Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
(1978:318) puts it, was designed to mitigate the rigours of a vengeful penal code.
Scruples over the theft of objects of luxury, things of 'pleasure', that is, rather than
things of 'profit', might be extended even to such items as jewels and banknotes, but
the classic examples were birds, hawks and—especially—hounds. 9 Now though this
was a legal fiction, and though this was strictly a question of value rather than of
property, by the nineteenth century the argument based on lack of utility remained
central. Unlike working animals or animals consumed as food, because of their lack
of obvious utility dogs were undervalued as property. According to Blackstone, it
was a felony to receive any money for the restoration of stolen property; but only
animals that served for food were recognised as property, not creatures kept for
whim and pleasure. Civil actions for loss were then acceptable, but not those for
larceny. For Richard Mayne, it was as a result absurdly inconsistent to make dog-
stealing only a misdemeanour while the taking of rewards for recovery would be a
felony subject to the maximum penalty of life transportation ( Report: 3).
In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, there were still many who felt
that these distinctions made by the law with respect to property remained wise and
beneficial, and that to alter them would produce bad effects on criminal
jurisprudence. They felt, for instance, that to add to the felony statutes was
inappropriate given the nature and worth of the animals involved, and also because
such a move was contrary to the spirit of the age. In the debate over the proposed
dog-stealing bill, the Liberal MP for Kinsale objected to a sentence of up to eighteen
months 'even if a person stole all the dogs in England' ( The Times, 26 June 1845:3).
Another pointedly asked why dogs should be singled out for special treatment: 'A
person did not commit felony by stealing a ferret or any such animal', he noted,
'and he would wish to know what distinction could be drawn between a favourite
cat and a favourite dog, that would justify them in making the stealing of one a
larceny, while the stealing of the other was not larceny' ( Hansard, LXXXI, 1845:
1185-1186). 10
The bill's supporters did their best to assert the honour of the canine tribe. First
of all, they argued, the distinction based on utility was misleading, because dogs
may be said to be equally as useful as those animals who provide food for human
beings. The promoter of the bill, H.T.Liddell, pointed to the example of drovers'
dogs, watchdogs and sheepdogs. Secondly, the definition based on utility was argued
to be clearly unsatisfactory. The bill's antagonist Joseph Hume, taking a strict stand
on the principle of utility, would, as The Times (12 June 1845:3) noted, 'by the
same rule, license a thief to take a lady's necklace, whilst he protected her watch
because it told her the time of day'. Finally, it was argued, dogs ought to be
recognised, irrespective of these legal niceties, as the valuable property they clearly
were for the benefit of the Exchequer, and thus deserving of the protection of the
law: one letter-writer thus insisted that '[t]hose who indulge their fancy by keeping
dogs pay a heavy tax to Government for that indulgence, and I cannot see why they
are not to be equally protected as horses, or any other property which we may keep
for our pleasure or amusement' ( The Times, 25 March 1845:7). The Report similarly
Search WWH ::




Custom Search