A Welfarist Dream Come True: The Animal Abuse Registry

Dear Colleagues:

Imagine you want to find a single-issue campaign that will allow you to fundraise endlessly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that you (and, more important, your donors) can “help the animals.”

Imagine that this campaign will not require anyone to change their behavior toward animals. They can continue to eat steaks, drink milk, and wear wool or leather, attend the local circus and spend the afternoon at the horse racing track while, at the same time, they can feel good about being a “compassionate” person.

Imagine a campaign the very point of which is to define “animal abuse” so narrowly that just about no potential donor, however much meat, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, ice cream or whatever they consume or whatever form of legalized exploitation in which they participate, will be considered as engaged in “animal abuse.”

All anyone has to do is to support a completely meaningless gesture—with a donation, of course.

Look no further: I have the campaign for you: the animal abuse registries campaign.

Suffolk County, on the eastern half of Long Island, has created the the nation’s first animal abuse registry this week. This law will require that people convicted of cruelty to animals to register with the authorities or face jail time and fines. The Suffolk law is modeled on “Megan’s Laws,” which create registries of child abusers.

So now, we will be able to identify “animal abusers,” at least on part of Long Island.

But wait.

Will supermarkets in Suffolk County that sell the body parts and products of animals be on the registry? Well, no, because the sale of animal parts and products is perfectly legal. That’s not “animal abuse.”

And will those Suffolk County residents who consume animal products—those of us who create the demand for animal products in the first place—be on the registry? Well, no, of course not. Consuming animals is not a violation of the anti-cruelty law.

So just who is this law aimed at?

Well, according to story linked to above, there was the woman who tortured cats:

The law was prompted by a number of animal abuse cases in recent months, including that of a Selden woman accused of forcing her children to watch her torture and kill kittens and dozens of dogs, then burying the pets in her backyard.

It should be clear to you by now what the problem is here. By defining “animal abuse” as a rare, pathological behavior that runs afoul of the anti-cruelty laws—and that probably accounts for less than one millionth of one percent of animal use—we leave alone what is considered “normal.” We reinforce the notion that use is not abuse, that abuse only occurs as an exception to the rule rather than being the rule of every second of every day. Moreover, this law will also apply for the most part to situations involving the animals we fetishize—dogs, cats, etc. You know, the ones we love and regard as members of our families while we stick forks into all the others.

In short, this is a meaningless gesture that will serve only to reinforce the notion that it is okay to exploit animals as long as we do not “abuse” them. Indeed, it declares that our “normal” use of animals is not abuse.

It should also be clear why this sort of campaign is a welfarist’s dream come true: this is a campaign that just about everyone can support and that will make people feel self-righteous. Only “bad” people are animal abusers and they are in the criminal registry; the rest of us are “compassionate” people.

I can assure you that this campaign will be an unstoppable animal welfare gravy train. In fact, if you want to climb on board, you had better hurry; it’s already pulling out of the station:

Animal welfare activists hope the law, passed unanimously Tuesday in the suburban New York City county of 1.5 million people, will inspire governments nationwide in the same way Megan’s Law registries for child molesters have proliferated in the past decade.

More than a dozen states have introduced legislation to establish similar registries, but Suffolk County is the first government entity to pass such a law, said Stephan Otto, director of legislative affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

PETA has already declared its enthusiastic support for the registry. Does PETA think that slaughterhouse designer and meat-industry consultant Temple Grandin should be on the list? Is she an “animal abuser”? No; PETA gave an award to Grandin.

How about Whole Foods, which peddles “happy” meat and other animal products from animals who have been tortured? No, because PETA (along with most other large animal welfare corporations) supports the “happy” animal products sold by Whole Foods.

How about animal organizations that have large budgets but that kill animals rather than have an adoption program? Are they “abusers”? No, PETA kills 90% of the animals it takes in at its facility so that cannot constitute abuse, can it?

How about people who consume animal products? Does PETA consider them “animal abusers”? That would be a bit embarrassing given that half of PETA’s membership, according to PETA Senior VP Dan Mathews, is not even vegetarian.

This proves my point that the abuse registry idea is just an attempt to define “abuse” as the pathological incident of torturing kittens and dogs in the backyard. But that is extremely unusual. It’s the daily exploitation by ordinary people, including that perpetrated, facilitated, and approved of by animal welfare businesses, that constitutes the real abuse.

There are 50 states and Washington, D.C., various territories, and hundreds of thousands of counties, cities, villages, etc. This is a campaign that has the potential to go on for decades and will have an almost unlimited shelf life for fundraising purposes. I can already see Walks for the Registry led by various celebrities, allowing every woman, man, and child to buy their way out of the class of “animal abusers” by making a donation to ensure that the real “animal abusers” among us are on some criminal registry while the rest of us continue to feel good about ourselves. I am sure that there are already plans to have media events with naked women wearing only pieces of paper with the names of registry offenders. Oh, the sacrifices that some will make “for the animals.”

And what about the Long Island woman who tortured the kittens and dogs? Isn’t it a good idea that we have a registry to identify people like that?

To the extent that the registry can provide information to shelters that will help identify bad risks for future adoptions, fine. But in a fundamental sense, the woman who did those terrible acts is no different from anyone who consumes animals.

You see, that person tortured kittens and dogs because she got some pleasure or satisfaction out of doing so. Was that wrong? Most certainly. But how is what she did really any different from what everyone else does? Most of us eat animal products and the animals from which those products were made were tortured every bit as much as the kittens and dogs in the Long Island case. But she’s a criminal and the rest of us, who support the registry and similar gimmicks, are “compassionate.” Go figure.

Several years ago (2007), I made the observation that Michael Vick, who served time for dog fighting, was really no different than the rest of us. He liked to sit around a pit watching dogs fight; the rest of us like to sit around the summer barbecue pit roasting the corpses of animals who have been tortured every bit as much (if not more) than Vick’s dogs. The only difference is that most people pay someone else to do the dirty work. But we enjoy consuming the products of exploitation just as Vick enjoyed what he did.

It’s all moral schizophrenia.

If you are not a vegan, go vegan. It is easy, better for your health and the planet, and, most important, it is the right and just thing to do. It’s what we owe other animals. If you are vegan, then educate others about veganism.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione