Breathlessness (Strangulation, Choking and Drowning) and Suffering in Humans and Animals: Causes, Assessment and Motivators for Abuse
Date & Time
Saturday, November 6, 2021, 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
Dr. Rebecca Ledger Peter Collins

Acts of compressing an animal’s chest, strangulation, choking and drowning are all known causes of suffering in animals. The unpleasant respiratory effort, chest tightness and air hunger that may be experienced under these conditions is termed breathlessness. At its most intense, breathlessness is a highly unpleasant state that causes extreme suffering.

While Canadian Courts typically consider the death of an animal to be a higher level of aggravation and with an elevated standpoint in terms of sentencing, the experience of breathlessness pre-mortem, or in cases where the animal has survived, has historically been overlooked. This is, in part, because of the difficulty in assessing breathlessness in these victims. 

However, since 2019, Canadian Courts have now accepted physiological and behavioural evidence that demonstrates the extent to which an animal has suffered during acts leading to breathlessness, in both survivors and animals that die as a result of the cruel act. Often, these cases have proceeded when there has been little or no physical evidence of harm. 

Dr Rebecca Ledger will discuss the different types of breathlessness that animals can experience, potential ways in which breathlessness can be caused, and how it can be assessed using physiological and behavioural measures. A review of legal cases where animals have experienced elevated respiratory effort, chest tightness and air hunger, will be discussed. 

Dr Peter Collins will then discuss the human experience of breathlessness, drawing attention to the physiological and affective similarities between humans and animals, and focusing on the motivation for people to cause breathlessness in other individuals, including intimate partner violence and sexual paraphilia.

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