Today’s post, which is the first in a series, was inspired by Christopher, who wanted to know about animal sidekicks (e.g. Zabu, Krypto, Lockheed), particularly Red Wolf’s wolf companion Lobo. There are a lot of potential issues here, but we’re going to focus on three major ones: animal cruelty, liability for the animal’s acts, and animal regulations (e.g. leash laws and import regulations).
I. Animal Cruelty Laws
Similar to juvenile sidekicks and child endangerment laws, one possible issue with having an animal sidekick is that it might constitute animal cruelty. After all, the animals are placed in dangerous situations and some are even asked to attack people, albeit usually villainous people. But if Krypto takes a bite out of Brainiac, is that really enough to make Superman into Michael Vick?
For the most part animal cruelty laws are state-based. There is a federal law criminalizing depictions of acts of animal cruelty and another federal law dealing with housing animals for exhibition or sale, but those aren’t really the issue here (and in case you were wondering, comic books depicting villains being cruel to animals don’t run afoul of the statute; the depictions must be of actual, real-world acts of animal cruelty). Since cruelty laws vary from state to state, this will mostly be a general overview of their common features and principles.
II. The Scope of the Law
An immediate question is: do these sidekicks even qualify as “animals” for purposes of the statutes? Lobo is a fairly ordinary wolf, but some versions of Krypto are super-powered, super-intelligent, or both, and Lockheed is a dragon for crying out loud.
As it turns out, most animal cruelty statutes are pretty broad. For example, California’s statute encompasses “every dumb creature,” which the California courts have held means “all animals except human beings.” People v. Baniqued, 85 Cal.App.4th 13, 20-21 (Cal. Ct. App. 2000). Pretty much every animal sidekick would qualify under that definition, since even the super-intelligent versions of Krypto are “by nature incapable of speech like that of human beings” and so would qualify as “dumb” for purposes of the statute.
Some statutes are a little narrower, however. For example, Missouri’s only applies to “every living vertebrate except a human being,” and many states, such as Arkansas, go one step further and exempt fish. Mo. Rev. Stat. 578.005; Ark. Code § 5-62-102(2). Both statutes would exempt Legion of Super-Pets member Proty II, which, as a shapeless mass of protoplasm in its native form, would not qualify as a vertebrate. Interestingly, once Proty eventually learned how to talk he effectively disqualified himself from the protection of the California statute as well.
III. What Counts as Cruelty?
Now that we’ve established that most animal sidekicks would qualify for protection, the focus turns to the superheroes’ conduct. As with the child endangerment post, we’ll assume none of the superheroes are engaging in obvious cruelty or neglect (e.g. no super-powered animal fighting rings or other deliberate cruelty). The question is whether bringing animals along for regular superhero activities like investigating and fighting crime constitute animal cruelty.
California’s statute (Cal. Penal Code § 597) is typical and has two primary provisions. First:
“every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal, is guilty of an offense”
But that certainly wouldn’t apply to our upstanding heroes. Second
“every person who overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal… and whoever, having the charge or custody of any animal … subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal, or fails to provide the animal with proper food, drink, or shelter or protection from the weather, or who drives, rides, or otherwise uses the animal when unfit for labor, is, for every such offense, guilty of a crime”
That’s a pretty long laundry list, but the overriding theme is one of fairly serious abuse or neglect. We actually had trouble finding cases that didn’t involve revolting or disturbing conduct, so we won’t go into detail here.
In any event, it would be surprising if taking a trained animal sidekick along to fight crime constituted animal cruelty, so long as the animals were otherwise well cared for. There are three long-standing analogous situations to look to: the private use of dogs and other animals (e.g. llamas, believe it or not) as guard animals, the private use of dogs in hunting, including hunting dangerous prey such as wild boars, and the government use of dogs in potentially dangerous police work. Taken together, these situations encompass many of the same issues and risks as a superhero’s employment of an animal sidekick.
One final issue: at this point in the conversation we’re talking about animals which are either “normal” but highly trained or even start with some kind of superpowers. Whether or not an “uplift” situation would constitute animal cruelty is something we’ll discuss in a post on that subject in general, as there are a number of other issues related to that topic (e.g. is giving an animal enhanced intelligence a kind of animal experimentation?).
Like any responsible animal owner, superheroes should be careful to keep their animal sidekicks healthy and safe, and certainly some missions would be too dangerous for a normal animal. But superheroes seem to do a good job of caring for their animals, and we don’t think they have to worry about animal control officers knocking on their headquarters any time soon.