On behalf of millions of disgusted Floridians, I’d like to apologize to the rest of humanity (and also to the animal kingdom) for an exceptionally nauseating news story that appeared last week.
The dateline was Ocala, where a teacher at Forest High School was put on leave after allegedly enlisting his students to help him drown two wild raccoons and an opossum.
The animals were placed in small cages and submerged in a tub of water, where they struggled miserably for several minutes until dying. Some students became upset, and at least one secretly recorded cell-phone video of the torture.
A brief clip and some photos were aired by CBS affiliate WKMG in Orlando, and are available from various news outlets online. I chose to look at them, but you might not wish to.
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The teacher, Dewie Brewton, apparently was annoyed because he believed the raccoons had killed some chickens that his agricultural science class was raising in an outdoor enclosure. The slow-footed opossum’s capital offense remains unclear.
Brewton was placed on administrative leave, and Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier has recommended that he be fired. The district issued the following statement:
“Marion County Public Schools is appalled at the actions of an agri-science teacher accused of killing nuisance animals in front of students earlier this week. Marion County’s education standards – in fact, Florida’s education standards – do not include the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not. While law enforcement determines whether this teacher’s actions were legal or not, his actions are entirely unacceptable and cause us great concern.”
It’s debatable which creature was the “nuisance” species in this macabre ceremony, but at least school officials seem to grasp the magnitude of their public-relations problem.
By law, farmers and ranchers are allowed to trap, relocate or “humanely euthanize” certain wild animals that threaten property such as livestock or crops. However, such killings typically are carried out quickly with a single bullet – not by prolonged drowning in water tubs at public schools in front of teenagers.
One student’s mother said she was “sick to her stomach” after watching the full video.
“When the raccoons tried to come up for air…they held them down with metal rods,” she said in a television interview. “And when the raccoon would try to pop its head up, they held water hoses in its face to drown it.”
The mother said her son told her that Brewton warned the students that they would face disciplinary action if they took any videos or pictures of the killings. If true, it means that the teacher was acutely aware that his actions were questionable, to put it midly.
Brewton, who as of this writing hasn’t commented publicly, is a longtime school district employee and an adviser to the Future Farmer of America at Forest High. The club’s alumni have come to his defense on Facebook, describing him as a dedicated teacher who cares deeply about his students.
Others online have chimed in to defend the animal drownings, and berate Brewton’s critics and the media for being ignorant about the menace that raccoons pose to domestic agriculture.
And all this time we thought the big problem was NAFTA and cut-rate foreign vegetables. Nope, it’s those darn raccoons. So let’s drown a few, to teach those thieving ring-tailed bastards a lesson!
According to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the killing of any nuisance animal should be carried out using guidelines provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
For the record – and not surprisingly-- forcible drowning isn’t listed as an approved method of euthanasia anywhere in the 102 pages of AVMA recommendations.
In fact, this is what the veterinarians’ group officially says about it:
“Drowning is not a means of euthanasia and is inhumane.”
No kidding. It’s horribly inhumane for the animals, and also for those who might be forced to watch.
What important life lesson can anyone hope to teach students by involving them in such sadistic stagecraft? Who the hell knows. Maybe Brewton was just having a really bad day.
Marion prosecutors are deciding whether or not to charge him with a crime, but one thing is dead certain: If it had been a puppy or somebody’s pet Siamese that Brewton drowned in front of those kids, he would have already been booked for aggravated animal cruelty.
And the Future Farmers of America would not object.