Animal Rights - do animals have rights? How should humans treat animals?
How do we decide what is right or wrong when it comes to animals?
As many of you know I am an animal-lover and care passionately about wildlife and conservation but I find I have many questions when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong with regard to human interaction with animal species, and also how I view other humans when I consider their actions.
I see countless examples of hypocrisy when I look at what people say and do when it comes to animals and I have to examine my own stance on these things too because I can be a hypocrite as well. Many people say they love animals and they look after their pets very well but at the same time they see nothing wrong with eating meat or in wearing leather or fur.
Why are Pets different?
Sometimes it becomes clear that there is some form of preferential treatment being given to some animals over others of the same species. For example, a pet rabbit can be looked after well, whilst at the same time wild rabbits can be killed as pests or for their meat. This is similar for rats and mice - while some people keep domesticated ones as pets, other people are killing them as vermin. Surely a white mouse or rat is actually no better or worse than its wild relatives? They both have the same range of senses and intelligence and presumably have the same sort of thoughts and likes and dislikes in their lives. Same goes for rabbits, or indeed, any mammal species.
The wealthy and elite
If we look at human society we have a rich elite and the pampered celebrities and wealthy people while at the same time we have millions of humans living lives of poverty and suffering. Again, it is the same - the rich people have the same senses, the same range of intelligence and emotional responses as the poverty-stricken, so why do some have very good lives and others not so?
Why is it that some animals are thought of as cute and cuddly and others are not? Is this fair and just? Is this how their divine creator would think? I think not!
If you believe in God or some form of spiritual creator then surely this God didn't make some humans better than others and some animals to be better than others? Surely each spiritual being is made of as much importance in the universe as any other? For this not to be the case would suggest the divine plan for creation was faulty, yet how can this be?
When I look at living things I am reminded of William Blake when he wrote "For everything that lives is holy." I would agree with this, so why are so many people and animals holier than others?
If you are a farmer it is easy to argue that wild rabbits damage land and crops, and so they do but is that their fault? No, they are just doing what they were designed to do. They are simply following their survival programme.
by Richard Adams tells the tale of rabbits and how the threat of death is always there. There is the term "breed like rabbits" but we humans do a good job of breeding too and now questions are asked about whether the world is overpopulated. I have heard that it is not, and I believe that to be the case but it is in urgent need of restructuring. Watership Down
I like to think that I love insects, and indeed I do, but when I am trying to grow plants I am faced with a big problem - many insects eat plants and may kill mine, so what am I to do? I will not use harmful pesticides but I admit I often resort to squashing aphids, meally bugs and scale insects. At present the insect pests are winning against my efforts here and I can see clearly why most people and farmers think nothing of using poisonous pesticides but I am not going to.
I also will kill mosquitoes that seek to suck my blood. I regard this as defence. I don't like killing anything though.
Watership Down trailer
What is Jainism?
Jains and their religion
I suppose the Jains are the closest anyone has ever got to working out a system that aims to not claim the lives of other living beings but their way is so difficult and so extreme and I would say impossible for the majority of people living as we do at present. The Jains sweep the ground ahead of them in an effort to brush away any small creatures like ants that might be where they will be treading.
I understand that they also do not believe in ending a life even if it is in extreme pain so they do not allow any form of euthanasia believing that every living thing must live out its allotted lifespan for karmic reasons.
The problem with not wishing to take the life of any other living thing because it is spiritual or holy is for me an unsolved mystery. There are millions of minute lifeforms that are harmful. There are all the bacteria and protozoans, microscopic creatures that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Is it right or wrong to kill these? When they pose a threat to health it seems only right in defence to kill enemy organisms.
Is wearing leather wrong?
As I have mentioned the same holds for tiny insects that are a pest of plants but at the same time I can see that the complexity and magic of their design is no less than that of bigger animals including humans!
I aim to not eat meat and refrain from animal products as much as possible but this is very difficult at times. Again there are moral questions to be asked: eg I don't choose to buy or wear leather but I have leather jackets my son gave me as gifts. To have rejected his gifts would have caused him to be unhappy so it presented a no-win situation.
I have also bought leather boots or shoes in the past because I knew that the other alternatives simply would not stand up to inhospitable weather conditions. Sometimes even leather rots - my Dr Martens boots had holes in the leather after three days of sodden conditions at Glastonbury Festival once, and they are supposed to stand up to all sorts of abuse.
I have a leather belt at present, not because I wanted one but because my old belt broke and I had to get something to hold my trousers up. All the shops I looked in only had leather ones.
Sometimes when in need of food I have eaten meat too because I would prefer to feed my body than harm it by starving it because there is no vegetable food on offer. This has happened to me because I live in a predominantly carnivorous human society where the majority eat meat. It is a long way from my ideal but I have no easy option for living in a vegetarian culture short of joining some religious order like the Hare Krishnas.
I remember eating some curry at a party having been told there was no meat in it only to find that there was. I was talking to a friend at the same event who also was a vegetarian but had been given the curry with meat in it. We concluded that because we did not intend to eat meat on a karmic level we were not guilty of eating it. Throwing it away would have been worse.
Countless animal lovers and animal rights activists proudly proclaim that they are vegetarian or better still, vegans, and these people, and I agree with them, protest about the horrors of factory farming, but at the same time feed their cats and dogs with meat products that have come from the same slaughterhouses and factory farms. Of course it is right to feed our companion animals with what they are designed to eat but how can we stop the meat industry if we are buying its products for our pets?
Neutering cats and dogs
Then there is the matter of neutering cats and dogs, which most animal welfare people would advise is a good thing to do. Faced with the millions of unwanted animals condemned to lives of suffering and early death I would have to agree it is preferable to stop even more being born but it doesn't seem at all right or natural. And if I consider the same principle applied to humans it is wrong.
So it is is one law for humans and another for animals including the species said to be our best friends. When forced sterilisation of humans has been done or advocated the people doing this are thought of as monsters and fascists but what is the difference really? Why is it OK to castrate a dog or cat but not OK to do so to a man?
I sometimes conclude that in an ideal world, which we are so very very far from attaining, people would not have pets at all and all animals would live as wild ones. In such a system we would not have to consider the rights or wrongs of neutering anaimls to prevent a population explosion, nor would we have to consider whether it is wrong or right to feed animals with meat from the farming industry.
But this brings me to the subject of culling, something else which causes very strong feelings among people who love animals and myself included. There are people who play God by claiming they have the right to kill large numbers of a given species of animal because its population is too big. But who can say what the right numbers are or who can or cannot appoint themselves as the executioners of those condemned to die?
It is said, and there is much evidence to support this, that there are humans from the elite, who propose the same culling of the human "herd." This is a conspiracy theory with much evidence to back it up and many people believe it is in progress now.
Where would all the animals and people live in an ideal world? I do not know but I do know that even when I consider animals in cages I feel that it is wrong. I hate seeing birds in cages in pet shops or in houses. I would like to see them all free to fly and live as they should. I would like to see homes for all the unwanted pets. I would like to see homes for all the unwanted people!
© 2009 Steve Andrews
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