People defend teacher who castrated two cats in school classroom (while students assist)

Stephens County School
Stephens County School
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

This is a follow up to the classroom cat castration story. Sorry if this annoys one or two people but I think it is an important follow up as it raises an interesting ethical question because some people are defending the teacher’s actions. Was he wrong? Did he behave unethically and inhumanely? For me the answers are a clear: Yes, but not everyone would agree with me including one of the members of the Stephens County Board of Education (the Board) whose name is Jim Ledford.

Daniel Hebert is an excellent science teacher at Stephens County High School (SCHS). The fact that he is a well-regarded teacher made it hard for the Board to agree with his resignation at the end of the school year in 2015 (his resignation was accepted 6-1).

Daniel Hebert decided to castrate two cats in the classroom while the students participated. It appears they held the cats down. One student was scratched and the cats did not have rabies vaccinations. We are not clear whether anaesthetic was used or not but it appears not. His actions caused uproar and the press got hold of the story.

It seems to have been a completely misconceived classroom-based science lesson although his intentions were acceptable. It appears that Mr Hebert wanted to demonstrate the castration (neutering) process with regard to livestock – farm animals. I have a feeling he was teaching animal husbandry. He was providing agricultural education but he was using a pet cat. That is unacceptable moreso because he is not a veterinarian.

He did it in an entirely inappropriate way. The Board through spokesman Stephens County School Superintendent Bryan Dorsey, concluded:

“There are certainly protocols and appropriate situations where that is demonstrated to students. However, concerning pets in a classroom environment, we would consider that an inappropriate activity….We would certainly understand if our animal science class was in the presence of a veterinarian conducting that, what we would consider normal practices.”

A woman named Wendy Dawkins made an interesting comment. I don’t know her position in this. Perhaps she is the mother of a student. Her strident argument is that extremists (she is referring to animal rights advocates, I believe) are behind the criticism of the teacher forcing his resignation.

“I believe that the extremists who are causing this chaos are the kind of people who want to believe that their ribeye steak comes from a steak tree in the backyard and that when they drop their cat off at a neuter clinic, the cat has a magic wand waved over it and is then returned to them.”

What she is saying is that the critics are not living in the real world. The teacher was just showing students what really happens. I get that. I understand her point of view but I disagree. I tend to agree with Mr Dorsey although I don’t believe that a veterinarian operation on a cat should take place in a student high school classroom because it is not sanitised and prepared properly for an operation.

If the neutering was conducted by a vet at the school as Mr Dorsey states it would still be inappropriate as far as I am concerned because:

  • The environment is not prepared for an operation
  • >The environment is frightening for a cat – lots of people

Conclusion?: Teaching castration in class is unacceptable. Wendy Dawkins is insensitive towards animals. The teacher just made a bad judgement. He probably wanted to create an interesting and engaging lesson for his students and went too far and lost his ability to make a good decision. Mr Dorsey, the superintendent, has it half correct. A veterinarian is the only person who should do this in front of students and it should be done at a clinic and the cat properly sedated etc. while students watch from a reasonable distance.

What happened is still a borderline crime, to be honest. The teacher could have been prosecuted under welfare legislation and possible would have been in a European country.

My thanks to Elisa Black-Taylor for pointing to this story on

22 thoughts on “People defend teacher who castrated two cats in school classroom (while students assist)”

  1. Leah, you say you’re shutting the door and going away. Will you forgive me for asking where? (Or, as they say in my neck of the woods, ‘Where “TO”‘?)

    Last week, or whenever it was, I wrote in a PoC-comment how much I admired someone from my student days, a history professor who confessed to me once that it was ‘impossible to like most people.’

    Was he a curmudgeon? An ogre? No. Here are a couple of paragraphs from an article I wrote years ago for the Seattle P-I.

    ‘He hasn’t really changed.

    ‘His eyes flicker with the same quiet humor that seems to distill what loud laughter dispels. His reluctance to talk about himself is as remarkable as ever in an era of intense self-searching. And his liberal views can still raise hackles.

    ‘Embellished by a wit that inspires respect, Giovanni Costigan’s love of learning and command of language combine to sustain the illusion that he is perennial. . .

    ‘. . .As he was years ago, he remains an enigma: a humane and scholarly man who accepts what he considers to be the lack of evidence that human nature has evolved over the centuries. . .

    . . . ‘Summing up what he has learned from his lifelong study of history, he gazes thoughtfully, for some moments, at a profusion of books and papers strewn on his desk. “I’ve learned that it’s better not to read history if you wish to preserve your optimism,” he says. “When you tell people that human nature hasn’t changed substantially in 10,000 years, they think you’re paying them a compliment.

    ‘“There’s a greater humanitarianism now than the Western world has ever seen. Yet when we act in organized groups, we’re as atavistic as we always have been. And we accept this cheerfully. As Einstein wrote in our own time: ‘It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.’”

    ‘Paradoxically, his stark worldview has increased his interest in issues and ideas. His belief that reason has usually played a subordinate role in the conduct of human affairs exists side-by-side with a passionate commitment to learning. . .’


    To examine the ‘conduct of human affairs’ in a shade more detail, here’s a paraphrase of the anthropologists S. L Washburn and V. Avis’s insights on hunting, written in 1958 (their work is still copyrighted):

    ‘Hunters delight in killing other animals. In the absence of training to mask the instinct, humans glory in stalking and killing. All throughout history, in nearly all cultures, the infliction of excruciating pain, the cries of torment and – in a grand climax – the death of the victim, were and still are offered up as public entertainment.’

    Have you ever seen photos of Deep South lynchings? With their brood of children and picnic baskets, the crowds are riotous with joy. I forget the name of the artist – it might have been ‘Phiz” who illustrated Dickens’s novels. Whoever it was, Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities (underlined) has a drawing of a woman seated near the guillotine, beaming with excitement, her teeth bared.

    Although he’s been criticized for being somewhat out of date, Robert Ardrey, in my opinion, wrote with a philosophical depth unsurpassed by Spengler. He rejected the post-Freudian notion that cruelty is usually caused by child abuse. In common with Freud and Melanie Klein (among other psychoanalysts), he believed that it was, and studied its positive aspects as, an evolutionary safeguard. Savagery toward the ‘out-group,’ he wrote, fortifies peace and cohesion amongst members of the ‘in-group.’ The downside? Humanity lags behind the rest of the animal kingdom. Our furred, feathered and scaly kinfolk display great hostility toward rivals during the mating season, and any of their kind that dare trespass on the turf they’ve staked out for themselves. With this tragic difference: they bellow and screech, dart at the villain, leap sky-high, bare their fangs, wave their arms and clash antlers. While bull elks can gore their competitors to death, most every animal he and others studied for decades stop short of murdering each other. Except the killer-human.

    Are some cultures peaceable? The Cretans (Minoans) may have come as close to being so as any discovered. For example, they had no use for matadors & picadors: they favored ‘bull-dancers.’ And their pantheon was matriarchal – their deities wasp-waisted ladies with Dolly Parton bosoms. Yet even in this culture, excavations have uncovered traces of human sacrifice.

    If statisticians could come up with a few solid statistics, how many millions of people would they find who liked using cats as footballs? And how many men would they find who enjoyed getting down on the floor and luring a kitten out of its hidey-hole with prawns and baby-talk? Is the first closer to run-of-the-mill, and the second a quaint anomaly? Hopefully not, for all that hope achieves. Yet Ruth and Babz, who cherish their cats, have witnessed, all around them, a strangled cat hanging out a window, a puppy under the wheels of a car, dogs yapping from boredom and neglect, and still more dogs fed slimy kibbles crawling with slugs.

    Whether a survey turned up more of the first than the second – or vice versa? – we readily label the first as ‘sociopaths incapable of thought and feeling.’ As stated above, we also rush to embrace the theory that battered children become cruel adults (though child abuse certainly helps), while staunchly rejecting tangible, scientific proof that cruelty can also arise from biochemical and structural variations in the brain: to name one instance, a malformed conduit between the forebrain, the amygdala and other sources of compassion. Why do we do this? Is it because people of faith and secular humanists are offended by findings that jolt their morality like a mechanical bull? Their ingrained concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ ‘right,’ ‘wrong’ and ‘free will’ – including the retribution wrongdoing deserves? Mechanistic explanations are repugnant to most people.

    To further cloud the issue, it may have been Hitler’s henchman, Hermann Goering (though I could be mistaken – I read this years ago), who almost broke into tears if he accidentally stepped on an earthworm. But as for sociopathic ‘brainlessness,’ some of Hitler’s highest ranking officials were PhDs.

    Like it or not, selective compassion is everywhere. My mother, who spent thousands of dollars of my father’s earnings on veterinary fees, gleefully zapped spiders in the bathtub with gobs of foam from his spray-can of shaving cream.

    I wept for half an hour when my mother died, and for more than a year over my boy and little girl. My mother was nine years older than my dad, old and frail and had lived a good, long life. Yet my boy was also old and frail, and his death broke my heart. Watching him sink away was a torment that equaled having to watch my father die.

    As anyone knows, there are different forms of cruelty: some of it oblivious, some sadistic or insensitive. When I was five, my father caught a butterfly I wanted, and skewered it to a board with a hatpin. All I remember was looking at the poor creature and exclaiming how pretty it was. I hadn’t an inkling how it must have suffered.

    Years ago, I had a friend who told me how much fun she had ‘popping with a scalpel’ a frog’s beating heart in her high school vivisection class. In like manner, my mother loved popping the purple seedpods of fuchsias and the bubbles of plastic bubble wrap. It was nearly as pleasurable for her as spraying spiders with foam and watching them squirm in agony.

    As for insensitive cruelty, most people point out that livestock aren’t companion animals, and what we do to them isn’t what we should do to our fur-child. Yet livestock suffer no less than our cats and dogs.

    I won’t suggest you retrieve these websites and look at the pictures. But I’ll quote you one or two excerpts from the sites.

    (1) Because he’s a companion animal, a horse is anesthetized before he’s gelded.

    (2) Because he is not, a pig – as intelligent, loving and lovable as any cat or dog – is denied anesthetic. So brace yourself, Leah. NOTES ON CASTRATING A PIG: ‘If he is still with his mother, it is a good idea to take him where she cannot see him while you perform the procedure. . . .(Hold all four legs) then squeeze the testicle to push it through the cut. Grab it and pull it out completely. Cut the attached white cord. In a young pig, continue pulling on the testicle until the red cord (the blood vessel) snaps.’

    (3) ‘HOW TO CAPONIZE YOUR BACKYARD CHICKEN: ‘Don’t feel bad if you loose [sic] a few chickens when you first start out. . . you will loose a few until you get the hang of it.’ Following this breezy introduction, the blogger goes on to describe how you fasten the rooster to a table by tying its wings to a cord tied to a brick hanging off one end of the table, then tying its legs to a second brick-weighted cord hanging off the opposite end. Next, you cut a hole in the side of the rooster and spread its ribs to reach the testicles, which you snip or pinch off.

    (4) THREE WAYS TO CASTRATE BULLS AND BULL CALVES – WIKI/HOW: ‘Tail-jacking will not stop a calf from flinching and jerking when a scalpel cuts into its scrotum. . . so choose the best castrating method . . . according to what your stomach can handle and how sensitive you are to the animal’s well-being.. . .’ Among other illustrations, the site displays what looks like something from the Spanish Inquisition: a metal contraption you clap around the calf’s head to restrain it.

    In all the above, the instruments include scalpels and knives, pinchers, horror-film pliers and crushing devices. For the faint-hearted, there’s also a ring you can clamp on the gonads to prevent circulation, causing them to drop off from gangrene within a few days. A purportedly ‘painless’ method.

    (5) Do you want to hear about branding and dehorning?

    (6) Docking dogs’ tails, then slashing and splinting their ears?

    (7) Hybridizing dogs and cats until their faces are so deformed they wheeze for air, their tear ducts leak, and their skin sags to such a degree they need eyelid surgery so they can see? And all for the amusement of humans?

    (8) Do you already know what has been done since ancient times not only to harem eunuchs but to silver-bell soprano choir boys? Until the Vatican stopped the practice around 1904, these nightingale lads could die from an opium overdose, or from having their carotid arteries flattened, during surgery, long enough to leave the boys brain-dead. Did you ever hear a castrado sing? I did once. The recording was old and tinny, and the voice eerily sublime.

    But at least the boys, when they weren’t killed, were more or less rendered comatose during the cutting. ‘Circumcised’ girls get to tough it out. So does a shrieking infant tottering on the brink of death & dissolution while his parents and the mohel celebrate the event by quaffing wine. (Mogen David – whatever.)

    Does PoC post too many ‘ain’t it awful’ essays? Events no one can prevent? Or, if they can, is the prevention a drop in the ocean?

    Actually, it can help to talk about atrocities.

    It wasn’t that long ago that inmates in an asylum were whipped, starved and exposed to public ridicule. The 18th century aristocracy relished the fascination of touring asylums to see the pitiful inmates. Their mistreatment continued until the 19th century when reformers such as Dorothea Dix did everything in their limited powers to improve the quality of their lives.

    African Americans were barred from voting and humiliated in every other way.

    Jews were butchered by the millions, ‘kept in their place,’ denied higher education. Only the Muslims in centuries past treated them with decency.

    Homosexuals have been hounded to the ends of the earth.

    Women couldn’t vote.

    Marital abuse was rampant.

    These crimes still smolder under the surface and, given an opening, can still explode in flames. But for the time being, most victims have a legal recourse. Even in China, animal rights activists are a growing presence.

    Along with the chatter, the Internet provides information. While the progress in animal rights is moving ahead at a snail’s pace, it still exists to some extent. This Mr. Herbert has besmirched himself for the remainder in the eyes of people with even a trace of civility and education. Is it possible he’s held on to his job? If the answer is yes – then if he is single, who would want to marry him? Someone of his stripe? As the saying goes, ‘You can think what you want, but you can’t say what you want.’ So we’ll steer clear of ‘hillbilly town.’ But he’s plastered with publicity. A good thing. Bad for him, though, unless he plans on changing his name, or spending the rest of his days in a berg where he can keep digging away at kittens while his friends and neighbors pat him on the back and urge him along with ‘You go, Bubba!’

    Detestable as such coverage is, does it serve no purpose? If not even a tittle locally, it’s triggered nationwide revulsion.

    And once again, Leah – if the question isn’t too intrusive – where can you go where you’ll never have to see or hear about more of these crimes? If you know of such a place, I’ll pay you my last nickel and dime for a roadmap.


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