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Animals Are People Too

Updated on December 13, 2009

Polarizing debates about animal rights are not new and even after centuries of arguing we are no closer to a compromise.

There are two primary sources that claim the use of animals by humans for food, clothing, entertainment and research is morally acceptable.

Those who seek to use the Christian Bible as justification for their stance point to Genesis 1:20-28 where Adam is given “domination over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (KJV)

There is a problem with using this verse as a reference for all things relating to animal rights. Whatever form of the word you use, they did not exist in Biblical times. The origin of the word “dominion” (noun) is 1400-1450, “domination” (noun) is 1350-1400 a.d. And the word “dominate” (verb) has its origin in 1605-15 a.d.

Origin aside, according to dictionary.com, dominion/domination/dominate generally means rule, sway govern, control, and exercise control.

Even if we accept the use of these words to describe God's declaration, we still have no unalienable right to use animals in any way we wish. The general definition of domination is to rule. Leaders of countries do not have the right to conduct research on people or to use them as entertainment such as in the Roman Coliseum. We consider this form of entertainment uncivilized and inhumane. Hilter used people for experimentation and history has declared him to be a monster.

So, if our rulers are not entitled to use us in any way they wish, how does this same concept give us this right? Bull fighting, dog fighting, cock fighting are all similar to the Roman Coliseum. Sport hunting is Coliseum activity without a crowd. Adolf Hitler condoned using animals in product research.

Puritans in England between 1653 and 1659 interpreted the dominion of man over animals in the Book of Genesis to mean responsible stewardship, rather than ownership.

Some believe animals are inferior, because they lack rationality and language, and as such are worthy of less consideration than humans, or even none. [Roger Scruton, “Animal Rights”, City Journal, 2000; Gary Francione, “Animals, Property, and the Law”, Temple University Press, 1995, pp. 36-7]

Those who follow this line of rational argue that individual animals have no separate moral identity: a pig is simply an example of the class of pigs, and it is to the class, not to the individual, that human responsibility or stewardship applies. This leads to the argument that the use of individual animals is acceptable so long as the species is not threatened with extinction.

Anyone who has been around animals can argue that this is not the case. A dog determines whether he/she should attack people or other animals. Each has his/her own personality and they clearly have communication not only with one another but with other species' as well. You know when they are sad and they cry when in pain.

French philosopher, René Descartes (1596–1650), decided that non-humans “are nothing but complex automata, with no souls, minds, or reason. They can see, hear, and touch, but they are not, in any sense, conscious, and are unable to suffer or even to feel pain.” [Unbelievable!]

We have a dog - a rescue - that very obviously thinks and reasons. If a toy is stuck, he will approach it from several ways spending several minutes to several hours trying different things until he figures out how to get the toy loose while disturbing nothing around it. 

On the subject of using animals for food and clothing, things become a little less clear. Human beings have always had canine teeth. The four canines in humans are the two maxillary canines and the two mandibular canines. These teeth are used primarily for firmly holding food in order to tear it apart. Vegetarian species such as cows have teeth which enable them to tear grass from the field and grind it – incisors and molars. Clearly evolution intended human to chew meat.

While use of animals for food and clothing seems to be nature's plan, sport hunting – not for food nor clothing – would seem to be against the natural order. People who fish for sport release the fish safely back into the water.

There are instances when a population must be thinned to protect entire species' and/or eco systems but these are more in line with the Puritans' 'stewardship' belief – not sport.

It's time to recognize animals as living beings with rights. There should be much tougher punishments for cruelty offenses. Torture is torture. It doesn't matter whether it's on an animal or a human. And don't forget most serial killers start their venture with the abuse and killing of animals.

A more moderate ground on the subject must be found. Those who are on the radical right on the subject believe we cannot even use animal products such as milk and wool. On the other side believe in sport hunting. There's a lot of ground in the middle on which we can meet.

A brief history of early animal protection laws in the English speaking world:

  • 1635 - The first recorded laws were enacted in Ireland
  • 1641 - The first legal code to protect domestic animals in North America was passed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony
  • 1654 - Puritans passed animal protection legislation in England as part of the ordinances of the Protectorate—the government under Oliver Cromwell, which lasted 1653–1659. Cromwell disliked blood sports, particularly cockfighting, cock throwing, dog fighting, as well as bull baiting and bull running, both said to tenderize the meat.
  • 1660 - Animal protection laws were overturned during the Restoration, when Charles II was returned to the throne in.
  • 1822 - Bull baiting outlawed in England once again
  • 1822 - Ill Treatment of Horses and Cattle Bill or "Martin's Act” passed in England
  • 1835 - England, a series of amendments extended the reach of the 1822 Act, which became the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, outlawing cockfighting, baiting, and dog fighting, followed by another amendment in 1849, and again in 1876.
  • 1850 - France outlawed cruelty against domestic animals
  • In the United States, early cruelty against domestic animals laws were enacted in the state of Washington (1859), New York (1866), California (1868) and Florida (1889)

International Animal Rights Day was honored December 10. My heart always honors animal rights. I'm not "on" any side of the debate. As usual, I find myself on an island. Where are you?

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