Dog Lover Bites Man

Science, technology, and life.
July 3 2008 7:30 AM

Dog Lover Bites Man

I love animals . I really do. But there's such a thing as loving animals the wrong way.

No, I'm not talking about that , you perverts. Or that . I've said enough about that sort of behavior.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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I'm talking about Leona Helmsley and her dog.

Two weeks ago, I flagged a Reuters story about Helmsley's will. She left $12 million to her dog, Trouble, and zero to her grandkids. A court eventually cut the dog's share to $2 million, sufficient to support its "maintenance and welfare at the highest standards of care for more than 10 years."

Crazy, huh? But it turns out that wasn't the half of it. In Wednesday's New York Times , Stephanie Strom reports that according to two sources, a "mission statement" for Helmsley's charitable trust dictates that "the entire trust, valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs."

That sounds really sweet, until Strom explains how dogs ended up with the whole bundle:

The two people who described the statement said Mrs. Helmsley signed it in 2003 to establish goals for the multibillion-dollar trust that would disburse assets after her death. The first goal was to help indigent people, the second to provide for the care and welfare of dogs. A year later, they said, she deleted the first goal.

This is exactly what critics of animal rights keep telling us : The more we elevate animals, they warn, the less we'll respect humans. I don't think it has to be that way. I think we're all animals along a continuum of capacities, some of us more rational or moral than others. Part of the majesty of humanity is its ability to recognize and honor these capacities in other species, even when it's inconvenient to us. To do so is to elevate humanity, not degrade it.

Writing indigent human beings out of your legacy is no way to love animals. All it shows it that you don't recognize or love the animals who matter most.

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