by Merritt Clifton
MARYSVILLE, Washington; LIVINGSTON, Michigan––If Jaylen Ray Fryberg, 14, had checked popular news web sites on October 24, 2014, before shooting five fellow students at Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington, killing two, putting two more into critical condition, and then killing himself, Fryberg might have seen the story of another young hunter, Gavin Dingman, 11, of Livingston, Michigan.
Gavin Dingman comparably courted approval by killing trophy deer, and found himself comparably surprised by rejection. But Gavin Dingman didn’t shoot anyone over it. Instead, he wondered, as any sane person would, why people anonymously threatened to shoot him.
From the best available information, Fryberg probably did not check the web sites of USA Today, the Daily Mail, the New York Daily News, CBS-Detroit, the Huffington Post, The Inquisitor, Patch, or any of the myriad other media that reported about how Gavin Dingman received death threats after killing a rare albino deer with a crossbow.
While killing the deer was offensive to millions of Americans, including animal advocates, Gavin Dingman did not do anything illegal. He acted entirely under adult supervision. And he was hardly the only hunter pursuing the deer.
“Quite a few of the guys in the neighborhood were trying to get it,” said his father, Mick Dingman, to Mike Lammi of the Livingston Daily.
Who made the death threats?
Speculation ran rife, after publication of the reports about the death threats, as to who might have made them: Animal advocates? Others familiar with that particular white deer? Jealous rival hunters? Or just the usual horde of online trolls, who seem to be incited by anyone else receiving attention?
Three points appear worthy of immediate note.
First, making death threats to anyone on any pretext, anonymously or otherwise, is not acceptable in a civilized society. Making anonymous death threats to an 11-year-old compounds an already egregious offense.
Second, while some self-professed animal advocates have at times issued anonymous death threats, and some have been jailed for doing it, making death threats and threatening children has no honorable tradition in animal advocacy, either.
Indeed, the notion that behavior should be controlled through fear and pain is precisely what the humane cause has stood against, from inception. American SPCA founder Henry Bergh and attorney Elbridge T. Gerry in 1877 famously invoked animal protection law to rescue an abused child named Mary Ellen Wilson, with the words that if the child had no protection under the law as a human being, she could at least be protected to the same extent as an animal.
The court agreed. If an animal must not be abused or terrorized, a child must not be abused or terrorized either.
There is no defense in humane teachings or philosophy for the threats made to Gavin Dingman, just as there is no defense for the self-professed animal advocates who routinely recommend bloodcurdling fates to the ANIMALS 24-7 writers whenever we recommend breed-specific legislation to curb pit bull overpopulation and mayhem, criticize hunting, or point out that prison is the appropriate place for delusionary psychopaths who make death threats, commit arson, and plant bombs in the name of some warped version of “animal rights” which fails to recognize that humans are animals too.
Third, from an animal advocacy perspective, Gavin Dingman’s alleged offense was distinctly nuanced.
From an animal rights point of view, the issue was not that Gavin Dingman killed a white deer, or any deer, but rather that he killed an animal for fun––essentially a sadistic act, no matter how much adult encouragement and supervision he had.
From an animal welfare point of view, the matter is complicated by recognition that the two-year-old white buck almost certainly had far better quality of life and no worse a death than almost any of the estimated 90 million animals raised and slaughtered for food each year. Most animal advocates would agree that while recreationally killing animals is inherently wrong, shooting a deer to eat is more humane than eating factory-farmed meat from the supermarket.
From a wildlife conservation perspective, including that of hunter/conservationists, Gavin Dingman killing the white buck is more nuanced still. Some conservationists hold that white deer are genetically abnormal, and should be culled, lest their purported genetic defects be passed along to harm the deer population as a whole. Others recognize that predators tend to cull albino deer, and other white deer, early in life, since they lack the camouflage coloration that protects most fawns.
Also of note is that while white deer usually are at a survival disadvantage, white deer under certain circumstances may have the edge. For example, if there is an abnormally short summer and fall, and a prolonged winter, featuring deep snow through which it is difficult for deer to run, the existence of some white deer may help to ensure the survival of the species.
White deer protected
Altogether, at least 13 states have legislation protecting white deer. Another 11-year-old hunter, Jared Stiltner, made headlines in 2005 by leading an unsuccessful campaign to add West Virginia to the list.
Among the states already protecting white deer were––and are––Wisconsin and Minnesota, two of the states with the most hunters relative to human population. Seldom though white deer are seen, hunters were prosecuted for shooting white deer in Wisconsin as recently as 2005 and in Minnesota as recently as 2006.
White deer are also protected in North Carolina, another state with a strong hunting tradition. Explained Raleigh News & Observer staff writer Anne Blythe in 2008, “Legends have Virginia Dare, the English child lost with the first colony in 1587 [whose surname meant ‘deer’], returning as a white deer that haunts Outer Banks islands. In Garner, an albino doe often seen around Lake Benson in southern Wake County was so treasured that the town mounted the lifeless creature after a car struck and killed her in 2001.”
White deer abroad
The legendary attraction of white deer, and the passion at times exhibited in their defense, is scarcely limited to the United States.
In north eastern India, “The Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary has a pair of rare white stags. They have become a center of attraction for both Indian and foreign tourists. Special protection measures are being taken for the pair,” the Indo Asian News Service reported in March 2006.
Reported London Times correspondent David Crossland in November 2006, “Hunters in Germany are resisting a call to kill a rare albino deer buck dubbed White Bambi. Hunter Gottfried Meier, 60, told The Times that many hunters believe in a curse said to befall any hunter who kills a white deer: that he or a member of his family shall die within a year. Legend has it that Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian Archduke, fell victim to the curse after shooting a white stag in the autumn of 1913. Less than a year later he was assassinated in Sarajevo, triggering the First World War.”
White deer in Devon
BBC News in October 2007 recounted the wrath of Devon and Cornwall border region farmers and gamekeepers after someone poached a nine-year-old white stag they had protected. Said warrener Pat Carey, whose job was culling an alleged excess of red deer, “It’s got to be a heartless person to be able to look at that beautiful creature through the telescopic sight of a high-powered rifle and just end its life.”
Later in 2007 a white deer calf appeared in Devon, perhaps the same “mysterious white hart” described in September 2011 by Michael McCarthy, environment editor for The Independent.
White deer are “so uncommon,” McCarthy wrote, “and look so ghostly, especially in the light of early morning or the gloaming of a late summer evening, that in the Middle Ages the white hart became semi-mythical. Sightings came to symbolize various aspects of fate, from good fortune to bad fortune, and from romantic love to the presence of Christ on earth. It was perhaps the white hart’s Christian symbolism which led to the hart’s adoption as a personal emblem by Richard II and his personal bodyguard, the Cheshire archers.”
White deer & beer
To this day, McCarthy noted, “The White Hart is said to be the fifth most popular pub name in Britain, after The Crown, The Red Lion, The Royal Oak, and The Swan.”
To the north, added John Triggs of The Express, “King David I of Scotland was said to have established the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, the ancient seat of Scotland’s kings and queens, on the very spot he witnessed a pure white stag turn into a holy cross.”
That history may have contributed to the brouhaha that arose in March 2009 when hunting guide Kevin Stuart, 48, sought a “four-figure sum” for the rights to shoot a white roebuck discovered in December 2008 on a 3,000-acre estate in Dumfries and Galloway. Stuart recanted after member of the Scottish Parliament Elaine Murray sought legislation to protect the white roebuck.
Animal advocates have at times invoked the purported mythic qualities of white deer in efforts to protect all deer, for instance in the “Save the White Deer” petition campaign waged by Friends of the White Deer in 2008 on behalf of fallow and axis deer at Point Reyes National Seashore, in California.
But such examples are almost as rare as white deer themselves.
Regardless of who threatened Gavin Dingman and why, the threats were inappropriate. And, so also is teaching children either to kill for fun, or to try to seek social approval through the use of a weapon.
The examples of Jaylen Ray Fryberg and the two dozen or more other young hunters who have committed rage massacres of schoolmates are only the most extreme outcomes of promoting the notions that killing is a rite of passage into adulthood, that might makes right, and that other living beings exist to become someone’s trophy.
But these notions are each a part of the “dominionistic” attitude identified by Yale University professor Stephen Kellert, in a 1980 study commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of the typical psychological makeup of sport hunters. Kellert defined dominionism as an attitude in which “primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery or control over animals.”
Other researchers later recognized that dominionism also tends to include the exercise of “mastery or control” over women and children, and as such is likewise part of the typical psychological makeup of men who practice domestic violence.
Even if most child hunters do not vent their frustrations with gun in hand, like Jaylen Ray Fryberg, and do not grow up to abuse the women and children of their households, dominionism is no more an attitude to be inculcated among young people that is the now largely reviled notion that bullying is a normal and healthy aspect of human relations.
Indeed, bullying may also be an expression of dominionism. Both bullying and dominionism are part of the same part and parcel as making anonymous death threats. None of these practices should be encouraged or accepted.
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(See also “Marysville school shooter loved hunting & pit bulls, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-Rd; “New York state statistics show link: hunters & molesters,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/new-york-state-statistics…/; Ohio data confirms hunting/child abuse link: stronger than link to rural poverty,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/ohio-data-confirms…/; and “Michigan stats confirm hunting/child abuse link,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/michigan-stats-confirm…/.)