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Killing animals is cruel, but not a criminal act.

By Kermit Frosch  |  March 12, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Pro golfer Tripp Isenhour apologized for killing a hawk that was making noise while he tried to film a TV show... The 39-year-old player, whose real name is John Henry Isenhour III, became angry while filming "Shoot Like A Pro" on Dec. 12 at the Grand Cypress Golf Club when a squawking red-shouldered hawk roughly 300 yards away forced another take. He drove closer to the bird in his golf cart and starting hitting balls at it. The bird didn't move and Isenhour gave up and drove away. Isenhour started again when the hawk moved within about 75 yards, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Brian Baine indicated in a report. Isenhour allegedly said, "I'll get him now," and aimed for the hawk. "About the sixth ball came very near the bird's head, and (Isenhour) was very excited that it was so close," Baine wrote. A few shots later, witnesses said he hit the hawk. The bird, protected as a migratory species, fell to the ground bleeding from both nostrils.

As spring returns to northern climes, each day brings fresh joys in the rebirth of life.  Last week, the tree outside my window revealed the buds of its forthcoming leaves.  I've not previously lived in a house with a tree of that sort so close at hand, so this is the first time I've taken note of that particular miracle.

The brook is high, and babbling; the slight rainbow reflection of oil runoff in the water is a bit off-putting, but the sound is appealing nonetheless, and with the predicted rains the water quality should improve.

Spring is here, and as the immortal tunesmith Tom Lehrer once warbled, "I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring.  I do, don't you?  'Course you do."

What spring would be complete without the sound of birds twittering freely in the branches?  I am reminded of youthful schooldays, harassed by the birdsong outside the classroom windows while we poor students were stuck inside.  Today, offices (and schoolrooms as well, I suppose) have hermetically sealed windows, protecting toilers from such distractions.  At home, though, I can still throw open the sash and welcome their tuneful rhapsodies.

It would seem that not all of mankind is as appreciative of these musical classics, however.  While there is a long tradition of sport-shooting birds, it's not every day that golf is the sport doing the shooting.  One hopes that the upcoming release of "Shoot Like A Pro" will include an extensive outtakes reel; with a title and subject matter like that, it should appeal not just to golfers, but to hunters as well.

Jesting aside, most of us have no particular glee in seeing birdies bludgeoned to death with hard flying objects.  No doubt his fans will look at him differently next time Mr. Isenhour is on the links.  But the most curious aspect of this affair is buried deep within the report, as follows:

Isenhour, who plays on the developmental Nationwide Tour, was charged Wednesday with cruelty to animals and killing a migratory bird, misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of 14 months in jail and $1,500 in fines.

Let's put this in perspective.  The fine is certainly understandable, and to a professional golfer, it's most likely no more than he tips his caddy anyway.

But a jail sentence of over a year?  What possible reason could there be for a jail sentence of any sort?  A quick Googling turns up dozens of reports of prisoners being released early due to overcrowding; anyone with a pulse will recall Paris Hilton's harrowing prison stay, in which she served a 45-day sentence in little more than a week.  Driving while intoxicated kills around 17,000 people per year yet Paris was released after serving one-sixth of her sentence.  Are we to think that bumping off a bird is 12 times worse than risking the life of a fellow human being?

That's the trouble with the muddle-headed thinking of animal-rights laws and environmental-protection laws:  Animals have no rights.  Neither does the environment.  The only moral basis for protecting animals and the environment is their impact on human beings.

Abusing an animal is not wrong because it violates the animals "rights;" it's wrong, if indeed it is wrong, because of what it says about or does to the human beings who participate in the abuse.  Similarly, "the planet" has no human rights - it's not a human.  We care about a clean environment not for its own sake, but for the sake of the health and welfare of the people who live in it.

A dose of realism takes issues of the environment and animals entirely out of the moral realm, where wooly-thinkers have tried to put them for decades, and place them squarely in the area of practical political tradeoffs.  Is it more valuable to people to take the economic hit of pollution regulations or for the money to be spent on education instead?  That's a point which can certainly be argued, but it's a discussion of price, performance, and preference, not morals.

By the mere fact that prison time is mooted for what is admittedly the act of a boor, we are making a deeply flawed moral judgment.  Killing a bird in that way is not the act of a gentleman.  Mr. Isenhour should rightly be condemned for losing his temper and for littering by flinging non-biodegradable golf balls into the woods.  But it's no crime; it isn't even on the same scale as a crime.

Further on in Tom Lehrer's aforementioned song, he points out, "It's not against any religion, To want to dispose of a pigeon."  Alas, he reckoned without today's modern paganism and their near-religious eco-nuttery.  Reformation, anyone?