Animal Liberation author Peter Singer stirs the pot with essay on bestiality

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2001:

AUGUSTA, Maine.; PITTSBURGH, Pa.; PRINCETON, N.J.; SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.–Philosopher Peter Singer, always provocative, did it again on March 12 with an essay for the online magazine <www.nerve.com> entitled “Heavy Petting.” Asking why people think what they think and take the positions they do on human/animal sexual relations, Singer at e-mail speed sparked perhaps as much quick uproar as he did when the first reviews of his 1974 book Animal Liberation appeared.

Then too, Singer was accused of trying to upset the natural order.Now chairing the Princeton Univer-sity Center for Human Values, Singer cofounded the Australian advocacy group Animal Liberation, and succeeded Henry Spira, who died in September 1998, as president of Animal Rights International. Singer’s main career, however, is making people think about many of the hottest topics in public discourse: euthanasia, for example, and whether or not society should try to save newborns with birth defects so severe that they seem to have little chance of enjoying their existence. Though Singer himself is Jewish, and most of his family died in the Nazi holocaust, he is frequently picketed as an alleged advocate of eugenics and worse.

Though he gives generously to anti-hunger projects, especially Oxfam, he is often accused of being anti-human.
Comparably paradoxical denunciations of “Heavy Petting” flew thick and fast. “Once an Ivy League professor is known to be a proponent of infanticide, perhaps nothing he says or writes should raise eyebrows,” began Kathryn Jean Lopez, the associate editor of National Review.

Her real target, however, appeared to be Princeton president Harold Shapiro, chair of the National Bioethics Advisory
Commission ever since it was formed eight years ago by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. “The commission’s charter expires in October, and its very existence should be reconsidered,” Lopez wrote.

At a glance, Shapiro’s advisory role on biotech would seem to have little to do with Singer’s views on psychology, sociology, and animal welfare. However, while Shapiro ponders the issues raised by transferring genes across species barriers, Singer dared question whether interspecies biological activity associated with genetic transference is inherently more “unnatural” than inserting a glow-in-the-dark gene from a jellyfish into a rhesus macacque, as
was done in January 2001 by Oregon Health Science University staff working at the Oregon Regional Primate Center.

Lopez seemed to be offended by Singer explaining that “a human male who has sex with hens ultimately kills the hen,” yet asking if that is “worse than what egg producers do to their hens all the time.” Lopez did not, however, attempt to form an answer on either side of the question.

Other rips at Singer and “Heavy Petting” were distributed by New Republic contributing editor and George Mason University Law School teacher Peter Berko-witz; syndicated columnist Debra J. Saunders; and Rutgers University animal rights law professor Gary Francione, whose perspective is generally as far left as Lopez is to the right.

Fumed Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral, “When FoA questioned Singer’s views, he replied, ‘If sexual contact between a human and an animal was not contrary to the desires of either, gave pleasure to both, and caused no harm, present or future, to either, would it be bad? If so, why?’ Obviously, the animal rights movement needs to distance itself from Singer.” Standing close to a lightning rod could be deadly–but Feral did not try to answer the question Singer asked, either.

Tennessee Network for Animals director Don Elroy, who has pursued passage of an anti-bestiality law in a state which now has none, disregarded the conditions built into Singer’s question of Feral; equated all bestiality with imposing the human will upon an animal, although the example Singer gave in his essay of a dog rubbing himself against a human leg would not seem to fit that definition; and concluded that, “While Singer may be thought of as the ‘father of the animal rights movement,’ the views he has expressed are farther from what the movement stands for than most of
the attacks from detractors.”

Singer was prominently defended within the animal rights movement only by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk. “Heavy Petting,” said Newkirk, is “daring, honest, and does not do what some people read into it, which is condone any violent acts involving an animal, sexual or otherwise.” Singer’s bottom line: “We are animals…great apes. This does not make sex across the species barrier normal, or natural, but it does imply that it ceases to be an offense to our status and
dignity as human beings.”

Current court cases

But Singer wrote with three bizarre criminal cases involving suspected use of animals for sexual gratification in the headlines:

* A San Francisco grand jury on March 27 indicted attorneys Robert Noel, 59, and Marjorie Knoller, 45, who are husband and wife, for involuntary manslaughter and failure to control an animal. Knoller was also indicted for second degee murder. Noel and Knoller were charged in connection with how they allegedly trained two Presa Canario dogs, whom they were keeping for prison lifers Dale Bretches, 44, and Paul Schneider, 38. Bretches and Schneider are
reputed leaders of the white supremacist Aryan Nations gang. On January 26 the dogs broke away from Knoller and killed Diane Whipple, 33. Three days after the attack, Noel and Knoller legally adopted Schneider–who reportedly had a collection of “X-rated” photos of Knoller in his cell. The warrant authorizing the search sought, among other things, “any materials or correspondence describing sexual acts by Noel or Knoller that involve dogs.” Whether any were
found, however, and what bearing they may have on the case, has not been disclosed.

* The indictments came the same day that Phillip Buble, 44, of Parkman, Maine, testified to the Maine legislature’s criminal justice committee in opposition to a bill to create a felony penalty for bestiality. Buble stated that he and his dog, Lady Buble, “live together as a married couple, in the eyes of God.” Phillip Buble’s father, Frank Buble, 71, was on February 27 sentenced to nine months in jail for beating Phillip Buble with a crowbar on September 13, 1999. Frank Buble told police that he was trying to kill his son because he was sick of the son’s behavior. Phillip Buble told the legislative committee that the dog saved him from the attack.
* In Butler County, Pennsylvania, Tammy L. Felbaum, 42, born Tommy Wyda, has been held since February 25 on multiple counts of cruelty to animals allegedly involving both violence and neglect. She was also charged with homicide on March 13. Her sixth husband, James John Felbaum, 40, was on February 25 found dead from a castration that Tammy Felbaum says J.J. Felbaum did himself. Tammy Felbaum is believed to have castrated herself in 1980 in order to force her doctor to consent to her having a surgical change of gender. A previous husband, Tim Charles Barner, 51, is missing and may also have been castrated by Felbaum, police said. Both J.J. Felbaum and Tammy Felbaum had prior arrests for drug-related offenses.

ANIMAL PEOPLE has received documentation since 1992 of only 22 bestiality cases within the U.S., involving 20 perpetrators, who allegedly committed acts with 17 horses, 10 dogs, five cats, four cows, three sheep, and a pig. This makes bestiality the rarest of all animal-related offenses. The most common is mass neglect, with cases on file involving more than 1,000 perpetrators and more than 50,000 animal victims. One nation, South Africa, records more than 80% of all known bestiality cases, with 284 convictions in 1997-2000 alone.

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