What If Two Raccoons Drowned by Florida Students Were Dogs?

Teacher who had students drown two raccoons is exonerated because it was legal.

Posted Jun 02, 2018

"If drowning raccoons isn't animal cruelty, what is?"

"It is hard for me to understand how anyone could put any animal in a barrel and drown it by slowly filling up with water. It is barbaric, cruel and horrific. That a teacher at a school could not only plan this horrific exercise, but also encourage students to help him, is beyond the pale. We have research that shows that animals, including raccoons, have personalities, minds, and feelings. They have emotions including happiness, sadness, fear, and despair. They are sentient and sapient. I ask everyone who owns a dog, a cat, a horse, or any other beloved pet, to think about how they would feel if they had to watch them drowned in this sadistic way. Those raccoons had family members. They had lives that they enjoyed living. They fought for their last breath, and it was denied to them." (Dr. Jane Goodall, via email to me, 2 June 2018)

Today I received two most disturbing emails about nonhuman animal (animal) cruelty, the messages of which have to be shared widely. The first concerned an upcoming killing contest to be hosted by a New Zealand School. I've written quite a bit about New Zealand's war on wildlife and how it depends on imprinting youngsters on killing so-called "pests," and another example of heinous inhumane education is planned for later in this month (for more information please see "Killing Animals Is 'Weirdly Addictive' Says New Zealander" and many links therein). The poster below tells it all. 

Open access
Source: Open access

It's okay to kill raccoons in Florida schools

"The teacher 'did not intend to torture or torment those nuisance animals,”' wrote Brad King, state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit, in a May 25 memo."

I also learned in an essay by Laura Goldman that there will be "No Animal Cruelty Charges for Teacher Who Made Students Drown Raccoons." The email messages I received about this outlandish decision included, "This is ______ing unbelievable," "I must get involved although I've never done anything like this," The teacher ought to get a job in New Zealand," and "Not just unbelievable, but makes one sick to their stomach." 

Ms. Goldman's essay is available online, and I caution you that it is not an easy read. The bottom line is that the teacher involved, who took early retirement soon after, wanted to kill two raccoons after they had killed several chickens in an agricultural science class at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida. Rather than release them into the wild, he trapped them in wire cages, filled a trashcan with water, and had his students drown them.  

free download from FreeArt
Source: free download from FreeArt

What caught my eye about this situation is that media claims the teacher "forced" the students to kill the raccoons, but in Ms. Goldman's essay we read "the students told Brewton [the teacher] they wanted to kill the raccoons and opossum and suggested shooting them." The teacher told them it was illegal to have guns on campus, so "The students then suggested bludgeoning the animals, which Brewton said would be too 'brutal and messy.' He told them that drowning would be the most humane way to 'dispose of the animals.'” So, what I make of the situation is that the students were "forced" to kill the animals in ways they didn't choose, but most wanted to kill the raccoons and at least one didn't want to kill and spoke out. As is the case in New Zealand, not all students want to partake in these heinous and immoral acts (please see "Violence Toward Animals: 'Can You Please Help My Daughter?'"). While the raccoons were being drowned, one student who didn't participate took a video that went viral. His mother said, "he came home in tears."

Along with this most egregious example of "inhumane education," there also is much concern for the effects of imprinting youngsters for killing other animals, because violence toward nonhumans is has been linked to violence toward humans (please also see "The Link Between Violence Toward Nonhuman Animals and Humans"). 

Would the students have done this to dogs? Raccoon suffer as much as dogs would when they're being drowned 

"The facts are that three animals were cruelly killed – and it’s also a disturbing fact that the students didn’t refuse to drown them. If not for one caring student who recorded the drownings, the incident might never have even been reported."

The retired teacher was let off, and Brad King, state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit, notes the teacher "was simply attempting to protect his class’s school project in an appropriate manner.” He also said, "the torture or torment of the animals was 'unintentional,' [but] the student’s eyewitness account and video tell a different story. He said that when the raccoons came up to the surface, gasping for air, the students would push their heads down with metal rods and spray their faces with a hose." (For more discussion on this case, please see "The Difference Between Euthanasia and Torture, Morally and Legally.")

There is no doubt that the raccoons suffered deeply when they were being drowned, and they suffered as much as dogs and other animals would if they were being drowned (if you choose to do so, you can read about how animals suffer when they're drowning here). They are sentient and feeling beings who experience rich and deep emotional lives. As Jane Goodall wrote above, "I ask everyone who owns a dog, a cat, a horse, or any other beloved pet, to think about how they would feel if they had to watch them drowned in this sadistic way." I wonder how many of the Florida students live with a dog, a cat, or any other companion animal, and how they'd feel if their companion was intentionally drowned. It's also interesting and important to note that while New Zealand recognizes nonhumans as sentient beings, this gets pushed aside in their brutal assault on the lives of millions upon millions of sentient beings. (Along these lines, just today I learned that an Idaho school teacher who fed a sick puppy to a snapping turtle was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.}

In an essay titled "'Everyone Wants a Lost Dog Found,' Bridging the Empathy Gap" I wrote, "Dogs can serve as a 'gateway"' species to bridge the empathy gap to include other nonhumans in the arena of compassion and to bring humans together. I can only hope that if the people who think it's just fine to drown raccoons engage in a bit of introspection, they will come to see how wrong it was to drown these sentient beings and then to have no one pay a price for their being killed, some would rightfully say, murdered (please also see "Murdering Animals: A Book About Social and Species Justice"). 

I also often wonder if dogs, by bridging the empathy gap among humans, could help to heal our wounded world by bringing together people of all ages and all cultures who share an attachment and affection for these wonderful beings. This would be a win-win for all animals, nonhuman and human.

It's high time to change laws about animal cruelty: "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight"

"The international spotlight that’s been shining on this terrible incident should compel Florida to enact new laws that prevent other students and anyone else from doing the same cruel thing to animals." 

All in all, the raccoon drownings in Florida should be all about decency and the importance of life for every single individual, nonhuman or human. While it might be legal to torture raccoons and other animals in Florida and elsewhere, it's immoral and wrong. 

It's high time to change laws about animal cruelty so that other animals are recognized as sentient beings rather than unfeeling objects. In fact, it's long overdue, given what we know about animal emotions and the capacity for other animals to experience a wide range of emotions and to suffer deep and enduring pain. As the late Gretchen Wyler noted, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight," and turning a blind eye to drowning raccoons or mistreating other animals is a dastardly act. Of course, it's important to spread the word when "good things" happen for other animals, as well as when they're treated in incredibly inhumane and brutal ways.

Many people have no idea about the myriad ways in which countless numbers of nonhumans are abused globally, and, as I'm writing this essay, emails are still coming in expressing incredulity about what happens every second of every day. One of the most recent, from a youngster who was "totally offended" by what happened in Florida, asks, "If drowning raccoons isn't animal cruelty, what is?"

As Jane Goodall aptly wrote, the raccoons "fought for their last breath, and it was denied to them." Let's hope they did not die in vain. 

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