Animal Cruelty Or Sensible Caution?

Here is the lead paragraph of a recent news story:

DENVER (AP) — Recently released undercover video showing pigs being kicked, hit and punched at a Kentucky supplier for the world’s largest meat producer drew prompt condemnation from animal rights groups and the agricultural industry alike.

Gee. Those poor pigs must have been abused.

Or not.

If someone put a hidden camera in our chicken house it might purportedly show me kicking chickens out of the way.

If the camera were just outside the chicken house, it might purportedly show me kicking dogs and cats out of my way.

That’s what bothers me about undercover film. We take it at face value. We don’t consider that film speeds can be adjusted, film can be edited, etc. And undercover filmmakers have their own agendas.

In my case, at age 75, arthritis stiffens my spine, hips and knees. No pity, please. I am upright, functional and fairly pain-free.

But I do not willingly bend. Bending hurts.

So I use my feet and legs to sweep chickens, dogs and cats aside when I am fighting for my life against their frightening bared fangs, savage ripping claws, terrifying stabbing beaks.

When do they bare their fangs, show their claws or thrust their beaks?

They do that when I am setting out their feed. Those species are gluttonous beasts at feeding time.

They are oblivious to the likelihood of hurting me. If they did actually hurt me, the chickens would ignore it, the cats would smirk, “Serves you right!” and the dogs would feel momentary regret — until reinvigorated by the sight and smell of fresh food.

I admit to a pang of guilt when I first read that Associated Press story.

“Do I kick my animals?” I asked myself.

Technically, yes, I do. But do I hurt or abuse them? I think not.

A sweep of my leg and foot inflicts no more harm than would be given by a sweep of my hand and arm.

“Kick” can be in the eye of the beholder. So can “hit” and “punched.”

My most memorable experience in that regard came way back in childhood. Uncle John Moon, a dairy farmer, had two draft horses, Maud and Molly. They were probably Belgians, a breed still huge to me as an adult. As a 10-year-old, I regarded those beasts as movable mountains.

Yet Uncle John expected me to go into their stalls to bring them out by the halter prior to (Ugh!) clearing their manure.

Molly was a sweetheart. She would obligingly move her 2,000 pounds when I entered the stall. She would stand stock-still when I climbed the stall to get high enough to scoot, spread-legged, onto her back. And she would move at a delicate (for her) head-bobbing walk as I guided her thisaway and thataway with a halter rope, not needing a bit in her mouth.

Maud, though — she was a beast of a horse. She did not like anybody. She got delight into moving her side toward anyone entering her stall, squishing that person between her huge hindquarters and the rails.

The first time that happened, I squealed and scooted back out of the stall.

Uncle John laughed. He reached to the beam of the stall. There, hung on a nail, was a two-foot or so length of old belt, bridle or harness. Through it had been driven three or four wrought iron clinch nails. The nails had been trimmed and sharpened to be needle-thin.

“Wrap that around your right arm, and go in on her left side,” he said.

For reassurance, he added, “I’ll be right behind you.” I was comforted because he held a pitchfork.

I opened the stall gate and took a step.

Maud practically lunged — to the right, away from me.

Horses can see backward. Maud had been observing what we did behind her butt. She knew what would happen if she leaned into the sharpened nails.

“Get right up beside her withers,” said Uncle John, referencing the tender skin just ahead of the horse’s hind legs. “Just stand still for a minute.”

That was to let Maud horse-process what might happen to her withers if she tried to squish me against the stall side.


Not at all.

Uncle John said Maud had not moved into the nails in years, though he still put on the belt when going into Maud’s stall. Maud minded.

The nails were never bloodied when I knew Maud.

So did the livestock handlers in the AP story “punch, hit and kick”? Or did they do what they needed to do with no great damage to the livestock?

I have not seen the “undercover” film. It could be devastatingly indicative of intolerable abuse — or manipulated to show purported abuse.

Pictures, like words, can be manipulated.


Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois, Pa. and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: