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"Cheese it -- it's the kittycat cops!"

A couple of stories in this morning's Boston Herald reminded me of an odd fact I learned a few months ago. First, we had the tale of someone who apparently got tired of having an alligator for a pet, so they released it into the wild. But to make sure no one got hurt, they taped its muzzle shut -- essentially sentencing it to starve to death.

Next up, we have the tale of an animal-cruelty vigilante, someone leaving bogus letters on people's doors accusing them of pet abuse. The letters bear the logo of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), but the organization denies any connection to the letters.

This reminded me of a third story a few months ago, when a window washer in Boston was arrested for killing a pigeon with a broomstick. Christopher Guay, the window washer in question, said he was only defending himself, and has several birds at home, but he was still arrested on animal cruelty charges by an MSPCA officer and was fired from his job. The ensuing publicity helped him land a new job, but last I heard he was still facing the criminal charges.

At the time, I was a bit surprised to learn that there were such things as "MSPCA officers." The idea that a private organization (even a non-profit, charitable, humanitarian one like the MSPCA) would actually have uniformed police officers of its own bothered me. I know some organizations do, indeed, have employees that have police power (such as colleges, whose security officers are often also deputized into the local police department), but those are usually constrained to the organization's property.

But in Massachusetts, it seems, the MSPCA hires and controls actual police officers whose jurisdiction extends statewide.

The libertarian in me is a little troubled by the thought. As I see it, the government should hold a monopoly on armed, badged law enforcement. To me, that means that the people who oversee the police are answerable to the voters, not a private organization.

The civil liberties people should be unhappy with this, too. Here is a clear-cut case of the government "outsourcing" a truly vital function to an organization that is utterly unaccountable to the people. The potential for abuse is very, very high.

Then again, this could be no news to most people. Maybe I've just lived in ignorance of this well-known fact, something that everyone else but me knew about and took for granted.

But it still rankles me on a primal level that a private organization has the power to hire and deputize police officers.


Comments (25)

Jay:The key word h... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Jay:

The key word here is "Massachusetts".

I've seen Animal Cops on th... (Below threshold)
Candy:

I've seen Animal Cops on the Animal Planet many, many times. It's shocking what people will do to animals, and I am glad that there are law enforcement people to come to their aid.

The guy killing the pigeon with a broomstick, then facing criminal charges is just nuts. I assume he was being dive-bombed by the pigeon whilst hanging precariously from a scaffolding. If the guy has pet birds at home, I highly doubt he killed the pigeon unprovoked. But I'm just assuming - I have no knowledge of the situation.

I learned some years back that before we had any laws to protect cruelty against children, we had laws to protect cruelty against animals. Early on, they had to actually use these animal protection laws to protect children!

It would seem that, for the most part, animal protection cops across the nation are doing a great job, and I salute them. If they are apt to go over the deep end, however, wouldn't it be in Massachusetts?

But it still rankles me ... (Below threshold)
astigafa:

But it still rankles me on a primal level that a private organization has the power to hire and deputize police officers.

Think of it as privatization. If Bush had set this up, you'd be cheering.

The key word here is "Massachusetts".

The key phrase here is, this shit is getting old. Where are you, USMCP? Texas? That's a third-world country, isn't it?

Hmmm.I humbly awai... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

I humbly await the creation of the RoboKittyCop.

Poor JT, you've obviously n... (Below threshold)

Poor JT, you've obviously not been subjected to 24/7 Animal Planet, or you'd know all about the Animal Cops in Texas, California, Florida, Michigan, etc. Definitely not Reno 911.

I hope they never get me for all the rabbits and moles I killed in Michigan defending my fenced garden...

Not really that new a thing... (Below threshold)
chad:

Not really that new a thing. Railroads have had cops for at least a 100 years, and SF has something similar called the Patrol Specials

http://sfpatrolspecpolice.com/

and when I was stationed in Portsmouth VA I remember most of tyhe security guards wearing Auxillary Police patches. I guess you can look on them as force multipliers.

Apparently this was a retal... (Below threshold)

Apparently this was a retaliatory attack on nesting seagulls (not pigeons) that had previously attacked the window washers as they approached the nest in their duties. The nesting gulls had been the object of much joyful observation from office workers who obviously had never hung their laundry outside on a line [my God-fearing Baptist grandmother, bless her soul, had only been heard to utter one curse - "damn seagulls, its a good thing cows don't fly"]. The window washer's attack was modeled after baby seal hunts. After the attack, witnessed by the cubicle ornithologists, the attacker "flipped the bird" and made other graphic gestures popularized by infamous pop stars at the horrified witnesses. That's when the MSCPA got involved. The lesson here is to never give a birdwatcher the finger.

The last time I checked, seagulls weren't a protected species, but I suspect that, at least in Massachusetts, the are specific regulations regarding the dispatching of seagulls.

The proper course of action for any problem with nesting birds in an urban environment would have been to call animal (or pest)control.

The "pigeon" that you refer... (Below threshold)
Susan:

The "pigeon" that you refer to was actually a mother seagull whose nest (with two nestlings inside) was being attacked by the window-washer. It happened outside my building on Arch Street, where many of my co-workers have been watching the progress of the nest, eggs, and finally babies, for weeks.

The nest was located on a lower portion of the building and is overlooked by about 20 floors. The window washer approached the nest and started kicking at it, at which time the mother gull came divebombing him. The man had no business doing anything to the nest, as it was nowhere near any windows, and until that time the adult gull had posed no threat to him.

Folks here watching were pounding on the windows as the washer took swing after swing at the gull with a broomstick and finally clubbed her to death. He then gave the finger to all those watchers who were horrified to have seen what they saw, and sauntered away. At that point the police were called, I believe, and presumably they called in the MSPCA. I have no problem with this guy rotting jail for a few months--he's a jerk of the first water.

Susan, I'm glad we got info... (Below threshold)
Candy:

Susan, I'm glad we got info from an eyewitness. I hope the bastard does 20 years.

People have a constitutiona... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

People have a constitutional right to defend themselves. It's in Section 1 of the 14th amendment where it says "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". Everyone has a right to defend themselves from any animal or person who threatens their life.

In this case, the birds had attacked Guay (the window washer) repeatedly the day before while he was washing windows. The reason the birds were attacking is irrelevant, as Guay was there on a job. Guay got into trouble by taking preemptive action the following day in full view of several building tenants who had, in a fashion, adopted the Seagulls as pets. The question is, was this preemptive action covered by Guay's right to self defense. If his job required him to continue washing windows in the area of the Gull's nest, then his actions, while crude and callus, were for the purpose of self defense. I can't see any jury convicting a person in that situation.

What Guay should have done was call Animal Control and have them deal with the birds. Then if no action was taken, he should have notified his employer, and if his employer ignores the safety issue, then call OSHA. Of course, his employer would likely think he was being a woosy for rising such a fuss rather than just going over and clubbing the dang birds to death.

Susan,You left out... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Susan,

You left out the part about the birds attacking Guay on Friday. When you saw the birds attacking a man suspend far above the ground on a small platform, where you concerned for his safety or was it just a big joke to you standing safely within the building? A reasonable person witnessing another human being in such a dangerous situation would have called the proper authorities to deal with the situation. Had you done so, the Gulls would likely be alive and Guay could continue supporting his family without the threat of jail.

I wonder if Massachusetts has any laws covering people who don't take reasonable action when they witness another person's life being threatened.

Susan:What if you ... (Below threshold)

Susan:

What if you discovered a rat's nest in your office kitchen area that the janitor had been feeding with the crumbs he swept up? If you pounded the little beasties and their progeny into oblivion with your Coach bag while the horrified janitor watched you, how would you feel about being busted by the MSPCA?

Candy:Ya better be... (Below threshold)

Candy:

Ya better be careful and not pop that marauding bear without a license... ...or you'll have Susan calling Game & Wildlife as well as the local SPCA on you.

Wow, there are sure a lot o... (Below threshold)
Susan:

Wow, there are sure a lot of assumptions being made here!

Mac Lorry, I didn't witness any of this (nor did I say that I had), and hadn't heard any reports of anyone in the building (my company has 8 floors mid-way up) noticing a window-washer being attacked by the gulls, either before or after the death of the mother gull. Not saying it didn't happen, just saying that I didn't hear about it.

Had any of our bird-watchers noticed any previous attack, certainly it would have been prudent/appropriate/kind of them to call animal control and have them humanely and temporarily trap the birds to allow Guay could finish. Of course, Guay himself could have reported it as well. Don't remember reading anything about that, though, in the newspaper reports.

Surely, anyone has a right to defend himself against animal (or human) attacks. But to go deliberately to a nest of babies and attack it-- I notice you're not condemning that behavior. I think that, and the reaction of Guay after the seagull was dead--the finger and other vulgar gestures--were the last straws. Had the man simply fended off the bird off (if it attacked while he was actually washing windows) and then continued his job, fine. But no: he deliberately attacked a nest of defenseless baby birds, and when the mother came to protect them, he mercilessly clubbed her to death, and then compounded that with his display of comtempt to the witnesses. I don't consider that simply defending one's self. Perhaps you do.

Epador, all of our janitors are pretty smart people who undoubtedly realize that rats really shouldn't be encouraged to live in our building; also I certainly wouldn't pound any rat family into oblivion (cockraoches don't count). I (and any rational person) would call animal control to have them removed. Hey--maybe that's what Mr. Guay should have done!

Also, Epador, I generally carry Vera Bradly after Memorial Day, and I wouldn't want to get rat guts on it--Veras are much harder to clean that Coach.

The libertarian in... (Below threshold)
The libertarian in me is a little troubled by the thought. As I see it, the government should hold a monopoly on armed, badged law enforcement. To me, that means that the people who oversee the police are answerable to the voters, not a private organization.

The libertarian in *me* says that we all know that monopolies are a bad thing--so why do we give the state a monopoly on the use of force? Why not have competing defense agencies--answerable to the people in the form of market economics?

The libertarian in me also wants to paraphrase Murray Rothbard: "I will extend rights to animals when the petition for them".

You can download Murray Rothbard's book The Ethics of Liberty here.

Well as one who has spent 2... (Below threshold)

Well as one who has spent 20 years on the seacoast, gulls are very close to being flying rats. They're mean and dirty, they're predatory to smaller birds' nests, and they're brazen as hell.

So this Guay guy was a fool to harrass the nest in the first place. But you don't generally go to jail for being a fool. Once the bird attacks him in his little basket 400 feet up, he's got a right to eliminate the opponent.

Now once he gives Susan and her office mates the finger, he's kissed his good luck goodbye.

Anyone else amused by the thought that a guy goes to jail for killing a scavenger?

Hey Susan when are you goin... (Below threshold)
jhow66:

Hey Susan when are you going to pose nude for PETA in a cage? Will it be worth our while to come by and see? (my guess is no)

I (and any rationa... (Below threshold)
Inquiring:
I (and any rational person) would call animal control to have them removed.

Have them "removed"? Following your response to pounding them into oblivion --what with the "encouraged to live in our building" bit-- are you suggesting that animal control will just trap the rats and return them to nature from whence they came?

Or are you just saying when someone else is dirtying their hands by killing vermin you do not like, defenseless babies and all, it is ok?

Susan,If you read ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Susan,

If you read the story Jay linked to, you'll see that Sarah, one of the witnesses said "the gulls had swooped down toward the window washers Friday only when they came near their nest."

As I said before, the reason the birds were attacking this man is irrelevant. He was there to do a job and his safety was being threatened by these birds. It's not reasonable to expect him to defend himself only while on the washing platform as you claim. Unless he were armed with a shotgun, anything he could do while on the washing platform would put his own life or those of people on the ground at risk. The only means he had to help himself was to seek out the nest and destroy the birds. As for the "vulgar gestures", Guay likely observed some of these same people watching him being attack and doing nothing to help him the day before. Maybe even seeing Sarah laughing and joking about the bird attacks. In that case the "vulgar gestures" were understandable if not justified.

As for Guay reporting the birds himself, it's likely that window washers use this method of attacking the nest to kill the parent birds whenever they run into this situation. These are wild unprotected birds that no one cares about, at least when they are out of view. As far as the baby birds, they would have died once the parents were killed, so dispatching them quickly was a humane act.

To expand your viewpoint, you could spend some time on a window washing platform suspended high in the air and have birds attacking you while you try to wash windows. I recommend that activity for the jury members if this case goes to trial.

To everyone, THIS is a fun ... (Below threshold)

To everyone, THIS is a fun thread and I hope it serves as an example of how we can have fun debating a controversial topic without getting bogged down too low in the muck [rat pellets or seagull poo].

Sea gulls (and there are several different species that are commonly call sea gulls, and if I remember correctly, most are not true gulls) have adapted to man by being scavengers. They are prominent species (besides rats) at garbage dumps. Their feces are not just ugly, they can spread disease. They complete with crows, ravens and other small predators for food, and they outsize these land birds several times over.

So while Jonathan may look cute, he's more like Willard than you'd like to think. If anyone had watched a janitor bludgeon a rat family with a broom and then give the observers the finger and grab his crotch for looking aghast, I doubt the MSPCA or the courts would be involved. Now maybe he'd get fired for the obscene gestures, or maybe just reprimanded.

I would have glued his hands to the broom and sent him in search of more rats and gulls.

I can beat this story. Here... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

I can beat this story. Here is an article from close to home about animal abuse.

http://tinyurl.com/lf8qv

He's charged with burgla... (Below threshold)
mantis:

He's charged with burglary, destruction of property, and larceny of poultry.

Hehe.

Epador, good point. However... (Below threshold)
Candy:

Epador, good point. However, Mama didn't raise no morons - I wouldn't pop the bear in front of any witnesses!

Truthfully, though - the game wardens told me I was well within my rights to shoot the bear, but they agreed with me when I said I had no intention of doing so unless I felt my family was under attack. Most black bears are scared of humans, and even firing the shotgun into the air would have scared him off - my husband screaming at him frightened him badly and he never came back.

That window washer could easily have followed protocol and someone could have removed the birds, or even given him permission to leave the windows near the nest unwashed until she and the babies flew off. I don't want to sound like a bleeding heart, but I wouldn't hurt any animal unless I had to. This guy is a jerk and I wouldn't want to leave my kids with him for an evening - seems like a loose cannon.

But it still rankles me ... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

But it still rankles me on a primal level that a private organization has the power to hire and deputize police officers.


astigafa: Think of it as privatization. If Bush had set this up, you'd be cheering.


The key word here is "Massachusetts".

The key phrase here is, this shit is getting old.

Speaking of shit getting old, enough of your off-topic, pointless, petulant mal mots about Bush. Grow the fuck up, for once!

FYIMSPCA humane offi... (Below threshold)
anon:

FYI
MSPCA humane officers are trained and badged by the State of MA, not by the MSPCA. They are hired by the MSPCA only once they have been sworn in by the state as state police officers.




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