For the past few decades, the animal protection 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 becomes 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.” Is it morally and pragmatically defensible that “half-a-loaf” of animal protection is “better than none?”

To begin answering the question, let us look at three examples which appeared within 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, could 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 protection movement rightly considered that these measures did not go far enough, largely because of the compromises made to get them enacted.

These committed activists believed that when such “mixed” laws are proposed they should be fought. (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.)

The activist’s rationale was, and is, that enactment of such legislation, though admittedly 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 is all the affected animals are entitled to, at least for years to come.

This absolutist position against mixed animal protections laws is entirely 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? Should the perfect be the enemy of the good? Better a half loaf, than no bread at all?

While activists worked toward “perfect” solutions, in Switzerland, Massachusetts, California, and elsewhere, positive benefits that could have accrued for animals risked being lost because of opposition to proposed legislation. Especially when some “perfect” solutions (e.g., outlawing vivisection and ritual slaughter) will not happen until the world and uncountable of its inhabitants are far, far more humane toward each other, let alone to animals, than they are today.

ISAR was reminded of the “half-a-loaf” problem when we were asked to support anti-tethering legislation pending in Pennsylvania, the cruel practice of chaining dogs to a stationary object, usually outdoors, 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 its torturous aspects?

If you are a dog chained to a stationary object, and 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 my suffering, now, today, and keep working to end it entirely. Especially if the specific facts of a given case involve the kind of cruelty that is very unlikely to be redressed in the foreseeable future by litigation or legislation.

Which is the path International Society for Animal Rights has taken: At every opportunity, we fight for Animal Rights in amelioration of suffering, while not waiting for a “perfect” panacea which may never come.

At every opportunity ISAR has made it unmistakably clear that both as a moral and humane imperative our support of ameliorative litigation or legislation is never intended, nor should it ever be construed, as ISAR’s sanction, approval, or endorsement of any Animal Rights violation.


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