Are dogs and cats the nation’s most popular animals? It does not seem so when millions of healthy dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens must be killed each year in private and public shelters due to lack of responsible homes. Countless others starve or freeze to death, are killed by humans or animals, or die from untreated illnesses and injuries after being abandoned to fend for themselves. If given the chance, most of these animals would have made excellent companions.
The breeding rate of puppies and kittens greatly exceeds the number of homes available to those animals. Negligent individuals who fail to have their dogs and cats spayed or neutered to prevent reproduction, commercial and hobby breeders, and puppy mills, continue to bring more puppies and kittens into an already overpopulated world, thereby ensuring that most animals brought to shelters will not be placed in adoptive homes.
The way by which many people acquire animals also contributes to the mass killing. Instead of adopting from a shelter many people answer “free to a good home” or “animals for sale” ads. They buy from a pet shop or a breeder. Some people acquire a puppy or kitten from a neighbor’s or friend’s unwanted litter.
Acquiring animals from these sources often eventually condemns the animals to a shelter, too often to death. A small percentage of cats brought to shelters are placed in homes. The rest are killed, or, worse, turned over to dealers or laboratories. On average, about 25% of animals killed in shelters are purebred. In some regions, a higher number. The most popular breeds are often found in shelters in the greatest numbers.
In addition to the immorality, cruelty, and waste of this endless killing, it perverts a major purpose of humane societies which should not be to collaborate in mass killing of companion animals, but instead to prevent it. Vast numbers of animals briefly cared for and then killed in shelters are an enormous drain on both public funds and on private philanthropy. Governmental agencies and humane societies are forced to devote their resources to processing and killing animals, while education, investigation, and prosecution are neglected.
The sad fact is that the United States, indeed the world, is far from solving the companion animal overpopulation problem. But it can be ameliorated, by the following steps:
- Adopting companion animals only from shelters or breed-specific and other rescue groups.
- Requiring humane societies and shelters to disclose the number of animals they are forced to kill (see ISAR’s Report entitled “Model Euthanasia Statistics Statute,” which contains model legislation).
- Requiring mandatory sterilization in every state, by having every dog, cat, puppy, and kitten adopted from an animal shelter to be spayed or neutered as part of the adoption contract (see ISAR’s Report entitled “Mandatory Adoption Sterilization Statute,” which includes model legislation).
- Enacting mandatory spay/neuter legislation in every state, to dramatically reduce the number of unwanted animals (see ISAR’s Report entitled “Model Mandatory Spay/Neuter Statute,” which includes model legislation).
- Establishing low cost spay and neuter clinics. Areas with efficiently run accessible clinics have seen dramatic reductions in the number of animals killed in shelters.
- Encourage frequent media coverage of the daily killing at shelters, combined with public appeals to spay and neuter companion animals, and to adopt from shelters and rescue groups rather than from pet stores or breeders.
- Educating the public on the tragedy of purebreds. The unnatural process of inbreeding causes painful and life threatening conditions. For example, hip dysplasia in the larger breeds, spinal disc ailment in dachshunds, and respiratory distress in short-nosed breeds are only a few of the more visible problems. (See ISAR’s AKC Report for more information.)
- Cessation of animal sales by pet stores and commercial and hobby breeders. Animals should only be acquired from shelters. They are not commodities. They should not be sold. Please see ISAR’s Report on puppy mills for information on how these deplorable breeding factories contribute to pet overpopulation.
- Disabusing the public and media about spaying and neutering being harmful to companion animals. On the contrary, there are behavioral, safety, and health benefits to each procedure.
Breeding Disease and Tragedy.
- Puppy mills are commercial breeding facilities which mass produce dogs solely for profit, deliberately ignoring proper care, nutrition, and socialization. Approximately 90% of all puppies sold in pet shops are the product of these unscrupulous breeders who indiscriminately breed dogs without the slightest concern for their welfare.Puppy mill operators consider these hapless victims of avarice as mere commodities, and keeping them in the most appallingly substandard conditions imaginable. The dogs are commonly housed in makeshift shelters where they are subjected to scorching sun and bitter cold, without protection from wind, rain, or snow. Cages are often stacked several rows high, with the waste from the upper animals dropping on those below. The overcrowded and filthy cages are commonly infested with parasites. Moldy food in the animals’ dishes and maggots on their skin is commonplace.Puppy mill dogs often receive little, if any, veterinary care and are fed inadequate and poor quality food. Commonly, female dogs are bred at every heat cycle, usually beginning at six months of age. Once their weak bodies can no longer generate profit for the breeder, they are considered a drain on the mill and are destroyed, usually by five years of age. Puppies are removed from their sickly and malnourished mothers at an early age and shipped to pet shops across this supposedly civilized country.Besides the appalling conditions, rampant inbreeding and lack of concern for congenital defects or inherited disease results in an array of genetic problems. Puppy mills are largely responsible for making deafness a characteristic of dalmatians; hip dysplasia common to German shepherds, rottweilers and many other large breeds; and epilepsy a frequent malady of beagles. Many behavioral problems, including severe aggression disorders, may also be attributed to puppy mill breeding.Sadly, at the expense of the animals, the deplorable living conditions, careless breeding, separation from their mothers at an extremely early age and absence of early human companionship, combined with poor genetics, inadequate food, and lack of veterinary care, result in maladjusted and sickly puppies with little chance for happy or healthy lives.
The many problems afflicting puppy mill animals are passed on to unsuspecting consumers when buyers pay exorbitant prices for these pitiful animals at posh pet shops and then watch their cherished pets die before their eyes, helpless to remedy or prevent the diseases bred into the animals. Many owners pay thousands of dollars as they try in vain to cure these inherent, inevitable problems.
Puppy mill operators are candid about their indifference toward their animals. When discussing the large number of sick and dying animals attributed to puppy mills, one breeder casually commented, “When you have livestock, you have deadstock.” Another puppy mill operator described the unfortunate victims of his greed as, “It’s an animal. It’s just like any crop that comes along.”
With uncaring attitudes like these, it is no surprise that surveys conducted in several states revealed that approximately half of all puppies sold in pet shops were sick or incubating diseases at the time of sale.
There are tens of thousands of puppy mills in virtually every American state and Puerto Rico, the majority in the Midwestern United States and Great Plains, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. On the East Coast, Pennsylvania is notorious for puppy mills, with Lancaster County having the greatest concentration of puppy mills in the country.
Due to the attention focused on puppy mills by animal protection organizations and sometimes the media, the public has gradually become aware of the misery in which these animals are born, bred, and raised.
Sadly, horrific examples abound.
One unlicensed puppy mill housed more than 1,000 dogs, in cramped wire cages in Hillsville, VA.
A Maxton, North Carolina, man was convicted of abusing close to 100 dogs at his makeshift puppy mill. Water bowls green with algae, cages filled with feces piled over four inches high, and parasites galore were endured by the dogs used as breeding machines. Health ailments including body sores, horrific skin problems, and emaciation were suffered by many of his animals.
Not surprisingly, transporting practices are also inhumane.
The puppies, newly separated from their mothers, are crammed into cages for trips which often last several days, and denied adequate care, food, and water.
In one case, a truck carrying 60 puppies from Missouri to East Coast pet shops caught on fire, burning alive all 60 puppies.
Increasing media coverage of these types of events, coupled with a massive educational campaign by those dedicated to eliminating puppy mills, could greatly aid the fight to end these barbaric breeding factories. Animal Legal Defense Fund has been in the forefront of the battle against this barbaric industry.
Overpopulation Crisis and Puppy Mills
The enormous number of puppies mass produced in mills adds to the tragic problem of pet overpopulation and the killing of millions of unwanted dogs each year. It should be unthinkable that the conscienceless greedy are intentionally bringing more dogs into this already overpopulated world. Purchasing a puppy from a pet shop perpetuates the vicious cycle by encouraging more breeding, which leads to more killing.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for regulating licensed puppy mills. However, current procedures are ineffective and inadequate. Staff shortages sacrifice the ability to responsibly manage the arduous task of inspecting the facilities, and enforcing even the minimal requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. Many breeders simply refuse to comply with orders or neglect to license their kennels, thereby excluding themselves from investigation.
In describing this regulatory system, ISAR does not wish to imply that we approve of even well-regulated puppy mills. On the contrary, ISAR believes in, and has long been working toward, their total elimination.
After a nine-year struggle by animal advocates, Pennsylvania finally joined at least 11 other states in establishing a puppy lemon law. Laws vary from state to state. Most apply only to retail pet stores and cover contagious diseases for a period of only 7 to 15 days, and hereditary defects for up to one year. Many offer replacement, refund of purchase price and/or veterinary expenses for diagnosing and/or treating the dog (not to exceed the purchase price of the dog). Some states’ laws apply to cats as well as dogs.
Puppy Mills Must Be Outlawed
Legislation to regulate puppy mills is not enough to stop money-hungry breeders from imposing runaway cruelty and rampantly adding to the pet overpopulation problem. These animal factories should be outlawed entirely. Right now!
Consumers have the power to end puppy mills. For years, ISAR and other animal protection organizations have called for a boycott of pet stores that sell animals. Three of the largest pet shop chains in the United State—PETCO, PetSmart, and Pet Supplies Plus—no longer sell puppies. Instead, these stores sell only pet supplies and offer homeless animals for adoption, in conjunction with local animal shelters.
The Plague of Purebreds
Despite the tragic dog overpopulation crisis in this country, the American Kennel Club (AKC) continues to actively promote the breeding and buying of purebred dogs. Each year, the AKC registers over hundreds of thousands of dogs from countless litters of puppies. Because registration fees generate most of the organization’s revenues, more puppies mean more money for the AKC. This financial incentive makes the AKC unlikely to reject registration applications, and the accompanying income. Dogs from both private breeders and puppy mills are registered regardless of health, temperament, or true breeding.
AKC registration papers are not necessarily a true reflection of breeding. Bloodlines on AKC papers are based solely on the breeder’s word, and are often intentionally falsified. Occasionally, the registered dogs are not even purebreds. Some breeders report more puppies than were in a litter, and then use the extra papers for unregistered dogs. Other animals are given registration papers from dogs that have died.
Some former AKC inspectors have claimed that the organization is a sham. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a AKC inspector for four years, estimated that 90% of the breeders she inspected failed to meet AKC recordkeeping requirements. Another AKC investigator, referring to fraudulent records, declared “AKC registration is worthless.”
Sadly, the dogs pay the price for the AKC’s greed. Health and temperament problems condemn many purebreds to an unhappy life and an early death, while others become victims of the over-population crisis.
Many purebred purchases are impulse buys, decisions made with little thought and without researching breed characteristics. This is especially true of breeds featured in popular television shows and movies. These breeds are often mass-produced to meet public demand following such exposure.
Many people mistakenly assume that if someone pays a significant sum of money for a pet, they will provide the animal with good care and a permanent home. This is untrue. The large percentage of purebreds relinquished to shelters is a testament to the fact that purchase price is of little concern to irresponsible guardians when faced with the inconveniences of pet care. Frequently, the most popular breeds are relinquished to shelters in the greatest numbers. The overwhelming magnitude of this problem has led to the formation of breed specific “rescue” organizations devoted to saving a specific breed of dog.
Shelters and rescue leagues must bear the grievous responsibility of puppy mills, backyard breeders and the so-called “responsible” breeders, whom, with the AKC’s encouragement, continue to bring more puppies into an already overpopulated world. While those dedicated to helping the unwanted dogs do their best, there just are not enough homes for them all.
At ISAR’s 1991 symposium about dog and cat overpopulation, the following comments were made by Dr. Eric Dunayer, VMD:
In the United States, purebreds are status symbols. Many “owners” of pedigrees possess a breed chauvinism, the belief that their breed is more worthy of love and respect than other dogs. Ironically, the scorned mixed-breed dog is generally more physically and emotionally fit than the purebred.
The self-appointed promoter of purebreds is the American Kennel Club (AKC). The AKC’s literature states that, “It’s purpose is to … foster and encourage interest in and the health and welfare of purebred dogs.” Yet, the very nature of breeding pedigrees is detrimental to the dogs themselves, and is irresponsible when millions of homeless dogs (both mixed-breeds and pure-breeds) are being killed in shelters.
Purebreds suffer from inherited diseases at a far greater rate than mixed-breeds. Eye diseases plague purebreds including cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal degeneration that ends in blindness. Congenital heart disease afflicts purebreds at over four times the rate found in mixed-breeds. As a result of inbreeding to create and maintain their appearance, each breed harbors over a dozen genetic defects, and there are now close to 300 genetic disorders documented in the various breeds. These defects may undermine psychological as well as physical health.
Despite all these problems, purebreds are still desired. Many “owners” are ignorant of these diseases; others overlook them because their love for their breed is just too strong to be bothered by these problems. The resulting demand for purebreds sustains a multimillion-dollar industry.
Having created the demand, now there must be suppliers.
Purebred dogs generally come from one of three sources, 1) backyard breeders, 2) “responsible” or dedicated breeders, or 3) pet stores, often supplied by “puppy mills.”
While puppy mills have received a lot of attention for adding to the overpopulation problem, it is the other two groups-the backyard breeder and the “responsible” breeder-who produce the majority of purebred births.
For the last four years, the AKC registered close to 1.2 million dogs annually. Of these, the AKC found that only 8 percent of the registrations were for puppies purchased through pet shops, and likely born in puppy mills. The remainder of the yearly registrations were for puppies bred by backyard breeders and “responsible” breeders.
Purebreds are coming into shelters in alarming numbers.
Shelter workers report that 25 percent of the dogs handled each year are purebreds. In one Chicago area shelter, purebreds account for about 50 percent of their animals. Incredibly, this number has occasionally reached 80 percent! Yet, in none of the AKC’s publications does one find reference to the shelter as a place to find a dog. Instead, the AKC writes strictly about buying purebred dogs.
The AKC and its breeders can no longer hide from the problem of companion animal overpopulation. They can take immediate steps to reduce the number of purebreds born and the suffering they endure, either in puppy mills or through genetic diseases they painfully live with. In the end, however, it is the height of hypocrisy to breed and buy afflicted purebreds while healthy mixed-breeds (and purebreds) perish by the millions.
Model statute regulating dog breeding, facilitating and sales
In recent years, greater attention has been given to the overpopulation problem, the vice of puppy mills, and the dereliction of duty by those charged with their oversight. Local bans have been enacted, lawsuits brought, and ever-increasing media exposure is informing the public.
Although ISAR has supported these efforts, they have not been enough because breeding is only the first link in the chain of overpopulation.
For that reason, ISAR produced a comprehensive “Model Statute Regulating Dog Breeding, Facilitation and Sales,” which seeks to deal with the overpopulation of dogs caused in large measure not only by breeders generally and puppy mills in particular, but also by those who facilitate and sell companion animals. We urge our supporters to review ISAR’s model statute, as well as the extensive report in which it appears.
Government cosmetic assistance
ISAR’s supporters know how long we’ve been working to eliminate puppy mills and most retail sales of companion animals.
Even the United States Department of Agriculture finally admitted that one aspect of the puppy mill problem—the thousands of puppies shipped into this country from abroad (e.g., South Korea, China, and Eastern Europe)—present a serious overpopulation problem for the United States. Until the government woke up, among those imported puppies at least twenty-five percent died in transit.
After many years of ignoring the problem, according to the Associated Press “[t]he U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a regulation . . . that, starting in 90 days, will require all puppies imported to the United States to be at least 6 months old, healthy, and up-to-date on vaccinations.”
While those of us who work tirelessly for Animal Rights and know too well the scourge of overpopulation might welcome the USDA regulation, the fact is that sadly it misses the mark.
For one thing, the government’s concern is not for the puppies—according to the Associated Press, usually less than 8 weeks old—but for the American consumer. That is the wrong emphasis. Breeding of puppies generally and their importation in particular is rooted in the philosophical premise that animals are akin to inanimate objects and thus can be treated as chairs and bowling balls (See Some Thoughts on the Rights of Animals). That is why the puppies are crammed into crates in the holds of intercontinental airplanes with little or no concern for their wellbeing. The government is protecting not the helpless puppies, but the American consumer.
Second, as a practical matter, even if the new regulation was acceptable morally and legally, which it is not, it is unenforceable given the general corruption and document forgeries that the breeders’ countries are known for. To say the least, it is naïve to believe that puppy mill operators abroad (especially in countries whose populations eat dogs) will not falsify the documents required by the new USDA regulation. It requires that the puppies be “at least 6 months old, healthy, and up-to-date on vaccinations.” There is simply no way overworked, and perhaps indifferent, USDA inspectors can get behind the paperwork to ascertain how old puppies are, whether they are “healthy” (whatever that means), or whether they ever received the vaccinations the regulation requires.
Third, those of us who labor in the animal protection movement know how unsuccessful USDA is in enforcing other laws within its jurisdiction pertaining to the welfare of animals. The new regulation will not be adequately enforced, if at all.
Fourth, the heralded fine of up to $10,000 presupposes that violators will be identified (in South Korea, China, and Eastern Europe countries!), fined, and then the fines collected—a utopian assumption that defies reality. And even if the shippers do pay a fine, why would one think they will be deterred, rather than the fine simply seen as a cost of doing business?
An official with a national humane organization has said that the new USDA regulation “eliminates the easy access to market that foreign breeders have had for years.” Nonsense! Not only is that statement not so, but those who support the regulation have now given the shippers and USDA a fig leaf to cover the vile importation practice by making it appear that the problem has been dealt with. Indeed, an official with a national humane organization has said that by promulgating the regulation the organization and USDA “are taking steps in the right direction.”
Sorry, but that is not the “right direction.”
There are only two “right directions.”
If American puppy-buyers are determined to support domestic and foreign breeders by purchasing dogs (and cats, for that matter), rather than by going to a shelter, the least they can do morally is make certain that the animal has not been imported. There are more than enough homeless companion animals right here in the United States.
More than more than enough!
Even more important, those purchasers should reconsider the entire breeding issue, and then support ISAR’s and others’ efforts to prohibit puppy mills both abroad and in the United States.
Government complicity in overpopulation: The Animal “Welfare” Act
Putting aside for the purpose of this section the profound moral and practical difference between Animal Welfare and Animal Rights, it is important to understand the United States government’s role in the plague of companion animal overpopulation.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) must modify its final Rule redefining “retail pet store,” to prohibit sales of companion animals.
Among other duties delegated by Congress to USDA through APHIS is enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
ISAR, together with many other animal protection organizations, has long objected to the fundamental premise of the AWA: That humans can do virtually anything to animals so long as it is done “humanely.” To accomplish that specious goal, the principal task of APHIS has been to license certain categories of animal-related activities (e.g., puppy mills) and then inspect those activities for compliance with the “humane” criteria of the AWA.
For the purpose of this section, ISAR will put aside all our and others’ complaints about AWA and APHIS, of which there are many, and focus solely on something of crucial importance to companion animals and organizations such as ISAR whose mission is to protect those animals from abuse and exploitation.
Since the Internet became widely used, it has been too easy for companion animals, mostly dogs, to be sold online. Not only to be sold, but to be sold sight-unseen. The domestic version of the offshore sales.
Everyone in the animal protection movement has heard heartbreaking stories of dogs (and other animals) purchased sight unseen through the Internet, then integrated into a loving family only to become ill from existing ailments, suffer, and often die.
In 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General conducted an audit which revealed that 80% of the breeders who were sampled had not been inspected for the health of their animals or to ascertain if they were providing humane treatment.
The breeders got away with their deplorable conduct because even though they were Internet sellers they claimed to be “retail pet stores” as defined in the previous APHIS regulations. As such, there was no APHIS oversight, nor any consumer oversight.
To deal with this serious problem, in May 2012 APHIS published a new proposed Rule to bring retail sellers under its jurisdiction. In 90 days, some 210,000+ comments from the public were received. Also, some 213,000 petition signatures were submitted by organizations on each side of the issue.
In the process of initiating and developing the proposed and final Rule, APHIS produced hundreds of pages of information and commentary.
Finally, three years later, APHIS published a “Regulatory Impact Analysis and Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis” to accompany a new final Rule constituting a “Revision of the Definition of Retail Pet Store.” Its Summary explains the Rule’s rationale [all following italics and bracketed commentary has been supplied by ISAR].
APHIS was revising the definition of retail pet store and related regulations to ensure that the definition of retail pet store in the regulations was consistent with the Animal Welfare AWA, thereby bringing more companion animals sold at retail under the protection of the AWA. [Accepting for sake of argument that AWA does in fact protect animals, in APHIS’s view revising (enlarging) the definition of “retail pet store” will increase its protection of animals.]
In other words, by redefining “retail pet store” to prevent sale of companion animals that are not physically seen by purchasers the retail pet store sellers and their operations are brought within the AWA and become subject to licensing and inspections.
Accepting for sake of argument that allowing most breeding and retail sale of companion animals is both moral and good public policy—which ISAR emphatically denies––APHIS’s redefinition appears on the surface to serve a legitimate purpose. Assuming, of course, that APHIS’s standards for “humane” treatment are high enough, and that there is a high level of licensing requirements and inspection. And penalties for violation. ISAR remains skeptical.
As to the policy, APHIS argued that the benefits of the new Rule outweigh its costs. Among the former, obviously, is that healthier pets will be sold and thus purchasers will be spared unnecessary heartbreak and expenses. More pets will survive illness, suffering, shelters, and death. The new Rule shifts responsibility for the animals’ health from the unsuspecting buyer to the seller. Shelters and taxpayers will be spared the costs imposed by unscrupulous Internet sellers. Transfer of animal diseases, rabies for example, will be reduced.
The new Rule’s core rationale “can be summarized by two words: ‘public oversight’ —the foundational premise upon which the new Rule rests.”
That being the premise, traditional “brick and mortar” pet stores will not be reached by the new Rule; they will continue to be exempt from the AWA’s federal licensing and inspection requirements because prospective buyers in actually seeing the animals for sale already provide the “public oversight” that the new Rule imposes.
It is the Internet vendors and other “unseen” sellers that must be licensed and inspected for “minimum standards of care” under the new Rule.
According to APHIS, there are many exceptions granted by the new Rule because the nature of the exemption recipients’ operations provides the requisite “public oversight.” Included are animal rescue groups, public and private pounds and shelters, and humane societies. Also, those who breed and sell working dogs; sell rabbits for food, fiber, and fur; bred to preserve bloodlines; children involved in 4H projects; operations that raise, buy, and sell farm animals for food, fiber, and fur; and businesses dealing only with fish, reptiles, and other cold-blooded animals.
There are other exemptions: No license is required if someone sells dogs, cats, domestic pocket pets born and raised on one’s own premises where buyers can physically observe them before or during purchase. Nor if one sells birds, rats, mice, amphibians, and reptiles.
Besides these and other exemptions the new Rule increases from three to four a seller’s breeding females (dogs, cats, or small exotic/wild pocket pets) before being required to be licensed and inspected under the AWA. These people are considered by APHIS as “hobby breeders,” whose activities usually occur under circumstances and in places (such as private homes) where public oversight is present, thus removing the need for APHIS oversight. (APHIS already regulates wholesale commercial breeders.)
From the foregoing, it is obvious that the new Rule—as most government administrative rules— is lengthy and complicated. It raises at least as many questions as it answers. For example, must the actual purchaser himself observe the animal? Probably not, he can have someone else do it because there would still be public oversight. Must the observation be in a pet store? No, if the purchaser or someone acting on his behalf is physically present. Can breeders with 5 or more breeding females sell on the Internet? Yes, but a license is required. Can breeders with 5 or more breeding females sell on the Internet without a license? Yes, if the “physically seen” requirement is satisfied. Can a 4-or-less breeder sell on the Internet without a license? Yes.
The new Rule raises other questions, most of which are answered by recourse to the underlying principle for which the Rule was designed: Public oversight.
APHIS summed up the new Rule this way:
The entities affected by the rule are likely to be considered small. They are persons who sell their animals to any buyer who does not physically observe the animals prior to purchase and/or to take custody of the animals after purchase, such as sales conducted exclusively over the Internet.
Persons who maintain four or fewer breeding female dogs, cats, and/or small exotic or wild mammals will be exempt from the new licensing requirements.
Persons who derive less than $500 gross income from the sale of animals, other than dogs, cats, or wild or exotic animals will also be exempt from the new licensing requirements. In addition, some current licensees will no longer be required to be licensed due to the increase of the exemption threshold from three to four breeding females.
When the animal protection movement became aware of the proposed new Rule, and then its final version, there was great satisfaction. That satisfaction was understandable because, at least on the surface, it provided some measure of protection, not so much for the animals, but instead for the consumer. In other words, the new APHIS Rule is not an animal protection provision but instead a consumer protection measure, just like APHIS’s previous Rule regarding the importation of puppies. Consumer protection is not synonymous with Animal Welfare, let alone Animal Rights.
Lest anyone misunderstand ISAR’s position about commercial retail sales of companion animals, we oppose them. So much so, that we have prepared a Memorandum and a Model Statute designed to show the way to ending such sales.
Breeding, hypocrisy, and history
The commercial retail sale of dogs and cats begins with their breeding puppy mills and kitten factories. As to those infernal mass-production hell-holes, in ISAR’s Anti-Breeding Statute Monograph we wrote:
An elaboration of this sordid story of puppy mill and kitten factory horrors could fill many volumes, dramatizing conditions and practices which are immoral and inhumane no matter where they are found. But for them to exist in the United States somehow seems worse.
Being in the United States, however, a nation which prides itself on possessing high standards of humaneness (at least in certain respects), much more can be done to ameliorate the plight of the countless wretched animals captive in the [companion animal] trade . . . if only our legislators and political leaders will take the matter seriously and not, as they have repeatedly, say one thing but act differently.
This proposition—that government does not take seriously its obligation to protect animals is not novel. The little existing animal protection legislation in every state and at the federal level, is an explicit recognition by government of its responsibility, though mostly unobserved.
The genesis of that moral and legal responsibility, and the ensuing legislation, is not widely known.
Lewis Gompertz (1779-1865) was a founding member of the British Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and probably the first public person in modern times to opine in the English language about the rights of animals.
In his Moral Inquiries into the Situation of Man and of Brutes Gompertz wrote that:
The dreadful situation of the brute creation, particularly of those which have been domesticated, claims our strictest attention. * * * Who can dispute the inhumanity of the sport of hunting, of pursuing a poor defenseless creature for mere amusement, till it becomes exhausted by terror and fatigue, and of then causing it to be torn to pieces by a pack of dogs? From what kind of instruction can men, and even women, imbibe such principles as these? How is it possible they can justify it? And what can their pleasure in it consist of? Is it not solely in the agony they produce to the animal? They will pretend that it is not, and try to make us believe so too, that it is merely in the pursuit. But what is the object of their pursuit? Is there any other than to torment and destroy?
It seems that the crime of cruelty proceeds greatly from improper education. Subjects of moral inquiry are too often chased from the attention of youth, from a false idea that they are mere chimeras too difficult to enter into, that they only serve to confound us and to lead us into disputes, which never come to a conclusion; that they cause us to fall into eccentricities, and unfit us for all the offices of life, and at last drive us into downright madness.
Forbid it that we should give assent to such tenets as these! That we should suffer for one moment our reason to be veiled by such delusions! But on the contrary let us hold fast every idea, and cherish every glimmering of such kind of knowledge, as that which shall enable us to distinguish between right and wrong, what is due to one individual-what to another.
Years later, Gompertz’s words eloquently remind us that cruelty to animals continues to demand a moral inquiry, including asking and answering questions about the consequences of dog, and other companion animal, overpopulation.
Anyone who looks closely at how animals are treated in America today cannot help being confused. Hunters cherish their hunting dogs, but kill and trap wildlife without conscience or regret. Stylish women coddle furry house pets, but think nothing of wearing the skins of animals. At animal farms and petting zoos, parents introduce their children to a world of innocence and beauty, but see no harm in exposing them to circus acts which degrade animals, and to rodeos, which brutalize them.
The law, too, is contradictory. It is legal to butcher livestock for food, but not to cause them to suffer during slaughter (although federal law contains an exception: “ritually” slaughtered cattle do suffer). It is legal to kill chickens for the pot, but not to allow fighting cocks to kill each other. Animals can be used for painful laboratory experiments, but they must be exercised, and their cages must be kept clean. Kittens can be drowned, but not abandoned. Certain types of birds are protected, but others are annihilated. With a permit, one can own a falcon, and with a falcon, one can hunt rabbits; but rabbits cannot be dyed rainbow colors and sold at Easter.
It is not surprising that countless contradictions exist today in man’s relationship to animals, because never has there been a consistent humane principle to guide humans in dealing with those dependent creatures who share their planet. What is surprising is that animals have been accorded any decent treatment at all, considering the overwhelmingly dominant attitude, from the earliest of times, that animals could be used, abused, and even tormented, at the utterly capricious will of man. Absent from the history of ideas has been even a semi-plausible notion to the contrary, let alone a defensible, fully integrated universal theory of Animal Rights.
The problem of understanding Animal Rights antedated Lewis Gompertz by thousands of years, and begins with the Book of Genesis: “And God said: Let us make our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion 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.” Later, after the flood, “. . . Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar, and the Lord smelled the sweet savour . . . .” To express his gratitude, “God . . . blessed Noah and his sons and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all wherewith the ground teemeth, and upon the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.”
In short, the view expressed by scripture was that animals were put on earth by God to be used by man.
The predominant Greek attitude, as expressed by its most influential philosopher, Aristotle, was no better: “. . . we may infer that, after the birth of animals, plants exist for their sake, and that the other animals exist for the sake of man, the tame for use and food, the wild, if not all, at least the greater part of them, for food, and for the provision of clothing and various instruments. Now if nature makes nothing incomplete . . . and nothing in vain, the inference must be that she has made all animals for the sake of man.”
As to the attitude of the Romans, one need only recall history’s bloody forerunner to today’s bullfights and rodeo —the Coliseum—where no distinction was made between animal and human victims.
When pagan Rome gave way to Christianity, men may have fared better, but Christian charity was not extended to animals. Indeed, early Christian thought seems obediently to echo the Genesis thesis: Animals exist merely to serve man’s needs.
Hundreds of years passed, with no discernible change in attitudes toward animals. With the advent of St. Thomas Aquinas in the 1200s, the concept of animal servitude was reinforced. Aquinas, drawing on the Old Testament and on Aristotle, not surprisingly concluded that since all things are given by God to the power of man, the former’s dominion over animals is complete.
Aquinas’ theory of dominion says nothing, one way or the other, about the nature of the animals being dominated, but renowned Christian philosopher-mathematician Rene Descartes had a great deal to say on that subject. He held that animals were automatons—literally. He asserted that lacking a Christian “soul,” they possessed no consciousness. Lacking a consciousness, he concluded, they experienced neither pleasure nor pain. His conclusion was a convenient one: It allowed him to rationalize dissection of unanesthetized living creatures.
Although Descartes’s hideous experiments purportedly were done to advance the knowledge of anatomy, they properly earn him a place in history as the Seventeenth Century soul mate of Twentieth-Century Josef Mengele, the Nazi concentration camp doctor who experimented on human beings.
Although the existence of the dominant Genesis-Aristotle-Descartes view of animals, and the resultant lack of an appropriate theory of Animal Rights, is reason enough to explain more than fifteen-hundred years of man’s maltreatment of animals, there is a related explanation: During this same period, there was no appropriate theory of the Rights of Man.
From the days of the Pharaohs to the threshold of modern philosophy in the 1600s, man’s status fell into one of two categories: Oppressor or Oppressed. The tyrants of Egypt had much in common with the despots of feudal Europe; the Hebrew slaves who built the pyramids, with the serfs who tilled their lords’ estates. It is not surprising that cultures which regarded some men as other men’s chattels would treat animals, at best, as plants, and, at worst, as inanimate objects. Accordingly, when man’s lot improved, the lot of animals also improved, albeit very slightly.
The historical turning-point for the Rights of Man came with the 18th Century’s Age of Enlightenment. Although throughout the world it was still a time of utterly immoral human slavery, it was also a time of Adam Smith and laissez-faire capitalism, of John Locke, and of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Selective mankind was recognized, at least by some, to possess inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By no means had the world’s ideas about liberty changed, but a fresh wind was blowing for mankind, one which would soon lead to the creation of a new Nation—one, as Lincoln would say nearly a century later, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Surely, it is more than coincidence that at about the same time, thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Pope, Bentham and Gompertz were critically questioning man’s maltreatment of animals.
Yet, despite these questions, for another two centuries the lot of animals did not improve noticeably, even in the civilized world, because the attitudes of most people remained rooted in the ideas of Genesis, Aristotle, and Descartes.
Before change could come, these ideas had to be discredited and discarded. Although it was a long gestation, finally, in the last quarter-century, a handful of philosophers, scientists, theologians, and lawyers—among them Brigid Brophy, Andrew Linzey, Richard Ryder, Peter Singer, Gary Francione, David Favre, Steven M. Wise and many others—have launched broadside attacks on the basic ideas which for so long have served to rationalize man’s brutalization of the only other living species with whom he shares this planet.
But as important as those attacks are, merely exposing fallacies and immoralities does not itself constitute propounding anything affirmative. Recognizing this, those Animal Rights activists and many others have begun to build that affirmative, defensible theory of Animal Rights. And as they do, the Animal lawyers will continue developing new theories, laws, statutes and tactics to help the movement along.
Still, the moral question remains: By what right can humans treat companion animals—or for that matter, any animals—as if they were soulless automata, existing solely for man’s pleasure?
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