Browsing tag: animal welfare

Marius the giraffe – right or wrong? The great divide

“Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe and feeds it to the lions”
The headlines are appalling, and the international outcry has been almost as dramatic as if the Danish zoo authorities had fed a human to the lions. Do the protesters have a point, or is the zoo simply being honest about an unfortunate but necessary situation?
The answer to this question highlights a major divide in the broad community of animal lovers: those who are in favour of animal rights, and those who believe in animal welfare.

Animal rights people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. Animals are sentient, living individuals, often referred to as “non-human persons”. They have a right to exist and to be granted the Five Freedoms – freedom from pain and disease, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express natural behaviours and freedom from fear and distress. They also believe that animals have the right to life, and that humans do not have the right to take that life away. People who believe in animal rights really  ought to be vegans, since they do not believe in the right of humans to exploit animals for meat or milk. They believe that animals should not be viewed as property, or used for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden. They believe that animals deserve equal consideration to humans: if animals are not given equal rights, this is “speciesism” which is as bad as racism. They believe that in the future, we will look back on our time and see our attitude to animals in the same way as we currently view human slavery.

Animal welfare people believe that  non-human animals are sentient and that efforts should be ensure their well-being, especially when they are under the care of humans. However they do not believe that animals have the same rights as humans. They also believe that animals deserve the Five Freedoms, but they believe that humans have the right to decide what happens to animals, which includes taking the animal’s life in a humane manner in some circumstances. They believe that it’s acceptable to farm animals for meat and milk, as long as the animals have a life worth living while they are farmed, and as long as the animal’s death takes place in a way that is free of fear and pain. They believe that it’s acceptable to use animals for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden as long as the Five Freedoms are not impaired. Animal welfare people do not believe that animals have a right to life, justice or freedom. This is the most widely held view in the Western world today: that it is morally and ethically acceptable for humans to use non-human animals, provided that adverse effects on animal welfare are kept to a minimum.

So what about Marius the giraffe?

The protesters about the zoo in Denmark are seeing the situation from an animal rights perspective, whereas the zoo defends their stance from an animal welfare point of view.

The animal rights stance would say that Marius the giraffe was a “non-human person”, and that it’s outrageous that his life was taken. They also believe that the zoo compounded the unfairness by butchering Marius in public (even with children looking on) and then feeding him to the lions. This showed lack of respect to Marius, and an uncaring attitude to an adorable creature.

The animal welfare stance would understand the perspective of the zoo, which has stated that the giraffe was surplus to its own requirements,and there was no simple alternative. The options that were available included rehoming to non-accredited wildlife parks and private sanctuaries, and the zoo was concerned that they would lose control of the giraffe, and that he might end up in an inappropriate situation where he was suffering. The zoo believed that quick, pain-free death was a better alternative for the giraffe than to take that risk. The zoo would say that millions of cattle, pigs and sheep are killed in the same way every day and nobody complains about them, so what’s the difference?

The problem is this: onlookers see the zoo’s attitude as disingenuous. Zoos are quick to humanise their animals when it suits them, such as when they ask the public to sponsor individual creatures, or when they advertise to encourage visitors. They are happy to create an animal-rights type illusion of the animals being “furry people”, and the public are happy to accept this. Most of us are animal rights believers at some level, especially when considering animals (such as our pets) that are well-known to us. And when an animal has been given a name, and has featured in attractive photographs, we also like to take an animal rights view on behalf of that creature.

Yet the reality is that zoos take an animal welfare stance, and so do most of us when we do not know the individual animals. How many of us are vegans? Perhaps 1%? If we put our money where our mouths are, then 99% of us are animal welfarists, not animal rights believers, at least when it comes to farm animals.

But we don’t like it when our pockets of animal rights belief (like Marius) are blatantly treated with animal welfare rules. The zoo has clearly not understood this, and their “practical” approach of publicly butchering the animal and feeding him to the lions has compounded their error.

Whether they are right or wrong, the zoo has created an image of uncaring arrogance which does not serve animals or the zoo’s purpose well. It’s a PR disaster. The zoo has lost a sea of international supporters and the animal rights argument against the continuing existence of zoos has moved one step forwards

 

 

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: five years on, do dogs suffer less?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years since the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was first broadcast. The programme stirred up unprecedented controversy about the practice of breeding and showing pedigree dogs in the UK. In the aftermath, the BBC cancelled its long standing high profile coverage of Crufts, and major sponsors backed out of supporting the Kennel Club’s flagship event. Promises were made that “things would change”, investigating committees were set up and reports were issued.

Five years is a significant period of time, so it’s an appropriate benchmark to pause, and to ask the question: are things better than they were? After all the talk, have things improved?

Perhaps predictably, the answer to this question depends on one’s perspective.

Jemima Harrison, the producer of the documentary, has continued to campaign for the Kennel Club to make more changes, more rapidly. She is clear about her opinion: “Five years on from Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the Kennel Club is still in denial about the extent of the problems. It is unethical to continue to breed dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs which have such flat faces that they cannot breathe – and yet the Kennel Club registers these breeds in their growing thousands and these dogs continue to be celebrated at Kennel Club shows. The Kennel Club has done too little to tackle the suffering these and many other breeds endure, despite an increasing amount of science which both articulates the issues and offers solutions. The dogs continue to pay a huge price.”

The RSPCA seems to take a more conciliatory stance, acknowledging the progress made by the Kennel Club and dog breeders, including the development of DNA and health screening tests for hereditary diseases and the introduction of veterinary checks on ‘high profile’ breeds but the charity still believes that much more should have been done. The charity is running a “Born To Suffer campaign and petition“, calling for breed standards to be changed even more than they have been to date, “so that they prioritise the health, welfare and temperament of a dog over its looks.”

Meanwhile the Kennel Club itself, on its own website, disagrees, maintaining that “for many years, the Kennel Club has devoted itself to improving the health and welfare of dogs and is committed to ensuring that every dog’s life is as healthy and happy as it can possibly be.” Furthermore, “the Kennel Club has introduced a large number of initiatives to help improve the lives of thousands of dogs and continues to develop new programmes and educational resources to progress dog health in the future.”

Is it possible to find a middle ground viewpoint? The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding should surely be listened to: this independent group was set up specifically to analyse the issues brought to the fore by Pedigree Dogs Exposed. The Advisory Council has released a statement that is worth reading, giving a detailed update of progress that has been made, acknowledging that while some of the RSPCA’s “wish list” should be addressed, others ( such as the RSPCA’s call for a ban on registration of dogs born from a dam’s second caesarean) would be a step too far.

By the way, I don’t want to accuse Jemima Harrison of being over-critical of the Kennel Club: in  a recent blog post she even acknowledges that it could be “half-true” that the Kennel Club is now seen “as part of the solution”. She does give credit when she believes credit is due. In her latest blog post, published this week, Jemima compares the situation in the UK with that in Germany, where the second anniversary has just taken place of the airing of the German equivalent of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. She explains that the German programme “did not provoke the reform in Germany that Pedigree Dogs Exposed triggered here in the UK”, and that the follow up programme, broadcast last week, “holds up the UK Kennel Club as something of an exemplar”.

So while it would be very wrong to be complacent, and while the world of pedigree dogs may sometimes still seem bleak in the UK, it’s perhaps at least somewhat reassuring to reflect that it could be much, much worse.

http://www.dogadvisorycouncil.com/resources/comment%20on%20RSPCA%20report.pdf

Animal experiments: numbers rising while studies show low levels of production of beneficial results

Vivisection is a controversial subject - I’ve written about this several times before in my Daily Telegraph blog.

There are two news stories this week on the subject.

First, figures released by the UK government show that animal  testing in the UK has increased by almost ten per cent,  with more than four million experiments taking place a year, the highest figure since 1982. These figures have been “spun” by both sides of the debate, with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection understandably describing them as “shocking”, while supporters of animal experimentation maintain that the overall trend of  ”experimentation” is downwards, with the apparent increase in numbers due to the recent development of genetically modified mice that have been bred to carry specific genes or to develop signs of human disease to assist progress towards cures. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the figures deserve careful analysis before reaching sweeping conclusions: but who has time to wade through the reams of Home Office statistics?

The second news story has come in from the USA, with a “study of studies” demonstrating the poor level of return from animal experiments: only two out of 1411 animal studies on treatments for human neurological diseases came up with results that went on to produce ’convincing’ data in randomised controlled trials in humans. The researchers have called for stricter guidelines for study design and analysis to improve these statistics in the future.

Vivisection is an emotive subject – who could not be against it when faced with images of distressed laboratory animals, as shown in the Daily Mail article? (Mind you, the images are out of context with the article’s content – rabbits have not been in racks for testing like that for many years in the UK, and research on great apes is already banned in the UK).

Is animal experimentation ever justified? In a meat-eating society, how is it worse than chickens, pigs, cattle or sheep being killed for consumption? Andrew Knight has written an excellent book on the subject, well worth reading: you can buy it here.

The good news is that the trend is moving away from vivisection (see the recent banning in the EU of all cosmetic products that have been tested on animals, anywhere in the world). But there’s a long way to go.

Cruelty to animals: as important as cruelty to humans?

The so-called “Canadian cannibal porn star”, Luke Magnotta has finally been apprehended. His actions to date provide a classic case study of the reasons why society needs to make tackling animal cruelty a far higher priority. Magnotta began by torturing and killing animals, and now he’s doing the same to humans: if his attacks on animals had been dealt with effectively, he might never have become a murderer.

Cruelty to animals is important to many of us because of the simple fact that animals are sentient beings: to us, it’s a given that animals should not be allowed to suffer. Unfortunately, there are many in society who disagree: animals rank low on the scale of importance. If it came to a vote, it’s likely that “animal lovers” would be in a minority. As a result, calls for greater attention to animal welfare often go unheard: human concerns trump animal welfare issues.

This can be frustrating for those who are passionate about animal welfare, but rather than just moaning about it, perhaps we can use these facts to our best possible advantage, by seeking out reasons why the human race can benefit from improving animal welfare. The link between animal abuse and physical abuse of other humans in the same household is now well established: in a study of shelters for victims of domestic violence, more than 85 percent of those interviewed reported incidents of cruelty to animals. Nowadays, whenever vets see cases of “non-accidental injury” in pets, we know that there’s a serious risk that humans in the same household could be at risk of physical violence. In some parts of the world, vets are legally obliged to report such incidents to social services authorities.

The reason for this link is thought to be a phenomenon known as the “erosion of empathy”. Most humans feel some empathy towards animals: we have an innate sense that it’s wrong to cause them to suffer. The problem starts when individuals take that relatively small step of deliberately causing pain to an animal. Once this moral hurdle has been stepped over, it’s much easier to go on to cause pain to humans. Researchers believe that some people develop “impaired systems of empathy” which can lead to increasing levels of cruelty to both animals and humans.

Many serial killers start their murderous careers by killing animals: Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of cats and dogs on sticks. The self-named Crossbow Cannibal from Bradford was reported to keep large lizards which he fed on live rodents.

And now there’s Luke Magnotta: six months ago, videos were circulated of a live kitten being fed to a snake. The Sun newspaper tracked down Magnotta as the likely culprit but could not definitively prove his involvement. Nonetheless, they informed London police of their concerns. Despite these events, Magnotta was not apprehended.

For the sake of humans, as well as for the animals themselves, isn’t it time that society started to take animal cruelty more seriously?

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