March 1657: Mary Dyer had arrived in Boston after a winter voyage and been thrown in jail for the first time for her affiliation with Quakers. William Dyer, the attorney, was unaware that his wife was a prisoner, only 60 miles away, while he participated in the Rhode Island court that prosecuted a bestiality case.

The case of Long Dick Chasmore begins
on page 147 of this book.
In the Rhode Island case, there was a years-long controversy about Rhode Island’s land claim, that Massachusetts Bay wanted to either annex the land for themselves or cede the land to Connecticut. One of the Pawtuxet landowners, Richard Chasmore, wanted to be under Massachusetts Bay authority, though his land was, according to the 1644 charter, part of Rhode Island. Chasmore had been observed by two Indians, one in winter, and one in spring, to have committed buggery with his heifer, but Indians’ testimony was not admissible in court. Mr. Chasmore’s wife corroborated their story and added that “Long Dick” (I’m not making up this nickname—that’s what he was called in 1657) Chasmore had violated other animals, as well, but women testifying against men, much less their own husbands… not so effective. Chasmore himself admitted to attempting but not succeeding in buggering his heifer. Roger Williams himself prosecuted the case, but because they didn’t have the witnesses, the case was dismissed, and Chasmore went free.

Why not punish the men only, and let the animals go? The poor creatures were innocent victims. But in the 17th-century understanding, it was possible for men and animals to mate and produce offspring. They believed that the mingling of men’s seed (sperm) with female seed (ovum) could result in a monstrous creature that was proof of the human’s sin. Any resulting progeny would be part human, they believed, and using their meat or hides would not only be “unclean,” but cannibalism. We might take small comfort that the poor, abused creatures were probably humanely dispatched and their carcasses given a decent burial.

August 4, 2016 NPR story: Using human stem cells in lab animals. Click this link.

It’s shocking that in the 21st century, the abuse and neglect of domestic animals is not more strongly prosecuted. People consider animals to be sentient beings, capable of thoughts and emotions, but causing them fear, pain, neglect, or distress is sad but not worthy of prosecution.  Existing laws consider animals to be mere property, and not of sufficient importance or value (beyond monetary) to be worthy of lawmakers’ efforts. When people are caught hoarding, running fighting pits, unethical breeding, and committing severe neglect or abuse, they don’t receive similar charges as they would for committing those acts on human children. So they walk away with a slap on the hands or a small fine, if any punishment at all. If the law doesn’t exist or the penalties are small, prosecutors have little to bring to a jury.

On the day I posted this article, two young men were arrested in Arizona (my state) for shooting a horse four times using two different guns. The horse was found the next day and had to be put down. Both men admitted to shooting the horse in court paperwork.One wept at his court appearance, saying that his friend and he were robbing a house when his friend shot the horse and wounded it, so he put another two bullets in it attempting to put it out of its misery. Then the men left and were later arrested. The horse suffered until the next day, when it was put down.

So what will be the outcome of their arrests? This state doesn't have very stringent laws about animal abuse, nor the punishment/deterrent that many of us would like to see meted out by judges. But the judges are limited in their sentencing. The Arizona laws call for Class 1 misdemeanor or Class 6 felony in animal cruelty convictions. If convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor, they could get maximum penalties as follows: up to $2,500 fine and six months in jail. If convicted of a Class 6 felony, "The presumptive sentence for the first time offender is 1 year, with a 6 month minimum, though the severity of the crime can increase imprisonment for the first time class 6 felony offender to 1.5 years and up to 2 years for an aggravated class 6 felony. Mitigating circumstances can reduce the sentence to 4 months."

Where's the state legislature at a time like this? Oh, right. Putting forward bills about Daylight Saving Time, or trying to put guns in elementary classrooms. And claiming that they don’t have to obey federal law if they don’t like it.
Cruelty and abuse happen everywhere, all the time. It's so horrible, so nauseating, that I can't even list the recent cases I've read about, locally or across the country. In my own gut, and certainly in hundreds of comments one reads on Facebook stories about animal cruelty, there's a great desire for retributive violence--if only we could take vengeance on behalf of the animals. I'm a believer in peace and nonviolence, and the thought of vigilantism is abhorrent to me, but I confess that my first reaction is a wish for the offender to experience the same pain he's inflicted on an innocent animal. Personal morality, community harmony, and a lawful society demand a different response, though: legislation and the courts.

Do you despair at your local legislators putting forward lame-brain bills? Contact them and insist that they take on causes that really matter. Here's how you can discover who your representatives are, and how you can reach them

Given that abusing animals can be a precursor to abusing and murdering humans, and that torture and neglect of living creatures is inherently evil, prison terms (or committal to a mental hospital if applicable) and large fines might serve to deter people from those evil behaviors. And at least it would be small comfort for those who respect animals, that there is justice for all, even those, especially those, who can't speak for themselves.

Editorial in Asbury Park Press about strengthening laws and penalties surrounding animal cruelty: 
Medieval Animals in the Dock, by veterinarian and Regency-period author Grace Elliot
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