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People sacrifice their lives to save their cats and dogs, as we saw during hurricane Katrina; yet they may engage in the sports of hunting or fishing on the weekend. There is a movement to pass laws to include family pets in domestic violence protection orders, yet more cities and states are pushing to pass breed-specific legislation that would ban certain dog breeds. There is growing opposition to using animals in research laboratories, yet people still buy and use products that are tested on animals. Americans have growing concern regarding the housing and treatment of farm animals, yet many people eat meat or animal products without checking to see if the animal was raised humanely. I am not passing judgment on any of these practices. However, it is interesting to point out the ironies in the business, beliefs, and habitual human behaviors involving animals.
Issues involving the protection of animals are emotional and controversial. it is a complex field where gaining consensus from society on how to protect animals is difficult due to widely differing opinions. Animal welfare laws date back to the 1860s, when the first animal cruelty law was passed in Massachusetts. Laws have been passed because most people abhor cruelty in any form to any living creature and want to see animals humanely cared for or allowed to live free and naturally in the wild. Yet it is humans that inflict torture and pain on animals. These acts of torture and pain have resulted in a plethora of animal welfare laws.
Americans have come a long way when we look at animal protection. in 1993, only seven states had felony animal cruelty law, yet today all states but three have felony laws. When I entered law school in 1990, the concept of a student Animal Legal defense fund chapter was nonexistent, but today there are chapters at more than 125 law schools in the United States. No animal law courses were taught at law schools in the 1990s; however, today just over one hundred law schools educate on the complexities of animal law. The first state bar animal law section was created in 1995 within the state bar of Michigan (of which I am a council member), and now there are thirty animal law sections nationwide.
Protecting animals through the law and advocacy is gaining in popularity. We now have Animal Planet, an entire cable television network dedicated to animal issues, and we see animal stories played out in mainstream media every day. Why? Are we growing more compassionate and empathetic as a society? Are animals catching up with the laws that protect humans? Do we now desire to treat all living creatures better? What we are seeing in the united states is an overall change in perception regarding animal protection, and the influence of that perception is pushing animal welfare and the law into the light.
What is ironic is that animal protection laws preexisted child protection laws and domestic protection laws. in fact, in 1874, the American society for the Prevention of cruelty to Animals was the organization that helped to save Mary Ellen Wilson from an abusive foster home, the first case of child protection. in the late 1800s, a few states had animal protection laws, but laws protecting women and children from abuse did not exist. Today the laws have shifted, and prosecutions for child abuse and domestic violence are commonplace, whereas an animal cruelty prosecution is so rare that it frequently gets significant media attention due to community outcry.
So again we have these hypocrisies about protecting animals, and many question where to draw the line. Is it okay to pass laws that protect cats and dogs (primary companion animals in American homes) from being killed, tortured, or poisoned? Yet many states allow an animal shelter to gas (poison) a cat or dog to death in a chamber filled with carbon monoxide or dioxide as the pet howls and scratches to get out. Should we permit legal protection of an animal in one context but not another? A rabbit may have protection from cruelty (killing, torture, neglect) as a companion animal, yet if found in the wild the rabbit can be shot and killed, or if found in a research lab it is not given the same protections as rabbits in a home. And while companion animals are protected under the law from intentional and negligent acts of harm by humans, farm animals and wildlife are systematically excluded. Is one species more important or socially acceptable than another?
As a society, Americans are attempting, but struggling, to decide how we want to treat animals. We witness clashes among the humane animal welfare organizations, farm bureaus, veterinary associations, and even animal care organizations over the appropriate laws to protect animals. The law is usually quite clear and gives us absolutes that we must abide by. Overall, the law tends to be black or white, with just enough gray area to allow for creative arguing. Consistency in the law is required to maintain a humane and law-abiding society. The growing area of animal law may be the movement that helps to define how Americans will treat animals and to eliminate some of the hypocrisy. However, the humane treatment of animals goes far beyond the law and treads on how we view animals.
U.S. ADULTS' FEELINGS ABOUT ANIMAL PROTECTION
The humane Research council (HRC) is a team of professionals that formed in 2000 to conduct research so that animal advocates would have accurate and helpful information. HRC is conducting a longitudinal study that currently encompasses three annual reports on Americans' feelings about animals with the conclusion that "the importance of animal welfare may be strengthening over time." the first report from 2008 was created as a baseline for the study and found:
72% of U.S. adults have a "favorable" opinion of the animal protection movement.
32% give animal protection groups "significant" credibility regarding information about animal welfare.
Many people "strongly support" using anti-cruelty investigations (47%), the media (37%), and speaking in schools (33%) to advocate for animals.
44% think the animal protection movement has had a "moderate" or "significant" impact.
35% "strongly support" the specific goal to "minimize and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering."
The second report was issued in 2009 and repeated six of the sixteen questions from the previous report. The third report found that "seven in ten people say they personally support the animal protection movement's goals to 'minimize and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering.' Despite the fact that these types of questions often yield positive responses, it is significant to think about what this support would mean for animals if taken to its logical conclusion. The challenge for advocates is to determine how to translate this sentiment into tangible gains for animals." The third report also claimed:
28% strongly support and 41% somewhat support the specific goal to minimize and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering.
When asked how much of an impact the animal protection movement has had on our nation's policies (i.e., federal and state laws and regulations, corporate policies), responses were very little impact (36% in second wave, 32% in third wave), moderate impact (35%), to significant impact (10%).
When asked how important is the protection of animals when it comes to making the following personal choices on these issues, listed is the percentage of responders indicating "very" or "somewhat" important:
* Getting a new pet (83%)
* Buying food (i.e., meat, eggs, dairy) (70%)
* Going hunting or fishing (62%)
* Buying consumer products (61%)
* Buying clothing (55%)
* Attending circuses or rodeos (54%)
* Voting for a political candidate (51%)
* Going to dog or horse races (49%)
When asked if farm animals deserve the same protection as pets and other animals, only 53% of people agreed. And only 56% of people agreed that people have an obligation to avoid harming all animals.
Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed agreed that animals are capable of thinking and feeling emotions, and the animal protection movement ranked within the top three causes (with workers' rights and tax reform/relief ranking ahead). Advocacy tactics, such as investigations, media reports, school education, lawsuits, ballot initiatives, lobbying, and product boycotts, were supported by more than half of those surveyed, except for demonstrating and protesting. And when asked if their concern for animals caused action, the top answers included spaying-neutering their pet (58%), buying products not tested on animals (40%), adopting an animal from a shelter (35%), and signing a petition (31%). Lastly, the protection of companion animals ranked higher than all other animals (with 62% citing "very important").
It is easy, as an animal advocate, to believe that all humans share the belief that animals, regardless of species, deserve protection. The studies from the HRC are important in that they provide a compass for how Americans overall view the welfare and protection of animals. This is important to keep in mind as you advocate for animals.
THE CONTINUUM OF ANIMAL RIGHTS AND ANIMAL WELFARE
When it comes to animal rights and animal welfare, where do you stand on the continuum? What really is the difference between the two? In the most basic terms, those supporting animal rights believe that all animals should be free from human exploitation. This includes not using animals for food or clothing as well as not having animals as actors in movies. Some animal rights activists go as far to say that cats and dog should not be "adopted" or "owned" by humans and should not be confined in animal shelters. On the other hand, animal welfare stands for providing the strongest protection and humane treatment of animals based on the situation of the animal. For example, if a cow is on a farm destined to be used as food, animal welfare proponents will work toward the humane raising, treatment, and slaughter of that cow. Moreover, understanding that euthanasia is a tragic reality in many animal shelters, animal welfare advocates work toward banning inhumane practices such as gassing or drowning. So let's delve into these two philosophies more.
Animal Rights: "The philosophy of animal rights rejects the idea that one can evaluate the appropriateness of some action, such as, killing an animal, by weighing the benefits of this action, such as, finding a cure to a disease, against its cost (animal death or suffering). In other words, the ends do not justify the means, especially when the means, that is, animal use, are wrong. If one were considering behavior only as it applies to humans, most would agree with this philosophy. Some people concur that we shouldn't kill another individual even if we could save many in so doing (capital punishment notwithstanding)."
According to People for the ethical treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights organization, "supporters of animal rights believe that animals have an inherent worth—a value completely separate from their usefulness to humans. we believe that every creature with a will to live has a right to live free from pain and suffering. Animal rights is not just a philosophy—it is a social movement that challenges society's traditional view that all nonhuman animals exist solely for human use. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, 'When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife. Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it's based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable. If you wouldn't eat a dog, why eat a pig? Dogs and pigs have the same capacity to feel pain, but it is prejudice based on species that allows us to think of one animal as a companion and the other as dinner.'"
As I have advocated against pound seizure (shelters providing cats and dogs for experimentation) for a decade, the primary argument from the opposition has been concern over the demise of vital medical research without the use of animals. hence, the collision of animal rights versus animal welfare. I doubt anyone would find it appropriate to take a healthy family member and subject them to numerous experimentations resulting in their death. Yet many people do not think twice when this is done to millions of animals in American laboratories. Animal rights believes that animals should not be used, period, even if it benefits humans, because there is no difference between animals and humans. Animals and humans feel pain, have an instinct to survive, and should not exploit each other. Humans do have more rights, currently, than animals; however, animal rights advocates believe animals have similar and equal rights to protection from harm and exploitation.
Toward that end, the Animal Legal defense fund has created an Animal bill of Rights16 promoting a petition to congress that says:
I, the undersigned American citizen, believe that animals, like all sentient beings, are entitled to basic legal rights in our society. Deprived of legal protection, animals are defenseless against exploitation and abuse by humans. As no such rights now exist, I urge you to pass legislation in support of the following basic rights for animals:
The Right of animals to be free from exploitation, cruelty, neglect, and abuse.
The Right of laboratory animals not to be used in cruel or unnecessary experiments.
The Right of farm animals to an environment that satisfies their basic physical and psychological needs.
The Right of companion animals to a healthy diet, protective shelter, and adequate medical care.
The Right of wildlife to a natural habitat, ecologically sufficient to a normal existence and self-sustaining species population.
The Right of animals to have their interests represented in court and safeguarded by the law of the land.
The bill of Rights is an effort to recognize the voiceless and those that need humans to defend them from harm. As written, however, the bill of Rights is a combination of both animal rights and animal welfare philosophies.
Opponents of animal rights argue that animals are incapable of making moral judgments like humans and, therefore, are not entitled to the same rights as humans. Moreover, humans behave differently toward varying species. For example, we may treat a cat or chimpanzee with the kindness that we want, but we have no problem killing a cockroach that invades our home.
Animal Welfare: Animal welfare advocates understand that animals should have rights and protections from harm but are not equal to humans. the rationale and approach to protection is quite different from animal rights beliefs. According to Larry Katz, professor at Rutgers university, "because we recognize that some animals are capable of having interests or suffering, we have evolved culturally to respect those interests. One might argue that we don't strive to save endangered species, wilderness preserves, old growth forests or the coral reefs because they have rights. Rather, we place value in these rare or complex systems because our moral laws teach us to preserve and protect our environment, whether it is the physical or biological environment."
Animal welfare has typically been promoted through the passage of laws that recognize that animals are "used" in some capacity by humans but deserve humane treatment. I have always been intrigued by the phrase humane treatment and what it really means. Again, the definition depends on whether you sit on the side of animal rights or animal welfare. for example, humane treatment of shelter animals means no death at the hands of humans for animal rights advocates; on the contrary, it means a painless death (euthanasia by injection rather than gassing, drowning, or other "inhumane" methods) for animal welfare advocates. Some animal welfare advocates believe that assessing the behavior of the animal helps to achieve humane treatment for that same animal. For example, Temple Grandin has dedicated her life and career to understanding the feelings and natural behaviors of farm animals so that humane housing and slaughter facilities can be created. She is promoting humane treatment through the lens of animal welfare, whereas the no Kill Advocacy center is promoting guidelines for creating "no-kill" animal shelters. It is approaching humane treatment through the lens of animal rights.
Excerpted from Defending the Defenseless by Allie Phillips Copyright © 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 6, 2012
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