Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thoughtful Tuesday: animal rights vs. animal welfare

The title of this post should alert you that a very controversial post is forthcoming.  In light of what happened at Crufts (the elimination of three dogs from competition, who were unable to pass an independent veterinary check), as well as the growing animal rights movement, lead by the likes of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), I thought it would be a good time to talk about something that's rarely discussed - the view from the middle ground.

I'm a breeder.  I'm probably as small as they come.  I have two retired performance dogs, who are my constant companions - they are both neutered, and were neutered as youngsters.  I have two intact bitches.  One younger and actively showing in conformation, and who I have talked about in the blog, and the other, her mother, who at almost 4, has had one litter, with another one now in the works.

My four dogs live in the house, as I write, two are laying at my feet.  They are all well trained, happy, good citizens.  They are confident and easy travelers, having logged many miles in their lives, via car, and plane.  Interested in their accomplishments?  You can visit my website for more information at www.raelanshelties.com.

But I digress...

Today is not a day about expressing my thoughts on the 'animal rights vs. animal welfare' battle, but rather a day to shed light on both sides, and let you form your own opinions, adding a few things for you to consider.  Of course, as a breeder, albeit a ridiculously small, and non-traditional one, I have a vested interest in retaining my 'right' to breed my dogs, but that's really beside the point of this post.

Our animal rights advocates, HSUS and PETA, have very clearly stated goals.  They wish for no animal use in our society.  This includes no animals for food, no animals in service of the disabled, no animals for research, and no animals to warm your feet at night.  Wayne Pacelle, the President of the HSUS, has stated that he has "no problem with the extinction of domestic animals..."  Please hold that in your mind as you move through the rest of this post.  It's important to remember the goals of HSUS and PETA.  If you choose to support one side vs. another, it's really pretty critical to understand what you are supporting.  It's not always the carefully controlled and crafted media messages and images.  To be fair, you should also be well versed in the the other camp's goals, as well.

Our animal welfare advocates, NAIA, to name one, believe in preserving our right, as a society, to use animals for all the above purposes, and support the welfare of these animals.  You can find information on all these groups via a web search.  And, as I said, it's very important to keep in mind the end goals of each of these groups, in particular if you choose to offer them your support.

Each side wants to win the battle.  Each side wants an "all or nothing" result, but can this really be achieved?  Is it possible that the well populated middle ground makes more sense for each side?  Could it be, by standing on the "all or nothing" fringes, we are setting ourselves up (no matter which side we stand on) for failure?  This question should not be an indication of my position.  It's not.  It's information I want you to consider.  If I had the perfect answer to the animal rights vs. animal welfare battle, I would probably be the leader of the free world.

Let's look at use of animals for research.  I know the argument well.  I think we all do.  If you have no need for that research, in the framework of your life, it might be easy to say "abolish all animal use for research, it's cruel."  But let's assume your 2 year old daughter falls victim to a terminal illness that might be cured with that research.  Would that change your opinion?  Or, at a minimum, would you want to know you could change your mind, and find some inherent value in animal research?  If so, wouldn't it make sense to remain open to the possibility, and further, cease a movement that pushes that option out of your reach?  Every mother I have ever met has been heard to say "I would die for my child".  Would it follow they would allow the death of an animal, not known to them, for that same child?  Or, would that same mother at least like to retain the option to seek any/all means available, to cure her ailing child, including animal research?  If that research is abolished, that option is gone.  That 'right' is gone.

Okay, moving on...

Let's look at use of animals in service of those with disabilities.  To be honest, service animal use is far more palatable than animals for research, but the same principles apply.  If the animal rights' movement wins, every blind man and woman, every child afflicted with epilepsy, every hearing impaired neighbor will cease to enjoy the extended life function these animals provide.  Aren't those in our physically impaired world entitled to the more equal playing field these wonderful animals offer them in service?  If you were to lose your sight tomorrow, would you want the option to pursue a guide dog?  Would you at least like to have the choice?  The right.  If all animal use is extinguished, that option is gone.  That 'right' is gone.

Let's look at animals for food.  In order to get a balanced view here, we need to look at shows like Planet Earth.  All animals, no matter species, must eat to survive.  Carnivores need meat.  They kill their prey, and consume it, as part of the cycle of life.  I have heard the argument, "well, they make it painless and swift, and they must hunt for it."  Yes, they must hunt for it, and we have enough sympathy for the 9 out of 10 failed hunts, that we can 'stomach' the one successful one.  But if you think predators inflict swift and painless death, I beg to differ.  I watched a pride of lions take down an elephant on the series Planet Earth.  It sure didn't look "painless and swift".  I watched, just two nights ago, on the series Frozen Planet, a pack of arctic wolves take down a bison.  Again, it didn't look "painless and swift".  Eating the gut contents of an animal that is still living can't possibly be considered "painless and swift", not to the viewer, and surely not to the animal who is aware he is being eaten, and will bleed to death, painfully and slowly.

I don't know about you, but it's getting harder and harder for me to afford the offerings in the meat case at my local grocery store, and I'm a meat eater.  I'm not a vegetarian, nor do I have any plans to become one.  More and more, the constraints put upon those who farm livestock are driving up those meat case prices, until, at some point down the road, I will need a second job to consume them.  And, before my vegan friends tell me I should just stop eating meat, let's look at non meat offerings.  They aren't any cheaper.  My produce bill outweighs my meat bill, and it does so by about a factor of two.  If I want organic produce, make that a factor of 3-4.

By promoting animal rights, we are losing human ones.  Have you considered that?  If so, are you aware of the implications in your life, long term?  Have we become so disconnected from our food that we really don't understand, nor have compassion for the livestock farmer?

Again, I'm not asking these questions as an indication of my own position, but rather to help you see what "animal rights" will mean in your life, your children's lives and your grand-children's lives.  If you are educated, you can better make the choice that truly suits your beliefs, and your life-style, but this post is about information, not opinions...please remember that.

Moving on...

I titled this post "animal rights vs. animal welfare" for a reason.  As defined by Merriam-Webster, here are a couple of definitions for you:

Rights:  qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval.

Welfare:  the state of doing well, especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity welfare. 

In looking at these definitions, which applies to the general care of animals?  The definition that's derived from lawful authority, or that which is not?  I'm not here to answer that question for you, but to point out a subtle difference.  The use of the word "lawful" in the definition of 'rights', infers law.  A law that tells you how to treat and/or care for your animals.  Those laws must be written, lobbied and passed.  Laws are passed when big money is involved, and generally when much glad handing has taken place.  It's called 'politics'.

We often like laws that put animal abusers behind bars.  I would raise my hand and say that appeals to me, but what if those laws also told you that you could not have your beloved cat, or dog, live in your house with you?  What if those laws told you that animal ownership, in any form, was against the law?  Now which definition would you choose?  How would you view those laws that you once thought were great and wonderful?

Like I said earlier, this post wasn't about me formulating an opinion, and sharing it with you.  It was about the view from both sides.  For me, I view the battle from somewhere in the middle ground, because it's where I get the most balanced view, though I have, as previously stated, a strong vested interest in maintaining my right to breed by dogs.  Where do you stand?  Have you considered all the ramifications, of all those laws?  Have you really thought through the difference between "rights" and "welfare"?  I know I have, and I keep challenging myself to remember my stance, and be as committed as I can be, while trying to understand opinions that vary from my own, and how they fit, or not, into the fabric of my own beliefs.

Happy thoughtful Tuesday, friends.

1 comment:

  1. I am definitely in the welfare camp. I want animals treated well but i treasure my rights to own my dogs, horses and use them in shows or trail riding or as yard ornaments. And i like to eat meat. I am not a particularly active breeder averaging a litter a year but i do show in conformation as often as I can (should be getting ready now for show tomorrow, lol)with 6 dogs pointed at the moment that i would like to finish.

    I definitely believe that human life takes precedence over animal life.

    Patti Jackson