Practical - Index > To Do - Index > Activism

Let's stop condemning animal "welfare"
 and actually accomplish something!
Monday, December 30, 2002

Call me a fence-sitter, a hypocrite, a turncoat, or deluded. Don't even bother writing to tell me I'm "right" or "wrong" - expend that energy writing a letter to an editor on an animal issue.

I've read it "all," heard it "all." In several languages. Even the loftiest tomes written by the most erudite of authors. If I receive one more message that alludes to an animal "welfare" point of view, especially in the U.S., or asks me for a contribution to a humane education curriculum or an advocacy campaign that is animal "rights" and not "welfare," I might scream. Somewhere along the way, someone is bound to mention the USDA as the whipping boy/hallmark/icon of animal "welfare" in America. Am I supposed to believe that an under-funded, poorly staffed government agency has somehow attained the distinction of representing animal "welfare" in America?

 Animal "rights" in America is rather organized among a bunch of people and groups who don't get along with one another particularly well (and are in competition for funds) - a national conference, authors we can point to (including me, or so I've heard), who sometimes read as if they are writing to each other, icons we can revere, positions we can define nebulously, organizations who throw donors-supporters to the wind and are willing to condemn "welfare" as perpetuating animal situations they don't agree with, some who think that "acting up" is the way to command the attention of a barely polite society (maybe they're right?, I haven't noticed "welfare" making a big noise lately - the spay/neuter stamp was nice, but it wasn't exactly "hit the public over the head."). They come together best when one of them is under attack. The rest of us await a national coalition of all of them. Sometimes those of us who accept realities and try to deal with them, for the animals' sake, even though they are realities we wouldn't choose or don't like, are accused of caving in. (You dream of a "meatless" America? Dream on.)

What in the bloody heck is animal "welfare" in America?

 Allow me to attempt to define it. Animal "welfare" in America is minimum wage employees of shelters and pounds, volunteer rescuers who attempt to save animals from mostly horrible deaths, people who pass on e-mail messages and petitions infinitely and pray that "somebody else" will take care of it, animal lovers who are poorly organized, not very informed about the issues (many who don't care to look or act beyond their own pet), who don't see how they are perpetuating anything - because they are involved with pouring their blood, sweat, tears, and money into saving the animal at hand and, thanks to an anti-animal-rights movement in America (largely fueled by registries, high-volume commercial breeders, animal "owners" organizations, and the pharma/research industry), might even believe that someone is out to get them, that some don't want them to keep pets, that there should be no such thing as a purebred animal (which will always exist, learn to live with it!, and help encourage efforts to do it the "right" way; I constantly hear from AR people who "hate" breeding. Hello! You aren't going to stop it - ever! - let's accept that much and insure the animals are well cared for and healthy. While you are busy hating the entire practice and industry, and ignoring the impetus of $$$ and demands of the market, a lot of animals are suffering. Our Western European brethren have been SO successful in having their opinions respected and exerting control over the industry, that I'm at a loss to explain how we've remained so arrogant and unsuccessful), and that somehow, in trying to protect the "welfare" of an animal, they are doing something wrong. Is there any more ridiculous situation in the world that someone concerned about an animal's welfare should have reason to be afraid of an animal "rights" effort?!

I subscribe to a lot of animal-rescue related lists, and guess who some people bash and fear: PETA. Talk about miscommunication, misunderstanding, and throwing the baby out with the bath water! I may not agree with every one of that group's positions, but when I try to engage their detractors in a dialogue, I usually find they haven't visited that group's website, or read their position statements, or called their offices and talked to a human being - they are defending their point of view based on what they were "told" or "heard." That's not communication, that's hearsay. Name one other group that has been more successful in getting animal issues into the media. I hear other claims that I don't have the time to "substantiate" - such as that one well-heeled national animal organization has seriously impeded rescue efforts in the state of VA. I hope that's not true. We so easily play into the hands of the Evil Empire, those who would profit from animal suffering: divide and conquer.

 Farm animals, factory farming? - don't get me started, I haven't a clue, it's a hopeless situation. The most obese, least healthy society in the Western World will persist in consuming steroid, growth hormone, antibiotic-ridden meat and dairy products to the tune of 10 billion animals slaughtered per year and head off to the mall for more shopping and the food court with a smile on their faces.

 Hunting? All the pro arguments are specious and hunting creates over-compensation by the species that human society has deemed a "nuisance." Our society must have made some kind of a choice along the way - testosterone or sanity.

 I was the initiator of a campaign to stop the horrible murder of animals in shelters/pounds: - one animal "rights" group had the guts to condemn the campaign publicly, and no other national animal group has had the guts to do anything else. (I heard a lot of arguments about "States rights," "our organization is already working on this issue,"  and "we're waiting to see what other groups are going to do," but basically, nobody has accomplished anything.)

 Now we bless the recent "no-kill" movement in America, as well we should...without the laws and practices of Western Europe which made such a concept possible. Major metro shelters with a finite amount of no-kill shelter space are going to do what with an infinite number of unwanted animals?

 Shame on anyone who denigrates efforts for the "welfare" of an animal, or those humans who strive to protect at least that much. Yes, animals were born with "rights." Maybe someday we'll get around to respecting that, as other countries have done constitutionally, such as Germany. In the meantime, let's make sure that all animals live with the bare minimum of comfort, care, and don't die horrible deaths, or be tortured in laboratories, or factory farms, or slaughterhouses. For every minute and molecule of oxygen anyone expends condemning a "welfarist" position in America, you could be dispelling myths, educating the public, or writing a letter to an editor on an animal issue.

 Let's turn our attentions to the real questions, such as how can the AKC put up with anything the likes of The Hunte Corp. and "high-volume" commercial breeders and petshop sales? How can Missouri stand to be the leader in puppy mills, or Lancaster County, PA, bear the distinction of having more puppy mills than any county in the USA? How could ANY university/research laboratory subject animals to the tortures they inflict with no scientific basis for extrapolation to human benefit?Mandatory spay/neuter of all mixed breed animals, door-to-door inspections if need be, and HUGE fines for non-compliance! Animal neglect/cruelty? - stop wasting taxpayer dollars! You go to jail, period, where, if you're lucky, they'll entrust you to participate in the Guide Dogs for the Blind Program, or allow you to help gentle wild mustangs for the BLM adoption program. Dog-fighting? - pick your poison; we are soooo tired of your kind.

 Ask your local pet columnist or commentator, if you are lucky enough to have one, to belay reporting the "warm and fuzzy" stories, and start reporting on the issues, local and national.

How dare I express such views and make presumptions? Apparently my animal-related writings in 24 languages are on over 5,000 websites around the world. So far, I doubt that's made a single bit of difference. It's your turn. You need to write the letter and mail it; make the donation; go to the shelter; adopt the animal; take in the stray; don't drive by the stray dog; foster for the Rescue; educate your family member, or co-worker, or neighbor; participate in the advocacy campaign. I'm really tired and anyone you know in the world of animal "welfare" is just as tired, and most of "welfare" is not on anyone's payroll for their animal efforts.

My sincere prayer for 2003 is that everyone stop wasting time and effort trying to create a division between "welfare" and "rights" that shouldn't exist, for the sake of the animals, and do something, anything at all, to help a specific animal, or animals in general. And as I said in my intro, don't bother writing to me - I'm too busy advocating, educating, writing on animal issues, rescuing and placing animals in great homes, and paying nearly all the costs myself to care if I'm "welfare" or "rights." I am an extremely busy fence-sitter.

 Jim Willis, Director
 The Tiergarten Sanctuary Trust

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