Animal Myths, Animal Rights, Animal Welfare
Propaganda: "Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view." (Propaganda is not the same thing as information that is researched, factual or truthful.)
Sometime during the liberation movement that swept the country in the 1970's and 1980's, animal advocate organizations became animal rights organizations. As with other evolving social movements, the idea was that animals needed to be liberated from people, who owned them, abused them, and exploited them.
By suggesting in their public statements and fund-raising the idea that animal abuse is widespread, even epidemic, among animal owners – an idea that research does not support – rhese assertions have created an atmosphere of distrust and division and polarized the animal world, much as some politicians have polarized the political world.
This way of shaping public opinion is becoming familiar to all of us – if people lie often enough and loudly enough, plenty of people will believe them just because it was what they wanted to hear. Facts don't matter, truth becomes fluid.
This movement was to have a profound and divisive impact on animals and people who supported them. The new animal rights movement has been devastating to animals and to so many of the people who have loved them, cared for them, lived with them and worked with them. The animal welfare movement was not polarized, animal lovers shared a common ethos: improve the lives of animals.
The animal rights movement has been true to its roots and promises, removing ponies from farmer's markets, working carriage horses from cities, greyhound dogs from race tracks, lions, tigers and elephants from zoos, sled dogs from races. They buy politicians and skillfully manipulate the ever manipulable media.
Dogs and cats have been removed from the homeless, the elderly and the poor, people with jobs and low fences. Farmers all across America pen their cows and other animals in barns, hide them from the road to fend off the legions of secret informers scouring the land for abusers.
In the last few decades, more than half of the animal species in the world have vanished, animals are now disappearing from our world at 10,000 times their previous rate. Our leading animal advocates continue a massively-funded national campaign to remove domesticated animals from work, from people, from the world.
Their latest target – a campaign that lasted many years and cost tens of millions of dollars – and their latest victim – was Ringling Brothers Circus, along with the many elephants who will perish, and the hundreds of people who have lost their jobs, their homes and their way of life. Animal rights ideologues do not just kill and endanger animals, they kill ways of life and countless jobs.
I have been researching – investigating, I suppose – this movement for the past few years, ever since I became involved in the ugly war against the New York Carriage horses and drivers. I have talked to veterinarians, behaviorists, writers and reporters, the police, animal rights activists, farmers, carriage drivers, elephant trainers, lawyers and animal trainers. The experience has been transforming.
The animal rights movement, like many current political movements, is an ideological, not animal welfare-based liberation movement. It essentially believes that animals do not belong with people, should not be owned by people, entertain people, or live among them. As has happened in politics, the extreme elements of the animal rights movement has become a social marketing movement. It does not save or protect or rescue animals, it collects enormous amounts of money – as do political organizations – by abandoning facts and truth for accusation and zealotry.
It is built on propagated myths, if not outright lies. It generally rejects any form of science, expertise or research. Like climate deniers, it simply clings to its own often manufactured facts and eschews reasoning or rationality. Unlike the animal welfare ethos that preceded it, it does not advance the welfare or well-being of domesticated animals, it mostly campaigns to remove them from their historic work with people, often their very reason for being.
Here are some of the myths that i have encountered and researched:
MYTH: (Those Conservation Centers) The ponies, carriage horses, elephants and other working animals removed from their owners and humans are all sent to mystical conservation centers, where there is unlimited space, money and resources to care for them the rest of their natural lives.
Try this out yourself. When someone tells you the elephants from the circus are all going to rescue centers where they will live idyllic lives to their natural end, ask them to name the centers and their resources and tell you specifically who is going to pay for their care. You will wait a long time.
Ringling Brothers says it is taking 13 unemployed elephants to their elephant conservation center. The company can not financially support its two circuses, are they really going to pay $800 a day for decades for a herd of Asian elephants that are no longer permitted to work and live for up to 40 years?
There are scores, if not hundreds of Asian elephants in peril when Ringling Brothers closes, and other circuses bend to animal rights pressure, as Ringling Brothers did, and stops using elephants in circuses.
The animal rights groups seeking to ban the New York Carriage Horses swore again and again that every one of the 200 horses affected would go to a rescue preserve and be cared for all of their lives. They have never named a single one, not in years of making that pledge. (Animal rescue preserves are overwhelmed, underfunded, crowded. They take sick and old and abandoned animals, not young and healthy horses and elephants. And very few of those.)
MYTH: (Animals Are Better Off Standing Idly For The Rest Of Their Lives) Is it really better for working animals to languish idly in preserves than work with people in population centers? This is a myth, continuously debunked by veterinarians, behaviorists, trainers and animal lovers. Unlike the armies of the righteous who study Facebook and Twitter posts from their living rooms, these people actually live and work with and study animals and know them.
Working animals on preserves suffer greatly from being taken from the humans they know and love, from being separated from their habits and familiar routines, from muscles that atrophy. Many trainers say this is the worst form of abuse for working animals.
Working animals get dumb and disoriented when they have no decisions to make, no people to interact with, no variations in pace or scenery, no new things to acclimate to, nothing at all to do but eat and drop manure. One animal trainer after another will tell you that working horses and elephants are the luckiest animals in the world.
MYTH: (Back To Nature) Animals should be released from their work and sent back to the wild. There is no wild, and it is rarely, if ever, a safer or better place for domesticated animals than the circus or Central Park. The wild is virtually gone on the earth, ruined by poachers, climate change and development. Animals face the elements, untreated disease, predators, starvation, fights within tribes, attacks from hunters, accidents.
According to the animal rights movement and their legions of naive followers, almost everyone who works with animals, trains them or profits from them is an animal abuser, cruel and unfeeling. The enemy. The animal rights decision to demonize animal lovers is a catastrophe for animals, it separates them from their most empathetic and determined advocates.
Animal rights is a political concept. Animal welfare actually took those donations and used them to better the lives of animals – the carriage horses drink every day from the low and beautiful fountains provided by the A.S.P.C.A. before it became a pliant subsidiary of P.E.T.A., which does not save animals, it removes them and destroys jobs, livelihoods and the way of life of many people.
MYTH: (It Is Demeaning For Them To Entertain Us)It has become an article of faith that it is cruel and exploitive – more abuse – for animals to entertain or uplift people.There is no scientific or other evidence to support this very new and poorly considered idea. No one has profited from this notion more than animal rights organizations, who have raised many millions of dollars over the bodies of abused animals.
I believe it is an instinct of domesticated animals to entertain and uplift and protect people, I have seen it in every animal I have owned and lived with – every donkey, dog, pony, even the barn cats. Watch any human who is happy and the dog or horse or elephant near them, they are sensitive to our moods and read them well. They can lift our spirits, and they react to our spirits. Just put aside the propaganda videos and letters for a moment and look at the animals in your own life or around you. They love to entertain us, the working animals live to work with us are happy when we are happy, sad when we are sad, nervous when we are edgy or angry.
When I am happy, or laugh or smile, my dogs react, they jump for joy, run in circles, bark in excitement. This is important, for them and for me.
(I should say that killer whales are not domesticated animals, have not worked with people, and it seems unethical to me to keep them in captivity for the amusement of people in profit-making parks.)
Since the dawn of time, animals have been elevating the moods of complex and troubled human beings, that is, I believe, an instinct firmly embedded in their genetic biology. There is no human history without animal history. Human life is not complete without animal life, and vice versa, especially when we are consider domesticated animals like horses and elephants and dogs, who have lived among human beings since the beginning of recorded history.
The animal rights movement considers the uplifting of human beings by animals to be abuse on the level of a crime. I do not share that view, nor, I think, do most of the people who know and love animals. It is a tragic evolution from animal welfare to animal extinction, another loss of a timeless and beloved way for animals to stay in our world safely and be cared for.
What are domesticated animals for? To languish unseen in private preserves and the back yards of the rich?
People who work with animals or make a living by working them are, ipso facto, animal abusers. This dehumanizes their targets and opponents and make it easier and more popular to attack them. Since they are cruel and uncaring, why defend them or care what happens to them? I can tell you from the heart, these are not evil people. They are you, they are me.
MYTH: (Abuse Is The Story) There is surprisingly little research done on the extent of animal abuse in America, for all of the talk about it. Animal rights groups claim it is epidemic and invoked it continuously to destroy Ringling Brothers. The serious research – done by groups like the American Veterinary Association and authors like James Serpell (The Domestic Dog) Of The University of Pennsylvania, has largely been ignored.
These studies have found that abuse exists, but tends to be overestimated and exaggerated.
In my own extensive but not scientific research, I have talked with many carriage drivers, pony ride operators, circus trainers and animal welfare workers. I do not believe most people acquire animals to torture and abuse them, especially people who work with them frequently.
But the many people I have met and seen and spoken with love their animals dearly and would not countenance being anywhere near work that abuses them. I know many farmers, I do not know a one that does not love animals.
It is a cruel travesty to brand these people – carriage drivers, circus workers, pony ride operators, farmers – animal abusers.
Abuse occurs, and is illegal, and should be punished. It is a part of the story of animals in America, it is not the whole story.
But it has become the driving focus of the animal rights movement and distracted us from the truly urgent issues facing animals in our world – namely, survival. The best chance for domesticated animals to remain in our world is to find meaningful and humane activity among us, from work to companionship to entertainment and the lifting up of human spirits. Animals comfort us and make us smile. That is no crime.
The animal rights movement has devoted itself to destroying those opportunities for animals to survive. We need a better and wiser understanding of animals than this, if they are to survive.
MYTH: (Everything On The Internet Is True) I am almost embarrassed to have to write this, but it is necessary. Not everything you see and read on the Internet is true, especially the claims of animal rights or political or other organizations seeking your money and support. The Internet is flooded daily with animal abuse videos – a kind of animal porn. People are drawn to watching and sharing them, and sending money. I have personally investigated at least a score of these videos – some relating to the carriage horse controversy and a few to the elephants in the circuses.
The videos teach us to hate and mistrust people, especially those who work with animals. They don't do much of anything for the animals.
Some are blatantly false, simply staged and contrived. Some come from foreign countries. Some represented individual cases of mistreatment, which certainly occur. Some show accidents.
But it distorts reality to suggest they represent the behavior of all animal owners, or everyone working in a business or trade.
A video of an elephant being beaten is evidence that the person beating him or her ought to be charged and arrested and punished. It is not evidence that everyone who works with an elephant is an abuser, or ought to lose their jobs. It is not a reason to shut down the circus.
But for many who are far away, the image of abuse is the one that endures.
In our country, our tradition is that we punish the guilty, not the innocent.
More than 800 circus workers will lose their livelihood and perhaps their homes when the circuses shut down this May. Not a single one has been accused or convicted of abusing an elephant. The same principle applies to the videos of tortured and dying carriage horses, no one really knows where most of them come from.
These videos raise an enormous amount of money, and are suspect for that alone, but there is simply no way to draw such generalized conclusions from them. The poor viewer seeing an elephant or horse beaten has no way of ascertaining how widespread this behavior is, or knowing that it is, in fact, not the universal fate of animals. Few animals in the world are treated as well as animals in America, there is little talk about that.
MYTH: (Ringling Brothers Has Been Convicted Of Abusing Its Elephants) Ringling Brothers has not been convicted of a single case of elephant abuse in modern times. They have, in fact, been widely praised by veterinarians for the care they provide the elephants. Yet it is quite common for people on Facebook to knowingly assert that their animals are being abused, and okay for so many people to lose their jobs. They were not convicted of wrongdoing, they were harassed out of existence.
That is not justice, for animals, or for people.
Animals do not need or benefit from myth or propaganda. It is the moral duty of animal lovers and animal advocates to know and understand them, seek out the truth about them, and make the best decisions for their safety, well-being and survival. Myths are good for raising money and arousing anger, not much else.
The truth still matters. And animals desperately need for the truth to be told.