Did North Carolina just legalize opossum cruelty for entertainment?!

opossum photo
CC BY 2.0 Dawn Huczek

North Carolina's political turmoil has already impacted the environment, with legislators banning planners from using scientific projections of sea level rise and causing long-time state environmental employees to cry "take this job and shove it".

Now Calley Gerber of the News & Observer reports a new and obscure front in this ongoing debacle, with legislators rushing through a bill to legalize the use of a live possum in the "traditional" opossum drop to mark the New Year:

Over the past few weeks, in a stunning display of legislative efficiency and bipartisanship that Washington lawmakers can only dream of, both houses of the N.C. General Assembly worked together to rush through what was apparently the most pressing issue of this legislative session: the legalization of cruelty to opossums.
Now, opossums in Clay County can be abused between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, for the sole purpose of allowing Opossum Drop organizers to dangle a terrified opossum above a crowd of rowdy revelers each New Year’s Eve, something prohibited under law and for good reason. It is inappropriate to torment wildlife for fun.

Now don't get me wrong. As someone who used to keep chickens, I actually have no great love for opossums. In fact, from a personal standpoint I find them repulsive. (Folks who accused me of hurting animals' feelings with my piece on the World's Ugliest Animal will no doubt cry insensitivity here.)

But there are two very important principles at play in this issue.

Firstly, while we may debate the rights and wrongs of eating meat, or exterminating pest animals, most of us can agree that cruelty as entertainment is a poor excuse. As Gerber argues above—it is simply wrong to torment animals for fun. Not only does it harm the animal in question, but it desensitizes all of us to the suffering of others.

Secondly, the new legislation establishes a blatant double standard, as Gerber also notes:

Meanwhile, wildlife rehabilitators who toil night and day to feed, medicate and care for injured, ill or orphaned wild opossums are still subject to the same laws that North Carolina’s lawmakers decided shouldn’t apply when you lock a timid opossum in a box and force him or her to endure a barrage of screaming celebrants, thumping music and deafening fireworks – in other words, all the things that frighten opossums most.

Mahatma Gandhi once argued that you can judge a civilization by how it treats its animals.

North Carolina is not scoring too well on that front right now.

Did North Carolina just legalize opossum cruelty for entertainment?!
The NC General Assembly has just rushed through a bill to allow live opossums to be used in "Opossum Drops" to ring in the New Year.

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