A few days ago some nice lady wrote me to tell me that there were over 700 comments on an article of mine on care2.com about how we have not evolved to eat animals. In typical fashion, the commentators of Care2 went completely off topic, some apparently looking to discredit me by claiming that my keeping of adopted hens was hypocritical to my position on animal rights. Then today I received a message from one of these commentators, asking me to clarify my position on keeping animals as companions and how it contradicts her understanding of some animal bill of rights which prohibits humans from having animal companions. Here is the main part of her message and my response:
The commentator’s message to me:
… how can you justify keeping chickens while promoting animal rights? Whether they are rescues or not, you enjoy interacting with them, their beauty, their behaviour, and no doubt their rich poop in your garden. According to the Bill of Animal Rights, that’s personal gain, and both “enslavement” and “exploitation”. I presume you lock them up at night, to protect them from predators and the cold night temperatures? That’s “incarceration”, according to the Bill. I do not support the Bill: I think it is insane. I think people have reached a stage of empathy and intelligence because of our close contact with animals – mostly the animals of higher intelligence, which happen to be carnivores. Animal abolitionists want to end all ownership of all animals, and you are promoting that while keeping and enjoying chickens. This strikes me as extremely hypocritical, but I would be pleased to hear your side of the issue.
Sure. I’d be happy to explain what I believe on this subject. I’m not sure what animal bill of rights you are referring to but, regardless, I do not believe in any way that humans must stop interacting in all ways with other species in order to honor our moral obligation to them. That would be about as ridiculous as holding the position that humans must not interact with other humans simply due to the fact that we abolished human slavery. Our socially acceptable relationship with other humans is no longer one of master and slave. We can also interact with animals in the same way without the need to own them as property.
Look, the fundamental belief behind animal abolition is simply that animals are not our property, our resource to buy and sell, any more than humans are. Instead, they have an inherent value of their own, and they value their own life, regardless of what we think their life is worth to us.
The current property status of animals ensures that their property owners will have the right to do with their animal property whatever they see fit. In the case of chickens, consider a recent case of a chicken farm in California where the owner, claiming he could no longer afford to stay in business, left his flock of 50,000 egg laying hens stuck in battery cages to die of slow starvation, one of the most painful forms of death in which each organ fails slowly. When the animal rescue efforts discovered the situation and got access to the farm, they found most of the birds emaciated and starved to death and some suffocated in their own excrement. About 4,000 were rescued and re-homed to sanctuaries. Indeed it went down in history as the largest animal rescue effort in California history. For details, see http://freefromharm.org/animal-cruelty-investigation/biggest-animal-rescue-effort-in-california-history-a-must-see-video/.
Now the fact that animals continue to be bred as commodities by some who profit from this activity does not change our moral obligation to them from the abolitionist position. The belief is that it is our responsibility to care for those domesticated animals that are already here, those that exist as a direct result of our deliberate breeding practices. We brought them into this world in the first place and so it is therefore 100% our responsibility to provide for their needs.
If we seek to have companion animals in our lives, we should adopt and not buy. Those that buy animals as pets rather than adopt one of the millions that are in shelters waiting to die, are supporting an industry that simply profits from breeding animals as commodities, contributing to overpopulation and suffering, all so some breeders can turn a profit. It also reinforces the mindset of animals as objects, commodities. But animals are not objects. Animals are sentient beings. We are animals too, just a different species, and should honor their right to live free of exploitation. That’s the basis of animal rights.
To highlight the difference between owner and guardian, consider this analogy of child rearing. When raising children, we must have them do certain things against their will. We must have them go to bed at certain times, eat certain foods to keep them healthy, go to school, etc. — even if they don’t want to do these things. This is all considered “the right way to raise them” so that they become responsible adults. Would you consider that immoral or “incarceration”? Of course not.
Now on the other hand, consider the scenario where child traffickers are exploiting children as property, buying and selling them on the black market. This is legally and morally unacceptable. Now, consider what happens when we replace children as the victims with animals. Just because the victims are another species does not somehow give us a right to use them as property and yet today the status of animals as property ensures that they will be treated in any way we see fit. But we don’t have to own them as property. We can be guardians of those animals already in need of a loving home, giving them a second chance at life, providing for their needs and having loving relationships with them. Ask yourself, if you were a domesticated animal, which scenario would you prefer? How would you want to be viewed, treated?
So to conclude, it is not wrong to care and interact with animals in my opinion. It enriches our lives, as you say. Part of caring for their needs means keeping them in protected quarters, protected from predators obviously. My chickens go willingly into their coop at sundown. I lock up the doors behind them. They come out in the morning to enjoy the day in the yard. This is part of providing for their basic needs while allowing them to express their natural behavior as much as possible. Failure to care for them in such a manner would be neglect — the opposite of the animal rights position I know that seeks to protect and provide for animals who depend on us for their very survival.
Those that “incarcerate” (to use your expression) animals and force them to produce a resource for them are simply using them as commercial property. If and when this form of animal slavery is abolished, then an end to the breeding of animals to serve as commodities, including the breeding of millions of unwanted pets who end up in shelters, will do much to address the problem of animal suffering and overpopulation that we see on such a massive scale today.