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Californians Mull Equal Animal Rights

by Omar Bellis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Animals in California could have the same rights as humans if a simple majority of Golden State voters approve Proposition 18 in September. Opponents say the legislation could criminalize almost every relation between humans and non-human, non-plant species, as the measure refers to animals.

"Most people would be criminals if this thing passes," said Rudy Vulmann of Citizens Against Prop 18, the chief opposition group. "Not only would hunting and even catch-and-release fishing become illegal, but even owning a pet or possessing a leather football would become a first-degree felony. Zoos will be closed, Sea World will be shut down, riding stables and ranches will go bankrupt, and animals will disappear from Hollywood films."

Just a week ago the measure appeared dead when its sponsor, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), revealed that only 120,000 registered voters had signed a petition to place the citizens' initiative on the ballot. Then the California Supreme Court surprised legal experts when it ruled that illiterate non-humans could use a human aide to register to vote as well as sign the petition. Within days more than 420,000 registered voters signed the petition, many marking a simple X with a claw or talon dipped in ink. Thus, the number of petitioners reached the required 5 percent of the number of citizens who last voted for governor.

The governor himself, Austria-borne Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once said, "If it bleeds, we can kill it," said he opposes the initiative. All Republican and independent state senators and representatives have signed a pledge to oppose the initiative, and they were joined by 31 Democrats, Libertarians Independents and Communists.

Another Austrian-American, the burly director of PETA, Hans "Hippo" Kraut, is optimistic the proposition will succeed now that non-human species have been cleared to vote. Special voting booths will be set up at dog shows, horse shows, veterinarian clinics and pet stores, where aides paid federal stimulus funds will assist illiterate voters.

State Attorney General Cooper S. Hawke, who certified the petition, said he expects a higher turnout for this election than any other in state history as millions of Californians vote for the first time. He warned pet owners not to have their dogs and cats vote, however, unless they want their animals released immediately after the proposition passes.

"If Prop 18 passes," Hawke said, "pet ownership would be a first degree felony punishable by 15 years to life in prison and would be called kidnapping if committed against juvenile goats and unlawful imprisonment of non-human species if committed against other species of non-plant living organisms. I doubt very much that pet owners would agree with that."

The proposition does not differentiate between warm-blooded and cold-blooded non-human species.

Professor of Jurisprudence Boyle A. Crabb II of the Pepperdine University School of Law said any non-justified killing of non-human species would be considered murder.

"Crushing a spider would most likely lead to a conviction of second degree murder," Crabb said. "But using a killer-type mouse trap to eliminate rodents in a home would most likely be considered first-degree murder because not only would such killing be willful, deliberate and pre-meditated, but the element of lying in wait would make the murder a capital crime punishable by the death penalty."

He said taking antibiotics to kill pathogenic organisms would most likely be considered a justified killing as an act of self-defense. Spraying insecticides on aphid-infected rose bushes, however, would be tantamount to mass murder, Crabb noted.

Roxanne Head, president of the California Humane Society, said her organization will shift from its current capacity as the No. 1 animal killer in the state through its euthanization of unwanted pets to the role of investigator of crimes against non-humanity.

She said the society will no longer pay for or support sterilization of animals because performing involuntary medical procedures on non-humans would be a felonious assault.

Animal rights activists are calling Proposition 18 a Civil Rights Bill for Non-Human Species.

"Pet ownership is an absolutely abysmal situation brought about by human manipulation," said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's national director. "Think of a pet lizard as your grandmother held hostage by a Mexican drug gang, and you'll see this situation a lot more clearly."

JP Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States said Proposition 18 is a dream come true for him, allowing the realization of his lifelong dream to abolish all animal agriculture.

"Raising sheep is slavery," he said. "How would you like to be branded and castrated, kept in line by vicious guards and caged together every breeding season with a ruthless rapist, just so that you and your illegitimate children could be tied up while your hair is shorn off and sold to the highest bidder?"

Myra T. Ben, president of the Rodent Protection Association and an ardent defender of animal rights since he heard Michael Jackson sing about a pet rat in a 1971 movie, said mice, hamsters, muskrats and Norway rats deserve full civil rights protections.

"Proposition 18 will make discrimination against rats unlawful," she said. "You cannot deny them housing, and landlords must make all buildings accessible to them."

"Our motto is that the life of an ant and the life of my child should be accorded equal respect," said Cara Bowt Cowes, Vice President of the Life Origin Conservation Organization (LOCO). "Amphibians, reptiles, insects, arachnids, even bacteria and viruses have the same right to life and the pursuit of happiness as humans."

Animal artist Drew Byrd, known for his photo-realistic portraits of raptors, is opposed to Proposition 18 because it prohibits the commercial use of a non-human likeness without permission or a share of the profits.

"If you ask me, all sparrow hawks look alike anyway," he said.

Ira T. Lyons, director of Cougar Appreciation Today (CAT) said early projections that Proposition 18 will pass by a large margin has him in ecstasy.

"I haven't been this happy since 1990 when Proposition 117 made killing mountain lions illegal," he said. "I've been overjoyed to see

cougars, instead of humans, eating the deer and wild sheep, and now lions are working to eliminate all the non-native genetic freaks, such as pigs, sheep, horses and cows."

Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, said he supports Proposition 18 because it would eliminate all domestic animals.

"One generation and out," he said. "We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding."

Lucy Furr, who used a pseudonym in a controversial Wild Earth magazine article that proposed human extinction as an ultimate solution to animal problems, said Proposition 18 does not go far enough.

"We should begin now to make reparations for generations of animal abuse and slavery," she said. "Humans should be required to experience the same torture to which non-human, non-plant species have been subjected for centuries. We should use humans in product testing and battle-to-the-death spectator events. We should harvest their flesh for consumption by the lions, tigers and bears that will be released from zoos after Proposition 18 passes. We should use their skins in the manufacturer of belts, shoes and basketballs. We should legalize the hunting of humans for trophies, meat and scalps."

Michael Wiley Fox of the Humane Society of the United States said the proposition will save millions of lives by outlawing the use of pesticides.

"Only a few of the millions you kill with bug spray would have bitten you," he said. "We are not superior. Anthropocentrism, regarding human kind as the very center and pinnacle of existence, is a disease of arrested development. There are no clear distinctions between us and non-human, non-plant species."

He said he would support a law banning the abuse of plants if he could find something besides animals and vegetable matter to eat.

"It's patently wrong to own a flower or to prune a tree," he said. "How would you like to be imprisoned in a pot just so that your tormenters could gawk at you. Or have your arms cut off every year so that your legs would go stronger?"

Lowell Lee Funt, the height-challenged hulking president of the Hollywood Animal Actors League, said his members look forward to the forced retirement that Proposition 18 promises.

"Most of us would rather be free to do what we want instead of sitting as indentured servants or slaves in cages, waiting for movie directors to give us work," said Funt, best known for his portrayal of Jumbo in a 1962 Jimmy Durante and Doris Day film and a distant relative of the late "Candid Camera" host Allen Funt. "Sure, we'll lose work if the initiative passes, but we have lots of other things we would rather do than pose in front of a camera."

A group of restaurateurs, United Restaurateurs Need Unrestricted Thought and Speech (UR NUTS), have banded together to defeat Proposition 18.

"Almost every national restaurant chain will cease to exist if we cannot defeat Prop 18," said one-eyed President Jack Sparrow, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp, who played a pirate captain by the same name in a blockbuster movie. "McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's will be the first to go. Arctic Circle, Carl's Jr., Fudruckers, White Castle, In-And-Out and Arby's will soon follow. Steak houses will disappear unless they beef up their vegan offerings. If we can't serve red meat, fish, chicken, eggs or dairy products, our menus will be pretty short, mostly just salad, tofu, soy milk and meatless Moo Goo Gai Pan. It will be years before we figure out ways to make a decent vegan menu."

Anne E. Moll, national director of Vegans In Prison (VIP), said many of her members will welcome the change.

"If you don't want ribeye steak, filet mignon or veal parmigiana," she said, "prison fare leaves much to be desired for us who are serving time for our efforts to allay the suffering of non-human species. I never thought the only thing I would get to eat for 15 years was animal crackers, oatmeal and Wheat Thins, or I might have had second thoughts about blowing up the Lompoc Leather Factory and setting fire to the Golden Gate Egg Farm."

Daniel Andreas San Diego, listed by the FBI as a terrorist and bombing suspect but celebrated by animal rights extremists as a heroic animal freedom fighter, spoke to from the back country tent camp where he has been hiding for the past 14 months.

"Animals deserve more protection than even humans," he said, "because non-human species are mostly defenseless and can't talk for themselves. I will gladly continue my fight to eradicate those who keep chickens in slavery, slaughter innocent pigs and cattle for sausage and hamburger and subject bulls, steers and horses to torture as is done in rodeos every year. How would you like to have a cowboy strap a saddle on your back and jab his spurs into your ribs just for the amusement of sadistic misfits?"

Vegan cooking expert Pam Spray said it's important not to demonize slaughterhouse workers but that they should pay for their sins nonetheless.

"Citizens as well as illegal immigrants who stoop so low as to steal eggs from mother birds, which is far worse than human abortion, should be caged like laying hens for at least the average life span of a chicken to see what it feels like to be shut off in a darkened cell and fed nothing but sawdust, ground bone meal and cracked wheat," she said.

Meanwhile, opponents of the bill say they are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of considering permitting animals to vote.

"The framers of the Constitution decided that black slaves deserved three-fifths of a vote," said Otis Zaynt Wright of Putting People First, a once-defunct anti-animal rights group that has reincorporated since Proposition 18 appeared imminent. "Surely the justices would grant us the compromise we propose, which would be to count non-human species as a one-tenth vote."

Famed big-game hunter, Hyde N. Zeke, who lost all but one of his digits on an ill-fated Arctic expedition in search of polar bears that had escaped drowning due to global warming, said he was optimistic that Proposition 18 would fail and that he could continue taking part in his favorite hobby.

"I'm keeping my finger crossed," he said.

Quote of the Day

"I am not a morose person, but I would rather not be here. I don't have any reverence for life, only for the entities themselves. I would rather see a blank space where I am. This will sound like fruitcake stuff again but at least I wouldn't be harming anything." — Ingrid Newkirk, president and cofounder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

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