It’s a little-known fact that at the 1842 Pensacola Summit for Local Drunks, at the behest of Whiskey Bartholomew who, the previous evening, got lit at the local tavern and went on a long and embarrassing rant in which he claimed to agree with the principles of trickle-down economics, all alcoholics present at the gathering struck an accord: “Henceforth, no drunk, alcoholic, wino, lush, souse, tippler, or boozehound shall be subjected to behavior including but not limited to mockery, jeering, criticism, pelting with food items, or derision from any other drunk, alcoholic, wino, lush, souse, tippler, or boozehound.”
It was a brilliant move, a revolutionary pact soon adopted by drunks the world over. You see, they all knew that there would be at least one—and probably more like 4,000—moments in their careers that they would prefer to forget. On the banks of that marshy, crocodile-ridden shore, which I can only assume smelled like Mickey Mouse’s ass, those forward-thinking men struck a blow for self-respect and dignity for us all.
In light of all this, it is with a heavy heart that I now have to formally and publically chastise Garrett Kaplan who, while drunk on Oct. 26 of last year, doused a steer in kerosene and lit him on fire. I’m the last person to shame someone for getting drunk and doing something stupid. The problem is, lighting an animal on fire isn’t stupid. It’s vicious and cruel. It’s the kind of behavior only possible in individuals lacking empathy—the kind of people who go on to become murderers and perpetrators of other violent crimes. But even if I knew that Kaplan would never touch a fellow human being I would still be appalled by the existence of a human being with such limited empathy and mean intelligence.
In court, alcohol took a lot of the heat for Kaplan’s behavior. And, in defense of the “alcohol made him do it” defense, I know plenty of people who have done things they regret while under the influence of alcohol. Things like dancing on the bar, vomiting on a friend, vomiting on themselves, even a few petty acts of vandalism. Of all the drunks I’ve ever known—and there have been plenty—none of them ever lit a living animal on fire. Because alcohol doesn’t make you a shitbag who doesn’t respect life; if that’s who you are then maybe alcohol helps bring that out. But plenty of us get drunk without assaulting an animal that can’t defend itself.
The thing that really scares me about all this is that after Kaplan pleaded no contest to felony animal cruelty, he’s probably going to spend just three months in county jail, followed by nine months at an in-home treatment facility, and five years of probation. Here is a list of crimes that could result in more jail time than pleading no contest to dousing a living animal in kerosene and lighting him on fire: shoplifting, marijuana possession, shitting on someone’s lawn, spraypainting graffiti on a church, and trespassing. All crimes that merely involve damage to physical property. All punishable with at least six months in jail, even on a first offense.
There are plenty of people in this county who need substance-abuse treatment. You see some of them sitting on benches and sidewalks holding signs pleading for help. Some of them you see on your Facebook feed posting memes about how momma just needs one more glass of wine. Many of them can’t afford the help they need, or simply don’t know where to go for it.
As far as I’m concerned, the act of lighting a steer on fire shouldn’t result in a free ride at an in-house treatment facility. Off the top of my head, I can think of a good place for a person who lights animals on fire, and that place is Atascadero State Hospital.
Maybe we establish laws with the intention of protecting animals but we certainly don’t follow through with them. We establish laws with the intentions of protecting ourselves, our property, our money, our guns, our streets, and our buildings. But somehow the other creatures that share the Earth with us are forgotten. They matter less than a sweater smuggled out of the GAP.
And maybe you’re OK with that. Maybe you think it’s a man’s right to get wasted and torch a living creature. Maybe you subscribe to the belief that the only value in life is monetary. It’s a sad and limited worldview, but there’s no arguing that some of you subscribe to such stupidity nonetheless.
I’m counting on the fact that those of us who recognize the value in animals—the sensitivity, the emotional range, the intelligence—outnumber the handful of redneck fools who can’t think of a better way to pass their time than torching steers. I’m also counting on the fact that Paso Robles has been working hard to elevate its reputation as a cultural, artistic, and culinary destination. But no matter how many wineries you boast; no matter how many chefs are using locally sourced products in their menus; no matter how many people know words like “aromatic,” “full-bodied,” and “demi-glace,” people will always have a hard time looking past the hick with the container of kerosene.
People like Kaplan make Shredder question the concept of evolution. Send photos of primates to firstname.lastname@example.org.