I sometimes get some very odd looks when expressing my views. I like to think of myself as a fairly middle-of-the-road, moral, reasonably sane, rational, fundamentally decent person. I doubt that’s true all of the time but it is something I work on.
So when this month’s topic came up and I found myself laughing, I did a little “am I reacting rationally, kindly and sanely to this” check.
I have been loosely involved with a group called “Husky Justice”. This group was founded as a result of an appalling act of cruelty in South Africa. Phillip Matthyssen, who owned a smallholding and a number of animals, including a six month old husky puppy, had killed the puppy.
It wasn’t just that he had killed it. The puppy had bitten through the wires of its enclosure and, doing what puppies do, had come across of the man’s prize birds, which he promptly ate. The owner decided that the correct course of action was to take the puppy’s lower jaw off with a chain saw and leave it bleeding, screaming in pain and dying in his yard. His neighbours heard the puppy and called the police. The police arrived just as he was finishing burying the body. They arrested him.
Now, the South African justice system is completely overwhelmed. It has difficulty keeping track of and dealing with the numerous crimes that occur involving people on a daily basis. So there was not much hope that this would even come to trial. When it did, to the surprise of many of us, it became clear that the owner might escape a prison sentence. The most that was likely to happen was that he be fined and his animals taken away.
The Husky Justice campaign attracted 40,000 signatures and hit the press in South Africa in a dramatic way. Even people who had, up until then, not really felt strongly one way or the other about animal welfare, were horrified by this crime, signed the petition and visited the Facebook site. By the time the case came to court, Husky Justice had organised themselves into a coherent, focussed group and a number of supporters were at court in person, to make their feelings known.
You can imagine our collective horror when, not only did he get off with a fine, part of which was payable to the South African Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which had conducted an investigation, but he was also allowed to keep the rest of his dogs. He was however forbidden to keep huskies in future. Photos from court showed him alternatively smirking or hiding his face. As he was fairly well off, his fine was paltry in comparison with what he had done.
There was a fair uproar in animal protection circles but there was nothing that could be done. There were the usual calls for him to be hunted down and killed in the same way as he had the dog and someone even offered people money for information as to where he lived. All rather hysterical and over the top, but I understood the strength of feeling behind the drama. Personally, I don’t want to share the earth with someone who could do what he did and laugh about it afterwards but I also don’t think I am in a position to make a final judgement as to someone’s worth on this planet.
A couple of Monday’s ago, I was having a very busy, stressful day. I checked my emails at lunchtime and also the news. I came across a news item. It made me laugh. So I did my “Am I sane? Am I nice?” check, found out that I didn’t give a flying duck.
You see, Philip had been driving along a deserted stretch of highway at 4am that morning. He appeared to have been speeding. His car left the road and crashed. He was flung from it and suffered very bad head injuries. Local labourers, hearing the noise, were too scared to go and investigate. So Philip was left by the side of the road, slowly dying from his head injuries, until a motorist driving past called the wreck into the police. By the time the emergency services got there, he had died.
Due to the high profile nature of the case and the fact that he had received death threats, the police investigated the crash. They found that there were no other vehicles involved and apparently no foul play had occurred. Whilst I feel for his family (how awful it must be to have a son or a brother who could behave like that in the first instance and then lose him), I feel absolute rocks for the man. I tried to be appalled by my lack of empathy and failed in that also.
Had the victim of that crash been just about anyone else, I would have felt genuine sadness. It’s a horrible way to end your life – in pain and dying alone. And I am sure that the puppy would have been pleased to tell him that.
My morality has shifted. I think a few years ago, I would have been a bit concerned about my own reaction. I hate to admit this, but it brightened my day up that the world was less one abusive person and this one specifically. There has been plenty of talk about how his karma caught up with him. I am not convinced that the universe works in that way. I see plenty more instances where people seem to get away with their behaviour for years and years and I can’t see why the universe would intercede in this one but not the others. I like to think of it as a charming coincidence.