Animal shelters in this country exist for primarily one purpose: to provide a safety-net of care for our nation’s homeless animals. With half of all animals entering our shelters being killed rather than given the new beginning that they not only deserve, but which the No Kill movement has proven unequivocally is possible, to say that most of our animal shelters are failing in their mission is a gross understatement. But the betrayal goes even deeper than the killing, although by far that is the greatest harm. Because in addition to taking the lives of four million animals a year, animal shelters in this country are rife with abuse and neglect as well. Why? Because they kill.
Studies of slaughterhouse workers have found that in order to cope with the fact that they are paid to kill day in and day out, self-preservation motivates those workers to devalue animals in order to make what they are doing less morally reprehensible. In other words, the workers make the animals unworthy of any consideration on their behalf. The two most common methods of achieving this are indifference to animal suffering and even intensifying it, becoming sadistic toward the animals. In too many communities, the implications for shelters are frightening: American shelters are themselves frequently little more than slaughterhouses. By its very nature, therefore, shelter killing breeds a lack of compassion and caring for animals.
And not only do people in shelters work at a place that commits this ultimate form of violence, they have, in fact, been hired to do exactly that. Can we really be surprised when they don’t clean thoroughly, don’t feed the animals, handle them too roughly, or neglect and abuse them? How does shoddy cleaning or rough handling or failing to feed the animals compare with putting an animal to death? Because shelter workers understand that they have the power to kill shelter animals, and will in fact kill many of them, every interaction they have with those animals is influenced by their perception that the animals do not matter, that their lives are cheap and expendable and that they are destined for the garbage heap.
The tragic state of American animal shelters proves that when the harm of killing animals is permissible, other kinds of harm are fostered as well. And that is why the historical distinction between “animal rights” and “animal welfare” is a false one. Where there is no respect for life, there is no regard for welfare.
Indeed, the right to life should be the bedrock of any movement that claims to be rights-based, as the animal rights movement by its very name, does. Not only because each animal, like each of us, has an inalienable right to life, but because all the other things the animal protection movement claims to be seeking on behalf of animals are impossible without that first and most essential right. Without the right to life, no other “rights” can be guaranteed. How can we ensure animals the right to food, water, shelter and kind treatment, when those things can be taken away by killing?
Yet tragically, there is not a single, large national animal protection organization that represents a consistent moral philosophy for animals, one that advocates that animals have both a right to be free from suffering and a right to live. The ASPCA doesn’t. The Humane Society of the United States doesn’t. PETA doesn’t. And the American Humane Association doesn’t. And so their philosophy and actions on behalf of animals are inconsistent, sloppy, harmful and ultimately deadly.
With one hand, PETA passes out literature encouraging people to go vegan while the other hand injects thousands of animals, even species of animals raised for food, with a fatal dose of poison. HSUS claims to oppose the clubbing of baby seals in front of their mother, but gives a “Shelter We Love” award to a shelter where employees placed a mother cat and her kitten into a gas chamber with a raccoon so that they could watch the animals fight before turning on the gas, killing those animals slowly and painfully and laughing while they did so. The ASPCA’s makes millions on their now infamous commercials promising to protect abused and neglected animals in need even as they send the neediest of animals dropped on their doorstep down the street to be killed at one of the most abusive and filthy shelters in the nation and have allowed dogs to starve to death all over New York City. And last but by no means least, the American Humane Association, an organization that claims to be the “the nation’s voice for the protection of animals,” not only trains people to kill healthy companion animals with their “Euthanasia by Injection” workshops (“hands-on” workshops where living animals are killed) but condones, encourages and enables the suffering of millions of animals raised for food with their sham “Certified Humane” label which perpetuates the myth of humane meat.
Which of these harms would be permissible were these organizations to authentically represent a true animal rights philosophy, one that recognizes the inherent right to live of every animal? None of them. How could they justify their actions which lead to animal suffering and death in light of a concomitant belief that animals, like people, have an unalienable right to live? They couldn’t. And yet, paradoxically, because we criticize these groups for moral inconsistency that sabotages our cause and for actions that they take which undermine rather than further the rights and well-being of animals, we are constantly attacked by the very people who should share our concerns: our fellow animal rights activists and vegans.
We want those who claim to be vegan—who claim to care about the plight of animals raised for food—but who condemn us for criticizing the large, national groups they love for the actions they take which brutally harm companion animals to see what, exactly, they are enabling when they defend groups which claim to speak for animals but do not promote their right to live. We want them to see how they don’t just hurt dogs and cats whose lives and rights they so casually discard, but how they enable the suffering and killing of animals they do claim to care about—chickens, cows and pigs. We want them to see the crimes against animals which a belief in the myth of a “humane death” enables and which they, in turn, further enable by promoting the groups that champion such a myth.
Read Part II of this article.
This text originally appears on the All American Vegan website under the name of The Myth of Animal Welfare. Free from Harm is publishing this original piece in two parts. Part II will publish on June 14th.