A failed prosecution for animal cruelty has riled the ruling class. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, former Gov. David Cargo, former Attorney General Patricia Madrid, former State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, other public officials and animal activists are livid that the New Mexico Court of Appeals dismissed charges against a primate care center in Alamogordo. They want the Supreme Court to resurrect the case.
The facts: The National Institute of Health hired Charles Rivers Laboratories to care for 250 chimpanzees that, as the Court of Appeals put it, “have effectively retired from invasive medical testing.” Many of the animals are decrepit and suffer terminal diseases.
The DA argues the lab committed animal cruelty by not having medical personnel present at the facility around the clock. Veterinarians on call, the DA insists, were insufficient. As a result of what the DA calls “abandonment,” two chimps died overnight and one required extraordinary measures to save its life the next morning.
The Court of Appeals dismissed the charges on grounds that the animal cruelty statute does not criminalize veterinary negligence. That’s precisely what the law says.
The celebrity outcry on behalf of chimps surfaced the same day as the report that living conditions for many of New Mexico’s human children remain dismal and dangerous.
The grim numbers: The death rate for our children worsened by 40 percent. We have more children without health insurance than the national average, which itself is deplorable. Twenty-six percent of our children live in crushing poverty.
New Mexico swallowed those distasteful stats with barely a dyspeptic burp. What gives?
After spending much of my career as an attorney, I know that many criminal defense lawyers will tell you they’d much rather face a jury with a child abuse than an animal abuse case. They just can’t overcome jurors’ emotions about mistreating animals. With human victims, there’s more room to maneuver. For one thing, you can always put the child on trial. You can’t cross-examine a dog or cat.
The Albuquerque City Council spent a record amount of time debating Councilor Sally Mayer’s labyrinthine animal ordinance, far more than they’ve ever spent discussing improving life for human beings under age 18. Crowds of agitated citizens vented for hours about comfortable living conditions for pets and how much more we should spend on animal shelters.
Yet the City of Albuquerque doesn’t have a single shelter for homeless children or runaways seeking a safe night’s sleep. That responsibility is left to private charity.
Sally Mayer has delayed Council meetings to parade animals needing adoption. Chavez wants Albuquerque to become a “no kill” city. But we’ve never seen Mayer open a Council session by promoting adoption of parentless children. And Chavez’ “no kill” goal doesn’t apply to humans. He’s not against the death penalty, and his objection to prematurely terminating life pertains to unwanted cats and dogs, not unwanted children at the earliest stages of their lives.
As for those chimps whose treatment equals criminal misconduct in the eyes of animal activists, taxpayers are shelling out $42.8 million—more than $171,000 per animal—to nurse them in their last days.
Imagine the tab for teams of lawyers litigating whether a veterinarian who commits malpractice should be prosecuted as a criminal—something we’ve never done to a New Mexico physician who’s fatally botched treatment of a human being.
We’ve spent $15 million to reintroduce 50 wolves in Catron County. That’s $300,000 per wolf—so far. The mayor wants to rent a panda for $1 million a year, and house the cute critter in a facility costing $4 million to build and more to operate and maintain. And the cost of designating critical habitat for the silvery minnow can hit $16.2 million annually, in addition to the $50 million Congress has already allocated for the tiny fish.
But we don’t provide adequate health care to every New Mexico child, and our kids are dying young at an increasing rate.
Animal activists could put their own money where their mouths are, the way private charities step up for homeless humans. Animal activists certainly have the cash. The Humane Society rakes in $140 million yearly and could completely take over the chimpanzee hospice. In Defense of Animals, the group pushing this case, could hire night shift veterinarians with some of its $3.1 million annual income. Chavez, Cargo, Madrid and Powell could salve their consciences by kicking in $43,000 each to cover the bills for one of the chimps.
Work out for yourself the odds of any of that ever happening.
Look, if we buy the theory that failure to give aging animals the very best care money can buy amounts to criminal abandonment and cruelty, let’s apply the same test to how well we’re serving the young of our own species. If we do, rise and face the jury, New Mexico. For we stand collectively condemned and convicted.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.