Treatment of Animals

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Animals hold a sort of innocence that humans seem to lack, or else lose as they grow. A pet's love is one of pure bonding on the most basic of levels with no complications or questions; they don't get angry for no reason and they lose their anger quickly. Humans have built up such elaborate and complex methods of interaction that the simplicity of interacting with pets is refreshing and relaxing.

Because animals hold this innocence, it seems to me doubly sad and appalling when harm comes to them. Humans, as highly self-conscious beings, have an ability to deal with pain through their reason. We can tolerate pain knowing that things will eventually get better; we can accept the pain and will our way through it. On the other hand, it seems to me that animals, lacking this coping mechanism, would experience pain and suffering in a more pure and in-the-moment way. They can't contemplate on why the pain is happening to them, or that it will eventually end. While it is happening, it is the whole of their experience. In some ways, I am more put off by the thought of a dog beaten by its owner or a cat tortured by a sadistic child than I am with the thought of humans suffering.

For this reason, I believe it is of the utmost importance that animals should have some of the same legal guarantees we humans afford ourselves, like protection from undue suffering or abuse. Why draw the line at animals, and not bacteria or plants? Well, I think a logical dividing line is the ability to feel pain, to suffer. It seems nearly impossible to empathize with plants, but it seems similarly impossible to deny that a dog feels pain when kicked.

Obviously, then, I support strict animal cruelty laws. Most people are outraged about the abuse or neglect of a child, but those same people care little if any about the plight of an abused or neglected pet. They see animals as nothing more than toys to please an annoying child or to use when you want but to ignore the rest of the time. Some people even get a rush of power from beating their pets. These people should be stopped from abusing and neglecting pets just as much as a child-abuser from abusing and neglecting a kid - both behaviors are symptoms of a lack of empathy and an inability to recognize or care about harm done to others.

What about raising and killing animals for food? I would be a hypocrite to call for a stop to meat-eating when I eat a fair amount of meat myself. My personal feelings on meat-eating are mixed, but no matter what a person's opinion, it doesn't seem likely that humans will stop eating meat any time soon. I think just about everyone can agree, however, that if we're going to keep eating so much meat, the animals should be kept in more decent conditions than they are, if for no other reason than the meat tastes better when the animals are treated decent.

The fact is those who sell meat want their prices insanely low to meet demand (because people have to have their 49-cent hamburgers from McDonalds, right?), so in turn distributors need their prices to be low to keep up. Thus, the people at the end of the chain actually raising animals for slaughter have to cut costs enormously. They do it by penning them all up in a giant paddock where often the animals often can't move at all. They feed them this unthinkable stuff, including ground up remains of their own species - mad cow disease is spread only through cannibalism - or the fecal matter of other animals. And we consumers continue to demand lower prices. It's a vicious cycle.

The only answer I can think of aside from more stringent laws (and better enforcement) is for individual consumers to research where the meat they buy comes from and to try to buy from more reputable sources that are known to be dedicated to reasonable treatment. Be willing to pay a few cents more; express your concern to McDonalds or the meat section at the grocery store.

Who knows, maybe before long new biotechnology and nanotech will make animal slaughter unnecessary for the production of meat; perhaps such technology will even make the process of eating unnecessary. But for now I think we can all agree that while we humans are still consuming large amounts of meat, we should at least make the process safe and sane, because the animals locked up in those giant, cramped cages don't need to suffer the way they do.

Please, support the Humane Society.

Originally Written: 05-24-01
Last Updated: 09-11-03