Connecticut activists fight for animal rights

By Aman­da McCard | UConn Journalism
June 5, 2023

Chris­tine Cum­mings remem­bers the cold, driz­zly day last year that she saved two baby great-horned owls. The res­cue itself was rou­tine for Cum­mings, who is the pres­i­dent of A Place Called Hope, a reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter for birds of prey. But the cir­cum­stances were unique: The owls’ moth­er was dead at the bot­tom of a tree, with blood in her eyes and mouth and under her skin—symptoms that, to an expert like Cum­mings, obvi­ous­ly indi­cate poison.

Cum­mings took in the orphaned babies, nur­tur­ing them until they could be rere­leased into the wild. Even after she freed them, she con­tin­ued to leave food on her rooftop so that she could mon­i­tor them and ensure their smooth tran­si­tion into the wilder­ness. Every few days they’d come back to the rehab cen­ter to retrieve some food, like a grown-up child just stop­ping by for a quick vis­it. One day, Cum­mings found one of the owls, now an adult, on the ground. She picked it up and watched it die in her arms. When she test­ed the body, she real­ized that the poi­son that had killed its moth­er was respon­si­ble for this death, too.

The killer was a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion anti­co­ag­u­lant roden­ti­cide, a chem­i­cal used to exter­mi­nate rats. Because of its wide­spread effects on ecosys­tems, some activists are fight­ing to ban its use. This is one of sev­er­al legal bat­tles being waged by pas­sion­ate ani­mal-lovers in Con­necti­cut to advance the wel­fare of species across the state.

An orphaned great-horned owl whose moth­er died of roden­ti­cide poi­son­ing.
Pho­to cour­tesy of Chris­tine Cummings 

Build­ing out the legal sys­tem for ani­mal rights advocacy

Con­necti­cut Votes for Ani­mals is one polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion where these ani­mal-lovers unite. Its mem­bers are push­ing State Bill 962 in hopes of pre­vent­ing future instances like Cum­mings’ poi­soned great-horned owls. The bill would pro­hib­it the use of sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion anti­co­ag­u­lant roden­ti­cides. The chem­i­cals pro­duce a slow death for rodents, said Adria Hen­der­son, a mem­ber of the CVA advi­so­ry coun­cil. In the time after a rat has been poi­soned but is still alive, it can be eat­en by a rap­tor, or oth­er preda­tor, which will then also die.

If you kill mice and rats, and the owls eat the mice and rats, they’re gonna die,” Hen­der­son explained. “It’s a hor­ri­ble death for any ani­mal, and even if you don’t like rats, they are a food source for oth­er animals.”

It works its way into the food web and it’s caus­ing all sorts of dam­ag­ing effects,” Cum­mings said.

At a wildlife clin­ic run by Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty in Mass­a­chu­setts, researchers found traces of anti­co­ag­u­lant roden­ti­cides in every one of the 43 red-tailed hawks they test­ed. The Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty web­site explains that many of the hawks were also found with sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion anti­co­ag­u­lant roden­ti­cides, which are more pow­er­ful and harm­ful than first-gen­er­a­tion ones.

Con­necti­cut Votes for Ani­mals has also ral­lied behind State Bill 1060. If enact­ed, this bill would allow lawyers or law stu­dents to act as advo­cates for abused ani­mals in court.

The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion builds on “Desmond’s Law,” a 2016 bill that allows court advo­cates to be appoint­ed for abused dogs and cats. It was cham­pi­oned by Jes­si­ca Rubin, an ani­mal rights lawyer and pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut School of Law.

With the pres­ence of an advo­cate, cas­es of ani­mal abuse are less like­ly to be dis­missed. Rubin explained that in the past, cas­es were dis­missed fre­quent­ly because of a lack of suf­fi­cient evidence.

The advo­cate can real­ly play a wide range of roles in an ani­mal cru­el­ty case,” Rubin said, explain­ing that advo­cates con­duct extra legal and fac­tu­al research to give rec­om­men­da­tions about a case. “It’s…another per­spec­tive in the courtroom.”

Now, CT Votes for Ani­mals seeks to expand the idea of court advo­cates to all abused ani­mals, not just dogs and cats, Hen­der­son said.

Desmond’s Law doesn’t cov­er goats…neglected horses…neglected farm ani­mals,” Hen­der­son said. “There’s all that oth­er part of the ani­mal world…that if Desmond’s Law is expand­ed, they would be protected.”

Hon­or­ing the inte­ri­or lives of animals

JP Farm Ani­mal Sanc­tu­ary is a project run by Lynn Printy and Oscar Janssen that aims to pro­tect this oth­er part of the ani­mal world. It pro­vides a safe home to cows, pigs, chick­ens, and oth­er farm crea­tures. Some of these ani­mals were res­cued from abuse, while oth­ers were on the path to being killed for food.

If we are, as a species, sup­posed to be kind and lov­ing, how can we not be kind and lov­ing to oth­er beings? Why would we even think it’s okay not to be kind to them,” Printy said. “It’s so weird that we have such a separation…it’s okay to have your dog here, but if it was a pig or a cow, well, let’s just fig­ure out how to kill it or lit­er­al­ly abuse it.”

Rubin sup­ports the idea of expand­ing Desmond’s Law to ani­mals beyond dogs and cats.

All of the rea­sons for cre­at­ing the law are not restrict­ed to dogs and cats,” she explained, high­light­ing that her moral and sci­en­tif­ic oppo­si­tion to ani­mal cru­el­ty extends beyond house­hold pets.

I think that there’s a lot of sci­en­tif­ic data that shows that ani­mals are capa­ble of rea­son and social bonds,” Rubin said.

Exam­ples of this data include a 2006 review by Irene Pep­per­berg from Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty that sug­gests that crows have a sim­i­lar under­stand­ing of num­bers as human chil­dren and a 2017 study by sci­en­tists includ­ing Drew Altschul from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Edin­burgh that shows that chim­panzees’ per­for­mance on touch­screen tasks depends on their personalities.

Lynn Printy and Oscar Janssen, own­ers of JP Farm Ani­mal Sanc­tu­ary, with Britt Janssen.
Pho­to by Aman­da McCard

Britt Janssen, the sis­ter of one of JP Farm Ani­mal Sanctuary’s co-founders, explained that she has wit­nessed ani­mals’ capac­i­ty for emo­tion and log­ic first­hand through all the time she has spent help­ing out at the sanctuary.

They have fam­i­ly. They have best friends. They have peo­ple, oth­er ani­mals that they don’t like,” she said. “We can actu­al­ly visu­al­ize it because we’re expe­ri­enc­ing it daily.”

Rubin explained that by allow­ing the appoint­ment of advo­cates in court, ani­mals are treat­ed more like humans in the legal sys­tem, which advances the cause of ani­mal rights.

The won­der­ful thing about the court advo­cate pro­gram is that it is not a direct ask for stand­ing, but it’s a way to encour­age courts to see ani­mals as legal per­sons,” she said.

A ques­tion of philosophy

Thomas Bont­ly, a philoso­pher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut, explained that dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal streams of thought place vary­ing amounts of empha­sis on ani­mal wel­fare. Util­i­tar­i­an­ism cen­ters on the reduc­tion of harm and places val­ue on any being that can suffer.

Util­i­tar­i­an­ism implies that ani­mals do mat­ter,” he explained.

Deep ecol­o­gy is the think­ing that nature is inher­ent­ly valu­able, regard­less of its ben­e­fits to humans. Arne Næss, a philoso­pher and moun­taineer, coined the term after observ­ing the spir­i­tu­al­i­ties and philoso­phies of dif­fer­ent peo­ple around the world.

He for­mu­lat­ed this posi­tion that came to be called deep ecol­o­gy,” Bont­ly said.

Bont­ly explained that people’s expe­ri­ences, cir­cum­stances and upbring­ings impact their views on the envi­ron­ment more than any schol­ar­ly the­o­ries or eth­i­cal analy­sis. He said that peo­ple who feel con­nect­ed to ani­mals are more like­ly to want to advance their welfare.

For most peo­ple, it comes down to whether you iden­ti­fy with them or not,” he said. “Very few peo­ple are actu­al­ly moti­vat­ed by moral reason.”

For Rubin, the idea of any ani­mal being harmed or mis­treat­ed is unacceptable.

I work in ani­mal law because I have had a life­long con­nec­tion with ani­mals and see them as deserv­ing of the high­est degree of respect, pro­tec­tion, … and empa­thy,” she said.

Printy explained that leg­isla­tive change is nec­es­sary to pro­tect the ani­mals she loves dearly.

I think if we don’t get the laws in place, we’re not going to make change,” she said. “I can’t be apa­thet­ic anymore.”

Cum­mings expressed a sim­i­lar pas­sion and desire for change.

I don’t have any kind of ulte­ri­or motive, I’m just try­ing to save our wildlife,” she said.

Hen­der­son explained that many issues extend beyond one species, often impact­ing ecosys­tems in unex­pect­ed ways. She stressed the impor­tance of respect­ing all ani­mals to cre­ate a bet­ter world.

Everybody’s con­nect­ed,” she said. “Let’s put it that way.”

TOP PHOTO: At left, two pig res­i­dents of JP Farm Ani­mal Sanc­tu­ary. At right, a roost­er roams the house at JP Farm Ani­mal Sanc­tu­ary. Pho­tos by Aman­da McCard

This sto­ry was also pub­lished by Plan­et For­ward.