Recently, The Times Argus and Rutland Herald ran an editorial titled, "That Moose," as a follow-up to an earlier article declaring that Pete the Moose now has a lawyer. I am that person, and while I do not claim to be Pete's lawyer, I am interested in his legal rights (what few of them there may be) and the rights of David Lawrence, who rescued and rehabilitated the days-old moose in 2008. In the time it has taken me to respond, I have attempted to give the various parties an opportunity to present their relative concerns.
This "Pete the Moose" story is certainly curious and multi-layered. I predict that the story's national and local media run is only beginning, not ending. I do not, however, find the focus on this moose to be "ludicrous" or "sentimental." The deep, enduring relationships we forge with animals wild and domesticated add meaning to our lives and have the capacity to bring out the best in us.
Our relationships with animals can also bring out the worst in us. As the editor notes, Pete lives on a "canned hunting" facility, where fenced-in, imported elk live with relatively no fear of humans, and where they are "hunted" by visitors with a lot of money but little care or understanding of what it means to take a wild animal's life. Make no mistake: I loathe this practice, and plenty of Vermont hunters and animal advocates feel similarly. Expect to hear more from these voices in the near future.
In the meantime, I dispute several logical conclusions reached in the editorial. First, we are urged to condemn Pete's rescue because a moose is a wild animal. I suggest alternatively that when humans have played a role in a wild animal's injury as was the case when domesticated dogs attacked the baby moose a person's ethical obligation is to attempt to right this wrong. In other words, that Pete was born in the wild is now entirely irrelevant.
Likewise, I am confused by the editorial's insistence that, because we cannot cure the entire problem and save all the wild animals on the property, no one animal should be spared. This illogical, either-or assumption suggests by extrapolation that in all matters, if we cannot help all people equally, it would be wrong to help anyone. Thank goodness this is not how society actually works.
Several factual and legal inaccuracies also bear correcting. The Fish and Wildlife Department has not ordered that Pete, or any other animal on the hunting facility, be "removed and destroyed." Rather, the agency rule to which the editorial refers does not take effect until Jan. 4, 2010. On that day, Fish and Wildlife will not be empowered by this rule to destroy any animals at the facility. It may only put the facility's owner on notice that it finds him in violation of the rule. He will then have 30 days to "cure" the problems.
On the other hand, if the owner permanently discontinues the "canned hunting" activities before this time, the elk facility may no longer be under the purview of this agency rule. In any respect, the fact remains that Mr. Lawrence, Pete, and the rest of the wild animals living in the facility are victims of a political and personal stand-off not of their making.
Finally, I was amused that the editorial found it so distasteful to refer to Pete by name (calling it the "making of a fetish of the moose"). Obviously, Pete does not care whether you call him "Pete" or "that moose." His name was bestowed on him by someone who has every reason to care -the man who tended to the baby moose after it was clear that his mother was not returning to do so herself. Just as nearly all of us name our house pets, Mr. Lawrence named an animal whom he sees and tends to on a daily basis. However, you choose to address this magnificent creature, if calling him by his given name inspires a man of another name be it Jim, Wayne, or Doug to negotiate and compromise in the pursuit of an ethical outcome, then frankly, I do not see a problem with it.
Pamela A. Vesilind
Vermont Law School South Royalton
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