Monthly Archives: August 2009

Commentary #2: “Pets”

Dear Colleagues:

The issue of “pets” is a hot button issue with many advocates.

Here is something I wrote in the Appendix to my book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?:

Question 3: Does the institution of pet ownership violate animals’ basic right not to be regarded as things?

Answer: Yes. Pets are our property. Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and other animals are mass produced like bolts in a factory or, in the case of birds and exotic animals, are captured in the wild and transported long distances, during which journey many of them die. Pets are marketed in exactly the same way as other commodities. Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, more of us treat them poorly. In America, most dogs spend less than two years in a home before they are dumped at a pound or otherwise transferred to a new owner; more than 70 percent of people who adopt animals give them away, take them to shelters, or abandon them. We are all aware of horror stories about neighborhood dogs on short chains who spend most of their lives alone. Our cities are full of stray cats and dogs who live miserable lives and starve or freeze, succumb to disease, or are tormented by humans. Some people who claim to love their companion animals mutilate them senselessly by having their ears cropped, their tails docked, or their claws ripped out so that they will not scratch the furniture.

You may treat your animal companion as a member of your family and effectively accord her or him inherent value or the basic right not to be treated as your resource. But your treatment of your animal really means that you regard your animal property as having higher than market value; should you change your mind and administer daily and severe beatings to your dog for disciplinary purposes, or not feed your cat so that she will be more motivated to catch the mice in the basement of your store, or kill your animal because you no longer want the financial expense, your decision will be protected by the law. You are free to value your property as you see fit. You may decide to polish your car often or you may let the finish erode. The choice is yours. As long as you provide the minimal maintenance for your car so that it can pass inspection, any other decision you make with respect to the vehicle, including your decision to give it to a scrap dealer, is your business. As long as you provide minimal food, water, and shelter to your pet, any other decision you make, apart from torturing the animal for no purpose whatsoever, is your business, including your decision to dump your pet at the local shelter (where many animals are either killed or sold into research, or have your pet killed by a willing veterinarian.

Many years ago, I adopted a hamster from a law school classmate. The hamster became ill one night, and I called an emergency veterinary service. The veterinarian said that the minimum amount for an emergency visit was $50 and asked me why I would want to spend that amount when I could get a “new” hamster from any pet shop for about $3. I took the hamster to the veterinarian anyway, but that event was one of the first times my consciousness was raised about the status of animals as economic commodities.

As someone who lives with seven rescued canine companions whom I love dearly, I do not treat this matter lightly. Although I regard my companions as family members, they are still my property and I could decide tomorrow to have them all killed. As much as I enjoy living with dogs, were there only two dogs remaining in the world, I would not be in favor of breeding them so that we could have more “pets” and thus perpetuate their property status. Indeed, anyone who truly cares about dogs should visit a “puppy mill”–a place where dogs are bred in the hundreds or thousands and are treated as nothing more than commodities. Female dogs are bred repeatedly until they are “spent” and are either killed or sold into research. We should, of course, care for all those domestic animals that are presently alive, but we should not continue to bring more animals into existence so that we may own them as pets.

In this second Abolitionist Approach Commentary, we will explore the issue of “pets.”

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

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Commentary #1: Vegetarianism as a “Gateway” to Veganism?

Dear Colleagues:

Welcome to the Abolitionist Approach Commentary.

The Commentary will consist of a series of podcasts that discuss and explore various aspects of the idea that we ought to abolish, and not merely regulate, animal exploitation. The Commentary will reflect ideas contained in this website and in my books.

Animals are nonhuman persons and we cannot morally justify treating them as human resources. In addition, because animals are chattel property or economic commodities, regulation of animal treatment costs money and animal welfare regulations will almost never provide significant protection for animal interests. As a general matter, welfare regulations actually make animal use more profitable because the regulations implemented are those that result in an economic benefit for producers and consumers. The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will discuss why animal welfare reform does not and cannot work to provide protection for nonhuman animals.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will promote ethical veganism and creative, non-violent vegan education as the primary forms of activism to move toward the abolition of animal use. Ethical veganism goes beyond not just eating animal products; it rejects the use of animals for clothing or the use of products that contain animal ingredients or that have been tested on animals. There is no moral distinction between flesh and other animal products. All animal products involve animal suffering and death.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will explore the notion of “animal rights.” Although there is a great deal of controversy about what rights humans should have, we all oppose human slavery, or treating humans as chattel property. The Abolitionist Approach maintains that we cannot morally justify denying this one right to all sentient nonhumans. This means that we should stop bringing domesticated animals into existence. We should care for those who are here now but we should not bring any more into existence. We should leave non-domesticated animals alone and stop encroaching on and destroying their habitats.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will seek to explore our “moral schizophrenia” or the delusional and confused way in which we approach animal ethics. We all agree that it is wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on nonhuman animals. If “necessity” is to have any coherent meaning, it must mean at least that it is wrong to inflict suffering and death on nonhuman animals for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. But the overwhelming portion of animal use can be justified only by pleasure, amusement, or convenience. Many of us live with nonhumans animals who we regard as members of our families. But we stick forks into other animals who are no different factually or morally from the nonhumans we love.

The Abolitionist Approach Commentary will also discuss the issue of violence and will explain why the movement to abolish animal exploitation should be part of a larger movement for Ahimsa, or non-violence. All humans exploit animals in some way or another. Therefore, violence directed at institutional users makes no sense. The institutional users of animals and producers of animal products are not the problem; the problem is the public, which demands animal products. If animal exploitation is ever to be ended, we must educate people in a non-violent way and shift the moral paradigm away from treating animals as property.

Finally, the Abolitionist Approach Commentary will address the important relationship between animal rights and human rights, and will explore why we should not use sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination to promote animal rights.

In this first Commentary, I discuss whether we should promote vegetarianism as a “gateway” to veganism. I conclude that the answer is “no.”

The bottom line: if you are a vegetarian, you are still complicit in animal suffering; you are still complicit in animal killing.

If you regard animals as nonhuman moral persons, why would you be complicit in animal suffering and death?

I hope that you find this Commentary and our future efforts useful for your thinking about animal ethics.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

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Multiple Choice Test

Dear Colleagues:

I just received an announcement of the Seventh Annual World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, which will take place in Rome, Italy, August 30-September 3, 2009.

Take a look at the announcement. And then answer the following question:

This conference:

(A) is a great event because it will help animals

(B) is a great excuse for executives from large animal welfare organizations to use donated money to spend time in Rome during a particularly nice time of the year

(C) provides compelling evidence of the symbiotic relationship that has developed between institutional animal users and animal welfare corporations

(D) provides great public-relations benefits for institutional animal users, who can claim that they are working with HSUS, RSPCA, ASPCA, etc.

(E) (B), (C), (D) are all correct answers.

For the correct answer, consult your common sense.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

The Santería Case: Michael Vick, Part 2

Dear Colleagues:

Many people are very unhappy with a recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Merced v. Kasson, in which the court enjoined officials of the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing various ordinances to stop Santería practitioners from performing animal sacrifices using goats, lambs, and other animals, including ducks, chickens, and guinea hens. The Santería practitioners offer animal blood to deities and then cook and consume at least part of some of the animals. The federal court did not decide the case under the federal Constitution but under a state law guaranteeing freedom of religion (although the decision would probably have been the same if the matter were analyzed under the federal Constitution).

The moral issue involved in this case is similar to the one presented in the Michael Vick case. To the extent that there are differences, this case is actually stronger than the Vick case. In Euless, it is explicitly legal for individuals to kill “domesticated fowl considered as general tablefare such as chicken or turkey.” In response to the argument that butchering a larger animal such as a goat might present health problems, the court pointed out that large animals, such as deer, may be butchered and disposed of in Euless as long as they are dead when brought into the city.

So if you kill “domesticated fowl” because you want to eat them, that’s fine. If you kill them because you want to offer them to a diety (and then eat them), then that’s not fine. If you kill a deer outside of Euless and bring it into Euless to butcher it, that’s fine. If you kill and butcher the goat in Euless as part of a religious ceremony, that’s not fine.

This, of course, is nonsense.

Please do not misunderstand me. Continue reading

It’s Time for a Change

Dear Colleagues:

Animal welfare—the notion that we should treat animals “humanely”—has been around for 200 years. It has gotten nowhere. We are using more animals now in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

The 19th century founders of animal welfare opposed human slavery but they never opposed the property status of animals because they thought that although animals could suffer, they had no interest in their lives. That is, animals do not care that we use them but only care about how we use them. According to the welfarists, animals are not self-aware and do not have an interest in continuing to live; they only have an interest in not suffering a painful death.

So the welfarists of the 19th century did not advocate the abolition of animal slavery as they advocated the abolition of human slavery. Instead, they advocated that we have laws that require the “humane” treatment of animals. What the welfarists did not realize, however, was that as long as animals remained property, the level of protection provided by these laws would necessarily remain very low because it costs money to protect animal interests. As a general matter, we will spend that money and protect those interests only when it results in an economic benefit for us.

Nothing has changed.

The welfarists of the 21st century still maintain that animals do not have an interest in their lives and that killing them does not itself raise a moral problem. Peter Singer, who is the modern proponent of the welfarist theory of the 19th century, states this explicitly. This view that animals have no interest in continued life explains why PETA has no problem with killing 90% of the animals it rescues. For the welfarists, death is not itself a “harm.”

And, for the most part, animal welfare regulations only improve the economic efficiency of animal exploitation. In other words, we protect animal interests only when we get an economic benefit. Animal welfare campaigns, such as the campaign for the controlled-atmosphere killing/stunning of poultry, or the elimination of the gestation crate are based explicitly on economic efficiency. That is, these reforms are promoted on the ground that they will improve production efficiency.

After 200 years of a doctrine that is speciesist (nonhuman animal life itself has no moral value) and that has demonstrated that it is useless as a practical matter, it is time for a change.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione