Ger-bills

You have a dog, a cat, a goldfish and a gerbil in your home. Your kids love ’em, as do you. But one day, while you’re busy elsewhere, your gardener is filmed kicking your dog. The footage is used in his prosecution. He’s found guilty and fined. You fire him and hire another gardener, someone who likes your dog, the cat, the goldfish, the gerbil and even the kids.

Life goes back to normal? No such luck.

The filmmaker, who trespassed on your property to get the footage, was under contract to an animal rights group. While a complaint was filed against the gardener, the animal rights group did so days after the event, didn’t provide the full uncut footage with audio, the date of the crime, or even a sworn deposition from the filmmaker. Even though the prosecutor prevailed in court, he found it difficult working without a police report, without complete and timely evidence. Even worse, the gardener swears the filmmaker encouraged him to kick the dog.

Meanwhile, the animal rights group releases an edited, sensationalized film featuring the images of your gardener — and other gardeners  — kicking dogs, spliced in with images of your home and your family, faces blurred, chasing the dog around the yard. This propaganda is posted on YouTube and the animal rights group’s website. As a result, traffic to their website soars, as do donations. The images are incorporated into a legislative campaign to severely restrict pet ownership in homes with kids or gardeners and, for homes with more than 2 pets on the premises, the proposed law would require 24/7 surveillance cameras, mandatory education and licensing. Ignoring the existence of local and state cruelty statutes and the successful prosecution of the criminal act, the group says suburban animals are not protected and demands federal legislation.

Unreasonable, you think? Maybe not. Animal abuse is a serious issue.

But you wonder how images of your home and family can be used without your permission and question the proposed law. The media questions if you support gardeners kicking dogs. Are you, they ask, in support of animal abuse?

You spend $25,000 on lawyers and the same on a P.R. consultant in an effort to restore your good name. Your children are taunted at school. You spend another $25,000 on family counseling.

The animal rights group raises $5 million.

Is all this a reasonable use of the footage taken on your property?

You agree that the images of the gardener’s actions were key to securing an animal abuse conviction, resulting in the gardener being fined and receiving the counseling he needed. But should the broader images, the images of your home and family, be used forever in the public domain as fundraising tools — especially by a group with an agenda with which you disagree?

Is the use of images of your home, your family and pets an invasion of your privacy? Is this “forced speech,” since your images are used to advance a viewpoint you oppose?

And then there are all the millions of donations generated from the publicity.  Shouldn’t the animal rights group be required to secure a waiver for public use of the images and even pay your family royalties, especially when using images beyond those of the criminal act? Shouldn’t some of the money actually go to animal abusers who need counseling or to save dogs that were actually kicked?

Beyond this, will the reputations of gardeners and suburbanites be forever tainted? Will they, as a group, be suspected of being animal abusers? Should images of illegal animal abuse carry a disclaimer stating, “THIS IMAGE DEPICTS A CRIMINAL ACT, NOT STANDARD AMONG ANIMAL OWNERS”?

All these are reasonable questions, a reasonable discussion for reasonable people.

Now, let’s move this scenario to a farming family living 30 minutes from your home. Make the animal a piglet or calf. Change the gardener to a person hired to clean the barn and water the animals. The rest of the scenario pretty much stays the same.

Images taken on farms are used to raise tens of millions of dollars, to advance an agenda with which farmers disagree and are used to vilify farmers, those who choose to spend every day, 365 days a year, caring for their animals.

Are you, the media asks the farmers, in support of animal abuse?

What do you think? If you live in Iowa, Florida, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York, this issue is being heavily debated — on the farm, at the coffee shop, and in the legislature.

What if this happened to you? If you own an animal, it could.

Contact your Congressman today and tell them what you think.

NOTE: Key link on this issue.

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