Dr. Bill Crain, Professor of Psychology at The City College of New York, returned to his Hudson Valley home the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day after spending twelve days in a correctional facility in Newton, New Jersey. Bill served the jail sentence after being convicted of obstructing the administration of law; in an act of civil disobedience, he stepped outside a designated area while protesting the black bear hunts in NJ. Last year Bill served eight days of jail time on similar charges. Over the years Bill and other protestors also have paid thousands of dollars in fines for similar actions.
While courts have disapproved of Bill’s actions, many have applauded them. While Bill was in jail in January, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) honored him with a Hero to Animals Award for “putting his own personal freedom on the line to speak out against the slaughter of New Jersey’s black bears.”
Bill began questioning the morality of the hunts before they began when he and his family lived in NJ and he got involved with the New Jersey Bear Group. The state began holding the hunts in 2003. Now, fifteen years and over 4000 black bear deaths later, New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, has finally pledged to place a moratorium on these hunts. Nevertheless, the principle of respecting all life should not depend on the whims of politics.
This number of bear deaths is staggering. There are rarely any physical assaults by black bears on humans. According to Backpacker.com, a human is more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a bear. In contrast, the International Hunter Education Association estimates that approximately 1,000 humans in the United States and Canada are accidentally shot (roughly 100, fatally) by hunters each year.
It is also worth noting that the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, which promotes the hunts, receives significant funding from state hunting licenses and taxes on the sale of hunting equipment.
True, black bears can create dilemmas, but their massacre is not the answer. Whether or not one regards animals as equals – cruelty is cruelty. There are many non-lethal options to explore, including one as simple as securing garbage! In Washington State, a lumber company facing product damage from bears eating tree bark found strategically placing piles of food in the woods was a moral and more cost effective way of curbing the problem than the costly and unethical killing of bears.
At 74 years of age, Bill continues to advocate for animals. In an interview with the journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, he stated that “we need to protect and respect other forms of life. Our species isn’t the only one on the planet. These bears want to live just as much as we want to live.”
In his book The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children Bill observes that the refusal to learn unpleasant facts about the treatment of animals is a form of denial. It is easier to remain in the dark than to contend with the implications of our action or inaction on a conscious level. However, we cannot grow in consciousness if we do not push ourselves beyond the self-imposed limit of our comfort zone.
I have learned that it is important to be mindful of the people that keep justice for all alive – that stand up to those that want to silence their voices. At times, both animals and humans are in need of their strength. For those that have been brought up to believe that humans are superior to animals, here’s some food for thought: It is our “superior” consciousness that affords us the privilege of being caretakers of earth and all its inhabitants.
Along with his efforts to save the lives of bears, Bill and his wife, Dr. Ellen Crain, founded Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag, NY in 2008. They have provided a safe, healthy and happy home to around 300 wonderful rescued animals, including goats, sheep, horses, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, cats and pigs. They have even had a few bears visit the property throughout the years. Supported by donations, the Sanctuary is open for scheduled tours and hosts two special events a year. Their commitment shows that two people really can make a difference. Although, the impact might seem minimal to the masses, the outcome for each individual animal – whose life has been spared – is immeasurable.
Written by Joy Gomez, head caretaker at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary.