Jun 082016

Forest Image

In the Spring of 1998, I purchased a home surrounded by forestland. Having grown up in Southern California, Boston, and Santa Fe, I hiked through the seemingly endless trees on my land, feeling connected and renewed, at peace with the land, and acutely aware of my stewardship responsibilities.

I was a staunch environmentalist, conservationist, tree-hugger!  I had been a vegetarian most of my life, spent my evenings reading Rachel Carson and Peter Singer, and was reasonably well versed on the horrors man reaped upon the innocent earth.  I knew without hesitation that my trees would never be cut, but would be loved and cared for as nature intended… Everyone else might be greedy, selfish, short-sighted, and willing to rape the land for a few dollars, but at the very least I could protect my little piece…

It took about two years before I began questioning my assumptions. The conifers on my property were so prolific that they were destroying biodiversity! There had been meadows, clearings, margins, wetlands, savannas, even old dead stumps, all teeming with different creatures, but as time went by they were getting smaller and fewer.  Everything was becoming the same, and the number and type of animals and plants was getting smaller and smaller.  Little could grow in the deep shade, and mature conifers provide little food.  I started reading very different books, and soon I was yanking up baby trees like weeds!  I started thinking about the role of fire.  A few years later I bought my first chainsaw! A few more years, and I had foresters and biologists out to give me their opinions on where I should thin and where clear-cut to maximize healthy, diverse ecosystems.

I am still no expert on forestry, and I have not even determined the perfect plan for maintaining my own tiny forest! But what I have learned is that forest management is complex and requires balance, a huge amount of information, and thoughtfulness, not simplistic certainty.

I was not merely ignorant and uninformed about forest management—I was actively and zealously participating in a war without genuinely understanding the issue! This is the problem of passion and information without experience. When we love something, we are quick to dig in our heels and fight to protect it. Sentimentality and romanticism occlude reality and we sometimes refuse to participate in precisely those activities that might help us understand that big picture and the competing factors that make simple certitude so misguided. Reaching a conclusion without enough information to understand the issues is foolish. Advocating for that belief is one of the most dangerous actions a person can take.

What does any of this have to do with animals, the topic of this blog?  Whenever there is a fight about an animal issue, the people involved on both sides are generally animal lovers, but there are 2 distinct groups: those whose love of animals is largely theoretical and based on little experience, and those who have tens of thousands of hours of diverse animal experience.  And the problem is that the inexperienced sentimentalists almost always get it horrifyingly wrong. They advocate and support laws and positions that are profoundly destructive to real animals in the real world.

If you care about animals, and you want to be involved in making the world better for them, the first step must be accumulating enough knowledge and experience to be certain that your opinions are informed and valid.

And perhaps most importantly—do not pursue experience that will reinforce your assumptions, seek out experience on the other side of each issue, for that is how you develop wisdom. Think breeding is awful, find the best breeders you can and learn from them.  Think kill-shelters are evil, go volunteer at one and try to understand why they are making the decisions they are.  Believe wild animals cannot be happy in captivity, volunteer at a good zoo.  Think Animal Rights advocates are idiots, go spend some time with them and try to understand their perspective. Spend time around many experts with many different opinions, participate with passion and care, and listen carefully and critically and with an open mind, and you will become an expert. And spend time around many, many animals—in the wild and in captivity, and pay close attention, for there are few better teachers…

Until you do that, you are the problem.  You are the loud ignorant din that drowns out truth and progress.

But once you have spent a few thousand hours pursuing knowledge, whether you come to agree with my views or not, I relish hearing your thoughts.  The very best ideas and outcomes derive from a diverse set of intelligent and informed opinions being weighed and balanced. In many ways, humankind controls the fate of every animal—and tree—on the planet, and we owe it to ourselves and to them to do better. Doing better begins by recognizing that the difficult decisions must be made by those who authentically understand the issues, and each of us must either develop the knowledge to participate, or be quiet and get out of the way…

Jan 062009

Many people assume when they hear about animal issues that the pro-animal people are on one side and anti-animal people are on the other side. This is rarely the case—almost always the disagreement is between two groups each believing that they are protecting animals and improving their lives. Millions of votes are cast and millions of dollars donated each year by people who do not understand the differing views and who inadvertently support the very people they intend to oppose. Politicians courting the “animal vote” unwittingly support legislation that animal lovers are devoted to defeating.

Whatever beliefs you hold, if you care about animals, vote, donate money, or want to be informed, spend an hour doing some basic research on this topic so you are at least supporting the side with which you genuinely agree.

There are hundreds of subtly different views and organizations, but there are two core views that are not reconcilable:

  • Animal Welfare / Animal Owner: Animals can happily and productively share their lives with humans if certain conditions are met to ensure the welfare and safety of the animals and the public. Deriving utility from animals is acceptable so long as certain conditions are met, and in fact coexisting can and should be mutually beneficial.
  • Animal Rights: Animals should exist only in a pure and natural state free from captivity or any human intrusion. Captive animals should be released or destroyed: death is preferable to life involving humans. Animals should never be “utilized” by humans as pets, food, or research tools. If humans derive benefit it is exploitation and should be stopped, even if the activity benefits the animal.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), and other Animal Rights (AR) organizations oppose any animal captivity. Their central objective is to eliminate animals in captivity and to pass laws that will outlaw captive animals or eradicate them through attrition. As clearly articulated in their own official reports, they kill virtually every animal that falls under their control.

These organizations are well-funded and do some good work which we all support: they fight genuine animal abuse, spotlight cruel industrial practices, increase awareness and motivate change concerning the humane treatment of all animals. They advertise and lobby ceaselessly to focus media attention on the good work that they accomplish, but none of these activities modifies their core mission: killing or freeing every captive animal—aquarium fish, beloved pets, cancer-research rats, dairy cows, zoo otters… They artfully create the illusion that they love pets and pet welfare in order to win millions of dollars in donations which they use to kill animals and lobby towards pet extinction.

Consider the following points:

  1. They believe that animals have the right to live in a fantasy world, free from suffering, death, or human involvement, and that any animal that cannot exist in that world would be better off dead.  Because that world does not exist, they effectively argue against every viable life for animals in the real world.  And this is no academic distinction: they actively kill animals or release them or ban them…
  2. They believe that lying is an acceptable tool. They proudly admit that they will lie or cheat if it will help them achieve their goal, so they do not candidly fight for what they believe, instead they collect billions of dollars in donations from will meaning pet lovers who believe that their money will be used to improve the lives of animals when in truth it will be spent to pass laws making animals lives worse.
  3. Their entire position derives from the idea that animals have “rights.”  This assertion is, on its face, absurd: in nature animals have no rights.  They are killed, they suffer, they are raped, eaten alive, tortured, etc.
  4. All animals are “captive” in their local habitat, their continent, their planet, their home range surrounded by physical boundaries or other animals’ ranges. The involvement of human consciousness does not make captivity wrong. People are capable of providing superior lives for animals—free from parasites and predators and with optimal nutrition and water, secure space, needed veterinary care, and enrichment. The life expectancy of human cared for animals averages two to three times longer than that of their wild counterparts, and for much more of their lives they are healthy, robust, and comfortable. AR advocates assert that “natural” is the only good. Most authentic animal lovers focus on providing the best possible lives for animals, and while nature provides the seminal model, “nature” is rarely the ideal. The only intrinsic difference between a wild animal and a well-kept animal is that the captive animal has a person tending to its every need. Animals have lives in captivity that are every bit as rich and full as in the wild, and in general they are longer, healthier, more comfortable, and by any practical criteria better.
  5. AR people have killed many animals, turned countless animals loose to starve, opened gates and enclosures so that cherished pets are run down on the streets, all in the zealous belief that no animal should ever be captive. Many of these released animals had enjoyed full and happy lives that were ended abruptly because those lives did not conform to the AR view of what they should be. Further, AR people have taken custody of animals, promising to re-home them, then destroyed and discarded them.
  6. The AR movement actively works AGAINST animal welfare improvements.  They believe that improving captivity merely encourages its continuation.
  7. AR people argue that only a wild “natural” life is acceptable; yet, how many AR people chose for themselves a wild life with limitless freedom and rights instead of a comfortable captive life with food and medicine and electricity?
  8. Finding a single instance of abuse or neglect, AR people assert that all people behave in the same way.
  9. AR people have a track record of passing seemingly reasonable laws, then revisiting them repeatedly to incrementally increase their impact until statutes and regulations effectively preclude animal ownership.
  10. AR organizations recruit celebrity advocates who believe they are working for animals. Many of these celebrities own pets themselves yet endorse organizations seeking to eradicate pets because they naïvely assume that they cannot be wrong in supporting the “ethical treatment of animals.”
  11. AR people believe emotional and practical terrorism are acceptable tools for advancing their goals: that their cause is so important and right that they are justified in lying or terrorizing to accomplish their objectives. Conscientious and responsible animal owners live in terror that AR people will show up and open their cages or poison their animals or otherwise create problems in order to generate negative media coverage. Some of the most horrific animal abuse ever filmed has allegedly been staged by AR zealots: they torture animals, film the action, and use that film to condemn the actions of others. They turn animals loose and then use the loose animals as evidence that animals cannot be responsibly contained.
  12. The existence of the AR movement has prevented animal lovers from working together to eradicate abuse and neglect.  We would all love to see processes put in place to combat situations where animals are suffering, and this would be easy to accomplish if we worked together, but because the AR movement exists and will utilize any laws or processes as tools to advance their cause, true animal lovers are forced to fight against them instead of working to improve the world for animals.

No discussion of the Animal Rights agenda would be complete without a quick examination of their flagship crusades:

  • Breed-specific Legislation: these laws target animals based on their breed. They are ineffective and immoral. Breeds are never responsible for any injury, only irresponsible owners. Create laws that prevent and punish people for failure to control their animals, or failure to care for their animals, and you solve the problem. Outlaw one more breed and you do nothing to reduce dog bites, you merely further the objective of eradicating pets one breed at a time.
  • Exotic animal bans: these laws target private individuals regardless of their competence or history and prevent them from owning and caring for certain animals. Such laws do nothing to ensure public health or safety: on the contrary, they hamstring the very law-abiding animal lovers who work to ensure public health and safety. Create laws that prevent and punish people for failure to control their animals, or failure to care for their animals, and you solve the problem. Regardless of the species, uniform and fair laws require any person to be able to keep their animal safely and properly.
  • Mandatory spay/neuter laws: these laws aim to eradicate pets, and do so at the expense of animal health. Individual owners should work with qualified veterinarians to decide which animals should have what surgery. Most experts believe that there is no pet overpopulation problem; however, even if there is, the superior way to control animal population is to educate people. But politicians should not be mandating health decisions relating to individual animals.
  • Vilification of all breeders: constantly extolling the ostensible virtues of shelter dogs and denigrating all breeders as heartless puppy-mills is a tactic aimed to eventually eliminate all breeding and therefore all pets. In truth shelters often perpetuate the very disposable pet attitude that creates a need for shelters while responsible breeders steadfastly work to improve their breed, ensure ideal lives for their puppies, and take back any dogs they bred that ever need homes.

Killing, eliminating, or banning well cared-for animals whose lives do not meet an arbitrary standard of being free from all human involvement is neither ethical nor humane. All true animal lovers must band together to prevent the eradication of all pets and ultimately all animals. Millions of dollars are donated to these groups by well-intentioned pet lovers who believe they are helping animals, and who are shocked and outraged when they learn the truth.

If you own a pet or believe that some people should be allowed to keep pets,do not support AR groups. Please be part of the solution: make an informed decision to support organizations whose ideals and actions comport with your own and will genuinely help to make the world a better place.

Refuse to support deceitful and organizations that will take your money in the name of animals and use that money to kill and lobby against animals. Refuse to vote for politicians who support such organizations.

Please do your own research about any organization you would support. Here are a few websites with useful information on the animal rights issue:

www.humanewatch.org www.consumerfreedom.com
www.petpac.net www.activistcash.com
www.rexano.org/Animal_Rights.htm www.petakillsanimals.com
www.dogpolitics.com www.naiaonline.org
www.animalscam.com www.carpoc.org/articles.html
 January 6, 2009  Posted by at 9:15 am Tagged with: , ,
Jan 062009

The central notion of the Animal Rights movement is that “animals deserve consideration of their interests”. Let us consider captivity as it relates to the interests of animals:

There are an wide range of natural lives and captive lives, and one can easily and misleadingly look at the best example of either and compare it to the worst example of the other and reach whatever conclusion one wants to reach. Too often people compare the very best and most idyllic moment in a wild life with the worst example of atrocious captivity, and reach a skewed conclusion. For the sake of this article I am going to try to compare an average wild life with an average captive life. Since the question is whether or not captivity can be in the best interests of animals, we need to look at a reasonably good example of captive life to decide whether or not it can be a good life and if we believe it can then we can turn our attention to determining what conditions need to be met.

The natural life of a wild animal is rarely the idyllic picture that Disney, your parents, and some animal rights advocates would like you to believe. Nature is harsh and unforgiving, and most wild animals live very difficult lives. They are almost always inundated with fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, heartworms, and other parasites. They are plagued by flies and mosquitoes. They spend much of their life without enough food or water, or drinking brackish filthy water. They are often hunted and killed by animals of other species. They are often dominated or attacked by members of their own species over territorial or mating disputes. They are uncomfortably cold and wet or hot most of the time. They are unvaccinated against even the most common diseases and their injuries and illnesses go untreated and are often agonizing and eventually fatal. They are shot, poisoned, leg-trapped, or struck by cars. They are under constant stress and are always held captive by geographic boundaries or other animals’ ranges. They are often bred every season regardles of their health, and many of their offspring die. A wild animal’s life expectancy is generally less than half what it would be in captivity and much of that time is full of fear, stress, and discomfort.

A reasonably well cared-for animal has a very different life: it has ample space without threat of predation. It has clean, fresh water at all times. It is fed high quality balanced meals regularly and given vitamins, supplements, and treats to ensure maximal health. It is kept close to an ideal temperature at all times, and has dry clean bedding. It rarely encounters any parasites. It is given excellent preventative care, and any injury it sustains is treated immediately and pain management is provided. It is exercised regularly and given lots of enrichment so it is not bored. If appropriate it is housed with other compatible animals so it has companionship without risk. It is weighed and bathed. If needed it may receive massage or chiropractic treatments. Many captive animals are never bred, but those that are often are bred at comparatively infrequent intervals and given superlative prenatal care and their offspring have a very high likelihood of surviving. A captive animal’s life expectancy is generally two to three times longer than that of their wild counterparts, and for much more of their lives they are healthy, robust, and comfortable.

The only intrinsic difference between a wild animal and a well-kept animal is that the captive animal has a person dedicated to tending to its every need. If a captive animal were cared for in a manner identical to “nature”, the owner would be arrested for neglect and abuse immediately.

Very few adult humans chose to live a “wild” life. While we value our freedom dearly, we also value health and comfort and convenience. (Humans who value freedom so highly that they forego comfort to live without walls are called “homeless”, and most of us do not consider their choice optimal)

Over the years we have had several animals who came to us at a young age from the wild due to injury or accident whom we have raised as citizens of both worlds. We live far out in the woods and let them come and go at will. Not only did they stay, but also they spent the vast majority of their time lying on the down comforter rather than being outside. The only way I could get them to go act wild is to go out and call them and play with them, and as soon as I went back inside so did they. This is a well known issue in rehabilitation—one must be careful not to let the animal acclimate too much to captivity or they will prefer a comfortable captive life to the wild and will become unreleasable.

Some people argue that captivity is bad and all animals deserve to be wild and captive animals should be freed or eradicated. The point of this post is to honestly and carefully consider that view: animals have lives in captivity that are every bit as rich and full as in the wild, and in general they are longer, healthier, more comfortable, and by any practical criteria better.

Animals do indeed deserve consideration of their interests, and it is unmistakably clear that, if we can look past our preconceptions and biases, captivity is often the very best life to achieve those interests.