The complaint by PETA was lodged with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New South Wales after a member of PETA, who was working undercover at the Boorungie Station ranch, recorded a video that purported to show animal abuse there, according to the Daily Express.
Ken Turner, who operates the shearing facility, told the Daily Express that “the basis for the concerns” was that the sheep there suffered “verbal abuse” but no physical abuse.
“The allegation was that bad language was used by an employee on the property in front of the sheep, and that they could have been offended by the use of bad language,” Turner told the newspaper.
The debate on what constitutes abuse began after the RSPCA ruled the footage inadmissible and instead relied on oral statements made by the involved parties.
Nicolah Donovan, president of Lawyers for Animals, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it was “conceivable that verbal abuse of an extreme nature” against any animal, including sheep, “could constitute an act of violence,” especially if “they have a low fear threshold or they lack understanding that the verbal abuse isn’t going to proceed to a physical threat against them.”
Modern Farmer recently spoke with renowned animal behavior expert and bestselling author Mary Temple Grandin about the difference between how humans and animals perceive the world. Although the question didn’t specifically address this story, her answers are pertinent for the debate.
She says the cognitive part of animal brains, such as in dogs, sheep or cattle, is sensory-based and not word-based.
“Animals are really tuned in to tone of voice. If you walked up to your dog and yelled “GOOD DOG! GOOD DOG!” it’s going to be cringing because the tone of voice was not friendly and nice,” she says.
Whether using an angry tone of voice with a sheep or cursing at it constitutes some sort of abuse is a whole other issue. In a statement released on Sunday, PETA says that there wasn’t just verbal abuse happening at the facility, but instances of workers punching the animals in the face, stomping on their necks and hitting them with various objects.
“If foul language were the worst that sheep in Australian shearing sheds had to endure, then no complaint would have been filed,” PETA Australia Director of Campaigns Jason Baker says in the statement. “This is simply another example of the industry trying to distract from the very real issue of sheep being abused by shearers.”
The case against the sheep ranch was dismissed for lack of evidence, but it remains to be seen whether cursing at your livestock will become an issue in the future.