Monday, December 15, 2014

Understand the animal rights/welfare movement's "half-a-loaf" problem (Part II)


By understanding the animal rights/welfare movement's "half-a-loaf" problem (Part II)

In Part I of this article we highlighted the dilemma faced by serious animal rights/welfare activists, especially those who recall Voltaire's famous observation that "the perfect is the enemy of the good" -- meaning that while awaiting the "perfect" in human affairs, "the good" often doesn't get done. Castration without anesthesia remains in Switzerland. Greyhound racing continues in Massachusetts [please note: this blog originally posted in 2008 when greyhound racing did exist in Massachusetts, but as of January 1, 2010, it no longer exists.] Farm animals can still be caged 24/7 in California.

While activists work toward "perfect" solutions, in Switzerland, Massachusetts, California, and elsewhere, "good" benefits that could have accrued for animals risk being lost because of opposition to proposed legislation.

ISAR was reminded of the "half-a-loaf" problem when we were asked to support anti-tethering legislation pending in Pennsylvania. (Tethering is the cruel practice of chaining a dog to a stationary object, thus severely restricting its freedom of movement.)

Should we have not supported the ameliorative proposed new legislation because in doing so we would be accepting the continued existence of certain still-allowed aspects of that cruel, indefensible practice even though the law would ameliorate some of the more egregious conditions under which tethered dogs live? In other words, should we have sought "the perfect" at the expense of the "good" while closing our eyes to the brutal reality that remained?

Or should ISAR and other organizations have supported the proposed legislation precisely because of the amelioration, ceasing to obtain "the perfect" in order to gain "the good"? In other words, should we have accepted the reality that "the good" meant reducing suffering, at the expense of "the perfect," which in a utopian world would be an outright prohibition of tethering in all of its torturous aspects?

Recall the concluding question in this article's Part I: "Better a half loaf than no bread?"

Well, if you're a dog chained to a stationary object whose entire universe consists of several square feet, primitive shelter, little human contact, and infrequent interaction with your own kind, the answer is easy. Ameliorate the suffering, now, today, and keep working to end it entirely.

This said, however, at every opportunity ISAR made it unmistakably clear that both as a moral and humane imperative we unequivocally oppose the practice of tethering, and that our support of the then-pending Pennsylvania legislation was not intended, nor should it have been construed as, ISAR's sanction, approval, or any other kind of endorsement of that cruel practice.

If ISAR had its way, Pennsylvania and every other state would immediately enact statutes making tethering of dogs illegal, with severe penalties for violation of the law.

To be continued

Monday, December 1, 2014

Understand the animal rights/welfare movement's "half-a-loaf" problem (Part I)


By understanding the animal rights/welfare movement's "half-a-loaf" problem (Part I)

For the past few decades the animal rights/welfare movement in the United States and abroad has been awash in proposed legislation designed to better the lives of companion animals.

But is it cause for rejoicing when seemingly pro-animal legislation actually does become law? Surprisingly, the answer may not always be an unqualified "yes" because of what ISAR characterizes as the challenging and pervasive problem of "half-a-loaf." As the old saying goes, is "half-a-loaf" really "better than none?"[1]

To begin answering the question, let's look at three examples which appeared within three months of each other several years ago.

The Swiss enacted a sweeping animal protection law. It included handling guidelines for cats, dogs, sheep, goats and horses. A six-hour time limit was required for the transportation of livestock. Piglets could not be castrated without anesthesia.

Massachusetts banned greyhound racing throughout the Commonwealth.

A California ballot initiative was approved that provided more living space to animals raised for human food: "Certain farm animals [shall] be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around."

How could anyone who cares about the rights of animals and desires they be not treated cruelly oppose such legislation?

But wait.

The Swiss law also allowed dairy farmers to keep their cattle tied up in stalls for 240 days of the 365 days in a year. Tie-stalls for horses were to be phased out, but not for five years. Zoo animals, such as rhinos, were allowed to be confined in small winter quarters. Wild animals were still permitted to be used in circuses.

The Massachusetts greyhound ban would not become effective for at least two years.

California's "living space" initiative gave farmers at least six years to shift to more humane animal production systems.

Many in the animal rights/welfare movement rightly considered these measures not to go far enough, largely because of the compromises made in order to get them enacted.

These committed activists believed that when such "mixed" laws[2] are proposed they should be fought. Their rationale is that enactment of such legislation, though useful in some respects, gives opponents of animal protection the ability to argue that "enough is enough" -- that the movement clamored for animal protection laws, they were enacted, and that's all the affected animals are entitled to, at least for years to come.

This absolutist position against mixed animal protections laws is arguably defensible, making for a hard choice: Wait for perfection while countless animals continue to suffer, or take what can be had when possible but continue fighting for perfection?

Better a half loaf than no bread?

To be continued

[1] The actual saying - "Better a half loaf than no bread" -- is attributable to John Heywood, c. 1497 -- c. 1580.

[2] By "mixed laws" ISAR means legislation containing pro-animal provisions together with others that do little or nothing to better the lives of animals -- or which are entirely silent on issues of animal abuse.