Monday, December 10, 2012

Different than Other Animals?

We remind ourselves every day how different we are from other animals. We believe we’re smarter than the rest of creation and that we are the more advanced species. 

We profess that we are the only ones capable of contemplating life and death, and that we alone possess morals, ethics and a conscience.

Yet every day we support the killing, torture and exploitation of other animals, or sometimes we do it ourselves, just for fun. We justify these actions by saying other animals kill as well. This of course is true. For some animals to live, others must die. It’s all part of nature, red in tooth and claw, and aren’t we also a part of nature?

Yes we are. But just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or desirable. There are many animals that rape (spiders, ducks, water beetles), enslave (ants, wasps, dolphins) and kill and eat (chimpanzees, bears, lions) members of their own species. Is this something we want to mimic as well? *

We’re a different kind of animal. We don’t live in jungles anymore and we don’t live by the law of the jungle. We live by a set of rules, laws and codes of right behaviour for the benefit of all. It’s no longer a matter of kill or be killed, or survival of the fittest. We take care of our elderly, our young and our sick. We help those less fortunate and those in trouble. In a word, we’re civilized.

But despite the fact (or claim) that we’re different, better and so much more evolved than the “lower” animals, in many horrible ways we act just like them. Why aren’t we behaving better? Why aren’t we acting more evolved? We don’t condone the slaughter, enslavement and exploitation of other human animals, so why do we think it’s okay to kill, torture and enslave non-human animals?

Other animals can’t pick and choose what they eat. Flesh eaters need flesh. We don’t. We can survive and stay healthy eating all the other foods this wonderful planet has to offer. But we choose to eat other animals because they taste good and because we’ve always done it. These are pretty lame reasons for ending someone else’s life, and we end more than 50 billion animals’ lives every year because of our preferences.

We can’t have it both ways. Either we’re just like the animals or we’re not. Isn’t it about time we put our money where our mouths are?  Isn’t it time we started acting better? If you really think you are different, better and more highly evolved than the other animals, prove it - go vegan.

* On the flipside, there are a number of animals that have been observed helping others, including those of different species, even putting their own lives at risk to do so. If we want to imitate other animals, let’s imitate these ones!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rodeos – A Celebration of Humanity’s Ruthlessness?

Photo credit: Calgary Sun

Two recent news stories affirm the callousness and cruelty that is humankind. 

Both involve the exploitation, maiming and killing of animals by their owners, and sadly, both incidents are perfectly legal, considered part of our cultural heritage and supported by most people in our society.

The first story is about the practice of tripping horses for human entertainment at rodeos south of the border.

A video by SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) was posted online depicting horses at the Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo in Oregon being lassoed and then tripped to show off the cowboys’ roping skills. Here’s the link:

Did you watch the video? If not, please watch it right now:

Did it sicken you? Yet people in attendance are heard cheering and applauding. I don’t know how anyone could think this is fun to watch, but apparently lots of people – normal people by society’s standards – do. And it’s not just the Americans that are suffering from a major brain malfunction.

Lots of Canadians also find it entertaining to watch animals being mistreated and forced to do things against their will as long as it’s exciting (for the spectators anyways) or as long as it’s good for the economy.   

The second story involves the accidental yet inevitable killing of horses for the Calgary Stampede, now celebrating its 100th year of animal abuse and exploitation.

As the Vancouver Sun reported, three horses were killed last Thursday during one of the chuckwagon races. According to the Vancouver Humane Society, over 50 horses have died in chuckwagon events since 1986. Here’s that story:

What really kills me about these stories is that the owners, the staff, the care providers, and of course the organizers, are always really, really, really saddened by the death, or deaths, of these animals, yet year after year after year they keep forcing these animals to risk their lives and year after year after year they keep getting killed.

According to Doug Fraser, a spokesperson for the Calgary Stampede,

"Nobody wants to see this happen. But I think the emotion really showed with [driver] Chad Harden. The driver is devastated and even our chief veterinarian ... felt emotional about this. We've had absolutely phenomenal success this year, up until tonight."

Well Doug, I’m really, really, really sorry that the deaths of these three animals (and I’m sure there will be more) got in the way of your Stampede’s success. I really, really, really feel your pain. That’s sarcasm by the way.

But you know what folks, if I was responsible for an animal’s well-being, and there was a chance that making him do stupid tricks, or racing him was going to put his life in danger, I wouldn’t make him do it!

And what’s worse is that people by the hundreds and thousands, and in the case of the Calgary Stampede an average of 100,000 each day (and the Calgary Stampede runs for 10 days!) go and pay money to watch this crap. 

So are all cowboys – on both sides of the border - cruel and insensitive monsters, or just western cowboys (along with all those cowboy wannabes in attendance)? Does stupidity breed stupidity, and callousness breed callousness, or is it nurtured?

Or perhaps it’s in our DNA to be cruel; a part of what makes Homo sapiens the most powerful - and destructive - force on the planet. Are these events really about celebrating our ruthlessness as a species?

All I know is that as long as we view other animals as products, disposable commodities and slaves, and as long as we continue to be indifferent to their suffering, this type of abuse will continue.

We may be human, but until we change our worldview, we will never be truly kind.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Victory for Some, for Now. Not So Much for Others

"Part of our history is also whaling, for example, and the day came when the whaling industry stopped," he said. "Now, is that day coming with the seal hunt? It just may be." – Ryan Cleary, MP, St. John's South-Mount Pearl in a statement to the CBC last week

This was all it took for some animal rights groups to declare a “victory” for the animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) praised Cleary’s remarks on their website (their last "victory" for the animals was negotiating with KFC Canada to gas their chickens to death rather than slit their throats and boil their bodies while still alive), and Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society wrote that the Canadian seal hunt is dead: 

“The Canadian seal slaughter is commercially dead and it will have no place in the 21st Century. This anachronistic, barbaric enterprise is being tossed into the dustbin of history where it belongs. Finally after a lifetime of struggle to end it, this obscene embarrassment is for all intents and purposes – dead.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think butchering animals because you think their skin looks better on you than on the animals is akin to raping someone because it makes you feel sexy, but for animal protection groups to say the slaughter is over, or dead, is simply not true.

For the record, the Canadian government has made no official announcement that the seal slaughter – it shouldn’t really be called a hunt as all the victims are just lying around waiting to be bludgeoned to death – has been shelved, and Cleary has stated emphatically that he and his party, the NDP, support the killing of seals for commercial purposes, with Clearly sporting a seal-skin vest recently to prove it.

According to Cleary, last year’s “hunt” generated only a million dollars in revenue, with approximately 38,000 seals being killed (the quota set by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was actually 400,000) leading the MP to wonder aloud if it was economically viable to continue it.

But let’s pretend for a moment that the seal hunt has actually been nixed. Would this really be a victory for the animals? Of course, for the actual seals not having their brains bashed in, it’s certainly much better than the alternative. But for the 53 billion other animals (not including sea life) being slaughtered for food each year because we like the way they taste, the victory would at best be bittersweet.

And because the “victory” was the result of a declining economy, rather than an increase in awareness and respect for the animals’ feelings, interests and the simple right to life, all could change overnight if it suddenly became propitious to do so again.

As long as we view other animals as commodities, grocery store items and things to serve our own ends, or things to be eliminated because they get in our way, there will be no victory for any of them.