Rocket Raccoon. The harsh, emotionally scarred raccoon, who just wants to be petted. Rocket was an ordinary raccoon who was experimented until he had greatly enhanced intelligence, could walk upright, and talk. No wonder he likes making weapons and inflicting pain.
Would it be legal (assuming the aliens who performed the experiments have law similar to any state in the United States) to experiment on Rocket until he was no longer an ordinary raccoon? Does giving a raccoon intelligence, speech, and bipedal movement amount to animal cruelty?
Virtually all states prohibit animal abuse and cruelty. The state of New Jersey specifically prohibits many forms of animal abuse. N.J. Stat. § 4:22-26(a)(2) specifically states that it is illegal to “Torment, torture, maim, hang, poison, unnecessarily or cruelly beat, cruelly abuse, or needlessly mutilate a living animal or creature, or cause or procure, by any direct or indirect means, including but not limited to through the use of another living animal or creature, any such acts to be done.”
As a preliminary matter, statutes prohibiting cruelty to animals that state “any living animal” have included “raccoons and any dumb living creature.” People v. Thomason, 84 Cal. App. 4th 1064, 1067 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2000), citing Wilkerson v. State (Fla. 1981) 401 So.2d 1110, 1111).
No cruelty of animal case with animal experimentation addresses enhancing intelligence, giving the ability to speak a human language, or opposable thumbs. The cases do speak to torture or medical tests.
In a case where a high school student performed cancer-inducing experiments conducted on live chickens, the Court held the law was NOT violated, because “whatever discomfort was experienced by the animals was only of a transitory, temporary nature and not cruelty prohibited by the statute.” New Jersey Soc. for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Board of Education, 91 N.J. Super. 81, 219 A.2d 200, 1966 N.J. Super. LEXIS 581 (Cty. Ct. 1966), affirmed by 49 N.J. 15, 227 A.2d 506, 1967 N.J. LEXIS 201 (1967).
If the experiments on Rocket for simply for the sake of cruelty, thus lacking scientific value, the scientists who enhanced him would have broken the law in the United States. If however, the experiments were done in the name of science (perhaps looking for a cure for Dementia or those suffering from paraplegic injuries), the tests might be legal. The test would turn on whether Rocket’s discomfort was “transitory, temporary nature and not cruelty prohibited by the statute.” Id. However, the film Guardians of the Galaxy noted that the experiments were illegal, but not why illegal. The law could have been designed to avoid a Rise of the Planet of the Raccoons scenario and not prohibiting animal cruelty.
It is legally untested whether giving a raccoon bipedal movement and opposable thumbs would be “mutilation.” While Rocket was fundamentally altered with bionics, he went from being a wild animal to being able to function with creatures of vastly higher brain functions and abilities. However, his enhancements could be considered “mutilation,” as he was surgically altered beyond his natural state. By way of comparison, if a mad scientist give a human being duck feathers, webbed feet, a bionic duck call, and the ability to float, there is no question a Court would find that person “mutilated.”
The issue with Rocket is returning him to his natural state would effectively require lobotomizing him. Putting him through another horrific procedure would leave him in a worse condition, since he would lose the ability to speak and function in society.
The experiments on Rocket have a slight chance of being legal, however, much would depend on the nature of the experiments and whether Rocket’s suffering was transitory and temporary in nature.