Animals: Why Can’t We Just Do the Right Thing?

A friend recently reminded me that companion animals, whose sole crime is being homeless, are still being killed or euthanized by the millions in this country.

I agree, but why is that? Why are local governments and animal shelters and even ordinary citizens still treating animals as expendable? Ed calls this speciesism: the belief in the inherent superiority of one species (humans) over others.

I call it irresponsible and ignorant.

And it’s a Deadly Form of Human Ignorance

SPCA’s and animal shelters of all kinds, government supported and not, kill animals ‘in kindness’ because there simply are not enough homes for them. Some No-kill shelters exist but they cannot handle the sheer volume of needy animals and, even if they could, the reality is that a great many abandoned or abused animals are beyond repair because they have been broken by humans.

Like it or not, we are all morally culpable for the stacks of animal bodies that are thrown away every day for no good reason, or that are slaughtered on our roadways just because they happened to be there.

You and I are culpable because we are allowing such things to continue unabated.

Consider this:

•Millions of Americans let their domestic pets reproduce simply because they don’t want to [or can’t] afford the cost of neutering and spaying them.

•Many of those same Americans drop the unwanted puppies and kittens off on back roads, hoping that no one will bear witness to this cruel act.

•Even more look the other way when they know that animals are dying needlessly in pet shops or at the hands of greedy breeders who fail to provide even a semblance of humanity in their filthy puppy mills.

•A great many Americans also think nothing of leaving their pets out in the cold without adequate housing, or even adequate food and water. They let dogs die with collars embedded in their necks, with untreated diseases, even with their paws frozen into icy backyard mud holes for lack of attention. Others can barely remember to toss a bit of warm dinner out into an unlit backyard for their chained and lonely dog.

We don’t have animal shelters; we have animal reception and euthanasia centers in this country because the public is just not that concerned. And, anyway, road and public buildings matter more.

There’s More!

•Horses in untold numbers are tied by short tethers to trees and left to fend for themselves or allowed to die slowly from starvation in unsanitary stalls and barnyards.

•Pet shops are filled to the brim with tiny parakeets and finches too numerous to ever find homes, along with hamsters and rabbits who will ultimately be relegated to backyard cages of death and despair by folks who once thought they were ‘cute.’

It is not just cats and dogs that are the victims here.

•Parrots of every kind spend their long, intelligent lives caged in harrowing, lonely circumstances; a majority are systematically shuttled from one chaotic adaptive home to another as if they were merely a bag of potatoes needing a place to be stored.

•And don’t forget about the millions of hunters who kill for the sport. They come out in droves during hunting season in their pickup trucks with dogs and high-powered rifles and and pockets of bullets to stalk and kill animals that already have nowhere else to go.

•Kosher and Muslim methods of animal slaughter are hugely problematic in a society that values the humane treatment of animals. It takes cattle up to two minutes to bleed to death after being hung upside down by a leg and all the vessels in their neck severed by a knife. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says this:

Most developed and many developing countries of the world require by law an animal to be rendered unconscious before it is slaughtered. This is in order to ensure that the animal does not suffer pain during slaughter. However, exceptions are made for the Jewish (Kosher) and Muslim (Halal) slaughter of livestock. Here stunning generally is not allowed and the animal is bled directly using a sharp knife to cut the throat and sever the main blood vessels. This results in sudden and massive loss of blood with loss of consciousness and death. However, many authorities consider that religious slaughter can be very unsatisfactory and that the animal may not be rendered unconscious and suffer considerable discomfort and pain in the slaughter process.”

Click here for an overview of livestock slaughter methodologies, and then remember what you read the next time you buy meat at your local grocery store.

Meat markets are necessarily sterile places that take great care to help us forget how the plastic-wrapped meats came to be.

•Consider male calves: veal is the meat produced from them and, since only a few males are needed for breeding stock, most are sent to slaughter before puberty brings on the ill-tempered behavior that is characteristic of adult bulls. More importantly, veal enthusiasts demand the milk-fed meat from calves that are kept in tiny, single-calf crates. Limiting the movement of the calf, you see, produces a much more tender meat. Although the practice is now banned in the UK, many U.S. dairy farms still use crating as a calf-raising technique.

•Have you had chicken for dinner of late? The vast majority of luckless chickens – arguably the most abused animals in all of agribusiness – are stuffed into barren, wire battery cages so restrictive that the birds don’t even have room to spread their wings. And they are typically [and cruelly] debeaked first so that they do not peck each other to death.

•Have you ever personally witnessed a murderous cockfight or a dogfight? If you have, you are part of a growing interstate problem that promotes illegal gambling for high stakes along with countless other crimes.

•Think also about the last time you had a lobster dinner: either you or someone else killed that lobster, probably in a dreadful way. There are humane ways to cook lobster but boiling them alive still seems to be the preferred choice.

[Do lobsters feel pain? Well, I’ll let you be the judge as you watch it thrash around and even squeal for a minute or two as it is thrown into that pot of boiling water.]

•Trapping animals is another egregious practice that still lingers. So, too, poaching…and aerial shootings…and the cutting off of limbs, skinning, or scalding of an animal that still shows any sign of sensibility.

One wonders how anyone can do such things but they do – we just usually don’t have to watch it.

•And finally, the medical research arena has long been burdened with charges of inhumane treatment of their animal charges. But, here again, we don’t usually get to see what is going on inside those research facilities so we don’t give it another thought.

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” – Thomas Edison, American Inventor and Scientist

So Who Cares?

You ought to care, for the measure of our humanity rests in how we treat other living beings. And so far, the data is disheartening.

If you are a parent you ought to care, for the models your children are being exposed to on a daily basis are horrific ones, many of them mere blocks from your home, even in your child’s school.

You also should understand that virtually every serious violent offender in our society has a history of animal abuse in their past. Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology over the last 25 years have demonstrated this again and again. Any kind of abuse is a way for a depraved human to find power and fulfillment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend themselves.

Animal abuse in violent homes can take many forms – some overt, others more hidden. The animals in question are victimized only because they happened to be there. Indeed, many violent people threaten to kill household pets to intimidate family members into sexual abuse or even to just psychologically torture them.

For What it is Worth

We are not, by any account, an animal friendly society. The above examples are illustrative of that. Some would say that we are not even a child-friendly society for all the abuse and neglect that takes place behind closed doors in American homes.

Yes, of course – there are those who love animals and who are doing the right thing by them. But don’t be lulled into thinking that we (you and I) are in the majority. We are not, by any stretch. The unthinking masses are not concerned about treating animals humanely. It is not even in their sphere of influence to do so.

As a result, we are a grossly ignorant society even though America is by all standards one of the most affluent and technologically advanced countries in the world. We are, nevertheless, grossly ignorant about our bodies, about preserving our health, about how to have healthy family relationships, about politics – you name it, we’re collectively ignorant about it.

Somewhere along the way we have forsaken good education practices for inadequate ones, ones that prioritize math and science and successful wealth-generation practices over health and human happiness. As a result, the smart ones get ahead but with a minimal value system in place while the ignorant get ever more ignorant by the day.

Is it so difficult to understand that texting while driving is just plain stupid?

We are not equipping young people to survive emotionally in our combative, competitive world and they are falling through the cracks as fast as we can catch them. Healthy relationships matter. Ethics matter. Mindfulness matters. Being able to feel the Earth under our feet matters.

But it seems that such things are no longer part of our educational curriculums.

How in the world can young people find any sense of fulfillment from pet ownership or closeness to wildlife when we have literally paved over our available greenspaces and most of us live in towers of molten steel? What we are seeing and experiencing is a gross disconnect from the natural world and animal abuse is but the most visible tip of a large and very scary iceberg that looms ahead.

What to Do?

There is really little that we can do. You don’t do anything to a barometer; you just take a reading and then (hopefully) act accordingly.

Sure, there are some things you can do but they are no panacea. You can be sure that your animals are safe from abuse and loved, and not let to wander unattended or afraid in the world. You can also lock your doors against human demons intent upon spoiling your children.

And you can model an exemplary life for your children by talking with them face to face, and interacting with them in tender loving ways and with a spot of excitement and joy in your voice.

When collective ignorance prevails, about all we can do is watch from the sidelines in horror.

The next time you drive down that lovely mountain road, or along that beautiful stretch of coastal road, take note of the road-kill that you encounter. Bear witness to them. Maybe you didn’t run over those pitiful animals but someone did, and they could have cared less that they did. Many probably even did it gleefully. Trust me, I have seen it.

These folks are difficult to pinpoint in daily life but you can eventually tune in to them by following the dead or distressed animals in their wake. They are the ones that leave a hot, thirsty animal in their locked car as they sip beer in an air-conditioned bar. They are also the neighbors whose dogs and cats roam in ever-widening circles, destroying all remnants of wildlife in the process and leaving unwanted litters in their wake. They even include the local politicos who are too busy to love and enjoy that lonely, barking dog whose sole purpose in life is apparently to protect their owners’ homes from intrusion.

Yes, Saving the Planet is All the Rage Today

But in order to save the planet we have to first learn how to save ourselves. It is all for naught if saving ourselves does not come first.

And saving ourselves, by and large, means coming to terms with the sanctity of life and respecting it at every level: from babies in the womb to black bears in the national park, to hapless kittens and puppies in a frantic search for milk. Wherever there is life, there is an opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves.

Their fate, then, is ours in the long run.

Our treatment of animals will someday be considered barbarous. There cannot be perfect civilization until man realizes that the rights of every living creature are as sacred as his own.” – Dr. David Starr Jordan, American Biologist and Educator

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. © 2010 Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph. All rights reserved.

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