"Privilege," broken down from its Latin roots, means "private law." We've heard a lot about privilege in recent months, from politicians and media figures seeking to blame others for their own failings in watching over the economy, but I want to write about a real privilege, an actual private law, that allows John Malloy of Granville County North Carolina to engage in conduct at least as cruel as anything Bernie Madoff ever did.
If you're easily flustered or have deep feelings about animal cruelty, you may not want to keep reading this.
Twice a year John Malloy, who does business as "The Dogwood Gun Club" in Granville County, North Carolina, holds the animal equivalent of a holocaust on his property. As the Humane Society of the United States describes it:
[Approximately 40,000] pigeons are kept jammed into crowded pens with no food or water. Disoriented, frightened, weak and dehydrated by the time of the event, the birds are stuffed into a small box called a "trap," one bird per box. Twenty yards away stands a customer with a shotgun. When he yells, "Pull!", someone yanks a cord that opens the spring-loaded trap, tossing the bird about 3 feet into the air.
Sometimes the pigeon flies, sometimes she flutters back to the ground and begins walking aimlessly around. Either way, she is doomed. The shooter blasts her to smithereens.
This goes on for days, as the club's paying "guests" massacre the animals, which are buried rather than eaten. As for those not immediately massacred:
Wounded birds who fall on or near the killing field are periodically collected by staff who stomp them to death, wring their necks or pull off their heads. The bodies are dumped into a trench and covered over with a front-end loader. Those who are able to fly farther away die slowly of starvation, dehydration, infection, blood loss or lead poisoning from the lead shot typically used.
A neighbor of the Dogwood Gun Club told [Humane Society] staff that whenever there is a shoot, she finds dead and dying pigeons on her roof and in her yard.
Goons visiting Malloy's property pay him $275 apiece for the privilege of blasting the birds at close range. According to Malloy, about 80,000 pigeons a year are slaughtered in this fashion.
Way back in 1999, Malloy sued the local District Attorney, Sam Currin III, seeking an injunction from prosecution under North Carolina's cruelty-to-animals law, on the ground that the law (which exempts wild game birds, which are ordinarily hunted on a less-than-genocidal scale) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. Claiming he only uses "ferel" [sic] pigeons, Malloy sought an injuction on the grounds that he couldn't know whether a Wildlife Commission ruling stating "domestic pigeons" aren't wild game birds applied to him (as the word could mean non-wild pigeons, or it could refer to the species of birds known as "domestic pigeons"). An appellate court agreed, and Malloy got his injunction. He could resume his mass slaughters in peace, thanks to badly drafted laws.
In 2004, probably in response to this case, the state Wildlife Commission amended its rules, removing the word "domestic" to clarify that "pigeons" were not game birds. So, in theory, Malloy and his customers could be prosecuted for cruelty to animals. All that remained was to move for an order lifting the injunction.
Which no one promptly did. Finally, the Humane Society, which has an interest in this sort of thing, politely asked the District Attorney to move the court for an order. He told them to do it themselves:
HSUS made attempts to persuade Currin to move for the dissolution of the injunction. In a letter to Heidi Prescott of the HSUS dated 6 March 2007, Currin stated: "At the present time, the Attorney General's Office and any private law firm has the same standing that I do to bring this action. Please, concentrate your efforts with one of them."
The Humane Society then asked the State Attorney General to move for an order, and got the brush-off again. Finally, they did it themselves, moving to interve through private counsel.
The trial court rejected them, finding that they waited too long, asking all of these law enforcement officers to enforce the law. In an opinion released on Tuesday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals refused to disturb that ruling.
And so we're left with a curious situation, where the Dogwood Gun Club and its customers are free to engage in horrific mass animal destruction, for purposes of neither sport (unless blasting thousands of feeble animals at close range is a sport) nor food, nor any purpose, so far as I can tell, except to fatten one man's wallet and to allow his customers their sadistic fun. For conduct that, as the Court of Appeals recognizes, could get anyone else in the state prosecuted for the most vicious sort of cruelty to animals.
All because the Humane Society made the mistake of asking public servants to do their jobs.