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Compassionate Living: Human Choices, Humane Results

"Animal rights" is a concept based on the belief that humans have a moral responsibility to treat animals with respect, and that the interests of humans and animals should be considered equally. This means that in any decision that could potentially affect the life of an animal, that particular animal's interests should not be dismissed simply because it is inconvenient for us to consider them.

Although it may not always be easy to determine accurately the best interests of an animal, we can safely assume that animals generally prefer to live, to be free from pain, and to express their natural behaviors. The failure of humans to consider an animal's needs/interests as equal to those of humans is an expression of prejudice called speciesism.

Defenders of speciesism often argue that humans are superior to other species because of their greater intelligence. Taken to its logical extreme, this argument would imply that humans with higher I.Q. scores should have more rights than humans with lower I.Q. scores. However, in western society, we have developed the sensitivity to extend basic human rights to all humans, whether or not they meet any criteria for intelligence, capacity, or potential. But animals are commonly experimented on without their consent, and even killed, for food or for many other reasons, if it suits human purposes. This gross inequality is what we are trying to address with the concept of "animal rights."

Another common assertion is that humans are superior to animals because we possess the capacity to understand morality, as well as the ability to determine right from wrong. Since animals appear to lack these same abilities, it is argued that humans are not obligated to treat them in any particular way. However, if only those who are capable of making and understanding moral judgments were to be accorded basic human rights, then infants, young children, and the severely ill or mentally challenged would be excluded. It is equally logical to affirm that, since humans are the only ones who can make moral judgments, that it is our responsibility to do so on behalf of the animals.

All animals, including humans, have the ability to experience pleasure and pain. Unfortunately, humans have tended to inflict tremendous amounts of pain and suffering on animals without any consideration of how this affects the animals themselves. By making compassionate daily choices, you can help end widespread animal abuse and exploitation.

What You Choose to Eat

Every year billions of animals are raised and killed for human consumption. Unlike the family farms of the past, today's factory farms are high-revenue, high-production entities. On a factory farm, animals are confined to extremely small spaces, which allows farmers to concentrate on maximizing production. Because this type of overcrowding breeds disease, animals are routinely fed antibiotics and sprayed with pesticides. They are also fed growth hormones to enhance productivity. These chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones are subsequently passed on to the environment, as well as to consumers of meat and dairy products.


  • About 41.8 million beef cattle are slaughtered annually in the United States.
  • For identification purposes, cattle are either branded with hot irons or "wattled," a process in which a chunk of flesh from under the cow's neck is cut out.
  • Raised on the range or in feed lots, cattle when large enough are crammed into metal trucks and taken to slaughter. On the way to slaughter, these cattle may travel for hours in sweltering temperatures with no access to water.
  • Animals unable to stand due to broken legs or illness are called "downers" by the meat industry. Downers are electrically prodded or dragged with chains to the slaughterhouse, or left outside, without food or water, to die.


  • In the United States each year more than 115 million pigs are raised on factory farms and slaughtered for human consumption.
  • Factory-farmed pigs are raised in crowded pens which are enclosed inside huge barns. The air in these barns is filled with eye- and lung-burning ammonia created by urine and fecal waste collected below the floors.
  • Breeding sows (or "animal production units") spend their lives in metal crates so small that they cannot turn around. Denied adequate space and freedom of movement, these sows often develop stereotypical behavior, repetitive movement such as head bobbing, jaw smacking, and rail biting.
  • At the slaughterhouse, pigs are stunned (often inadequately), hung upside down before their throats are cut, and then bled to death. If workers fail to kill a pig with the knife, that pig is carried on the conveyer belt to the next station, the scalding tank, where he or she may be boiled alive.


  • Every year approximately 8.785 billion chickens are raised and slaughtered for human consumption in the United States.
  • Crowded and unable to express natural behavior, chickens begin to peck excessively at each other. Rather than solve this problem by providing adequate space for the chickens, farmers "debeak" them, a painful procedure where the bird's sensitive upper beak is sliced off with a hot metal blade.
  • Chickens raised for consumption have been genetically altered to grow abnormally large. As a result, many broiler chickens' bones are unable to support the weight of their muscle tissue, which causes them to hobble in pain or become crippled.
  • At the slaughterhouse, chickens while still fully conscious are hung upside down by their feet and attached to a moving rail. Birds missed by the mechanical neck-slicing blade and boiled alive are called "redskins" by the industry.


  • There are more than 459 million egg-laying hens in the United States. Of these, 97% are confined to "battery" cages -- tiny wire boxes roughly 16 by 18 inches wide. Five or six birds are crammed into each cage.
  • Battery hens are forced to produce 10 times more eggs than they would naturally. When egg production slows, farmers use a method called "forced molting" to shock the hens into losing their feathers, which causes them to begin a premature laying cycle. "Forced molting" involves starving the hens and denying them water for several days' time, during which many hens die.
  • To keep hens from pecking each other in their crowded cages, farmers "debeak" them.
  • Male chicks, considered by-products of laying hen production, are either tossed into plastic bags to suffocate slowly, or ground into animal feed while still alive.


  • About half of the 10 million milking cows in the U.S. are kept in confinement.
  • Dairy cows are forced to produce 10-20 times the amount of milk they would naturally need for their calves. This intensive production of milk is extremely stressful, and as a result many dairy cattle "burn out" at a much younger age than their normal life expectancy, and up to 33% suffer painful udder infections.
  • To continue milk production, a cow must bear a calf each year. Although calves elsewhere stay with their mothers for a year or more, on the dairy farm they are immediately removed from their mothers so that the milk can be sold for human consumption.
  • Calves are sold to the beef or veal industry or become replacements for "burned out" dairy cows.

What You Choose to Wear


  • By-products of the beef industry are defined by the parts of the cow that are not consumed by humans. These include hooves, some organs, bones, and skin.
  • Skin (leather) accounts for about half of the by-product value of the beef industry. Like meat, leather is a product made from animals that experienced the horrors of factory farming, transport, and slaughter.
  • Besides the initial environmental hazards from raising cattle (deforestation, erosion, water use and pollution, wildlife eradication, etc.), the leather industry uses some of the most dangerous substances to prepare leather, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, various oils, and some cyanide-based dyes.


  • Sheep raised for wool are subjected to a lifetime of cruel treatment. Lambs' tails are chopped off and males are castrated without anesthetic.
  • In Australia, where 80% of all wool comes from, ranchers perform an operation called "mulesing" where huge strips of skin are carved off the backs of lambs' legs. This procedure is performed to produce scarred skin that won't harbor fly larvae, so that the rancher can spend less time caring for the sheep.
  • The shearing of sheep at most wool ranches can be a brutal procedure, as workers are encouraged to shear as quickly as possible. As a result, an estimated one million Australian sheep die every year from exposure.
  • Sheep that are no longer useful for their wool are sent to crowded feedlots and then transported to the slaughterhouse.


  • Each year more than 40 million animals are senselessly tortured and killed to satisfy the dictates of fashion.
  • Wild-caught fur is obtained by setting traps or snares to capture fur-bearing animals. Once an animal is caught it may remain in the trap or snare for several days starving or slowly strangling.
  • Farm-raised fur comes from animals kept in tiny, filthy cages, deprived of adequate protection from the elements. As a result, animals develop stereotypical behavior, including pacing, head bobbing, and self-mutilation.
  • The techniques used to kill animals on fur farms vary. Small animals such as mink are killed by neck snapping or "popping." Larger animals such as foxes are electrocuted by placing a metal clamp on the snout and forcing a rod into the anus, and then connecting the metal to a power source. Some animals are forced into bags or boxes and gassed with carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.

What Household Products You Choose

Despite the modern alternatives to animal testing, millions of animals suffer and die each year for the "good" of cosmetics and household products. No law in the U.S. requires cosmetic, household product, or office supply companies to test on animals, but many companies do so to protect themselves against liability. (More than 550 companies do not test on animals.) However, animal testing does not necessarily make a product safe for humans. Most animal tests were developed over 50 years ago and are significantly flawed and inferior to modern alternatives.

What You Choose for Entertainment


  • Animals used in the circus spend the majority of the year imprisoned in small cages or on chains, traveling from show to show.
  • The training endured by circus animals is almost always based on intimidation; trainers must break the spirit of the animals in order to control them. It is not uncommon for an elephant to be tied down and beaten for several days while being trained to perform, and tigers are chained to their pedestals with ropes around their necks to choke them down.


  • Horses and cows used in rodeos are abused with electrical prods, sharp spurs, and "bucking straps" that pinch their sensitive flank area.
  • During bucking events, horses and bulls may suffer broken legs or run into the sides of the arena causing serious injury and even death.
  • During calf-roping events, a calf may reach a running speed of 27 miles per hour before being jerked by the neck to an abrupt stop by a lasso. This event has resulted in animals' punctured lungs, internal hemorrhaging, paralysis, and broken necks.

Greyhound and Horse Racing

  • Once greyhounds begin their racing careers, they are kept in cages for about 22-1/2 hours a day. The cages are made of wire and are barely big enough for the dogs to turn around.
  • Dogs that are considered too slow to race are sold to research facilities or killed (20,000-25,000 each year) -- very few are adopted.
  • Racehorses are bred for one purpose -- to make money. Because of this motive, horses are often forced to run even when injured.
  • More racehorses are bred than can prove profitable on the racetrack. As a result, hundreds of racehorses are sent to slaughter every year.

Zoos and Aquariums

  • While zoos and aquariums may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals.
  • Many animals in zoos and aquariums exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures.
  • Some zoos and aquariums do rescue some animals and work to save endangered species, but most animals in zoos were either captured from the wild or bred in captivity for the purpose of public display, not species protection.
  • The vast majority of captive-bred animals will never be returned to the wild. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.

You Can Help


Volunteering for local animal groups or shelters is a great way to help animals directly. Many organizations are always in need of enthusiastic people to help with fund-raising, petition circulation, animal care, and public education. Volunteering for your public official's election campaign can also be very effective, as long as you let the official know why you are volunteering for his or her campaign and what animal-related issues are important to you.

Educate Others

By sharing the information in this fact sheet, you can teach others to choose a compassionate lifestyle, thus making the world a more humane place for all animals, human and non-human. Talk to your co-workers, family, and friends about your compassionate living choices. Our experience has been that the most effective way to increase sensitivity toward animals is through credible, persuasive arguments presented in a non-confrontational manner. A variety of fact sheets and brochures on animal protection issues are available from API to help you do this.

Write Letters

By writing letters to your state and federal representatives and senators, and urging them to support legislation that protects animals, you can help strengthen legal protections for animals. Elected officials work for you, so it is important that you share your thoughts on issues with them. Companies and businesses are also concerned with how the public perceives them, so let them know! Also, by writing letters to the editor of magazines, local newspapers, etc., you can share personal views and educate others about animal issues.

You can send a handwritten or personally typed postcard or letter, simply expressing how you feel, the reasons you feel the way you do, and what action you would like to see taken. Be clear and to the point. You may also call or send email, although a personal letter is considered more effective. Letters to representatives and senators should include the bill number when asking them to vote a certain way, and be sure to address only one issue per letter. It is also important to send thank-you letters when a legislator, company, business, or individual acts on the behalf of animals.

Adopt Responsibly

When choosing a companion animal, always rescue from a shelter, breed rescue, or from an individual who no longer wishes to provide care for his or her companion. Make sure that you are prepared to provide a lifetime of food, veterinary care, and love for your new animal companion.

Join API's Action Alert Team

API offers members and other supporters the opportunity to become involved in key animal protection issues on a national level and in their state and local community. Activists who join our Action Alert Team are contacted when the need arises and asked to take actions such as writing and calling public officials and businesses, circulating petitions, or planning and attending special events and meetings.

Alerts cover a variety of animal protection issues and are sent by both U.S. mail and email. You don't have to be a member of API to join our activist team. To sign up for API's Action Alert Team, join online. National and state action alerts can also be viewed here.


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