Great news! Virginia is one step closer to tougher animal fighting laws.
On a 40-0 vote, SB 26, a bill drafted by ALDF to combat animal fighting, was passed by the Virginia Senate late Tuesday and is now heading to the Virginia House for approval.
Last August, ALDF approached Virginia legislators asking them to back a proposed law that, if in place, could send dogfighters like Michael Vick to jail for up to 40 years on a first conviction. ALDF drafted a recommended amendment to Virginia state law that would enable prosecutors to charge dogfighters under the state RICO ("Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act") statute. RICO—a very powerful tool that prosecutors can use to combat organized criminal operations—is commonly used to address a wide variety of organized criminal efforts, including drug dealing, gambling, and trading in child pornography.
Read more about how lawmakers are standing up to protect animals.
Recently, while reading the local newspaper, a well-written letter to the editor regarding an environmental issue caught my attention. The author’s name seemed familiar, and since she resides in the same small town as one of my coworkers, I asked him if he knew her. Thinking he probably did and that she must be a like-minded person, I was surprised when he said, "I don’t know her personally, but she’s an environmentalist/progressive-type. However, she is vehemently against animal rights."
Now I must confess to being (and probably looking) confused at first, since the words "progressive" and "against animal rights" seem like a contradiction in terms. But when he explained by saying, "You know, THAT kind of progressive," I unfortunately knew exactly what kind of person he meant.
There is a very vocal group of self-proclaimed "progressives" and "environmentalists" who, for reasons I can only guess, are not supportive of most animal protection efforts. I will try my best to describe this group and its overlapping subgroups, as follows:
- The "progressives" who believe that it’s all about the quantity of animals, not the quality of life for an individual animal. The people in this group are typically located within the larger environmental or conservation groups, and often proudly wear the "environmentalist" badge. The quality of an animal’s life is not important to them, as long as there are still plenty of that species. Apparently, it’s of no consequence that the "one deer" killed by a hunter had a life of his or her own before coming within range of a high powered rifle. This mentality is also found in some established environmental/conservation organizations; an example is the World Wildlife Fund’s "no opposition" stance regarding the bludgeoning of baby seals.
- The "progressives" who conveniently ignore the devastation that the animal agricultural industry has wrought on the environment. Let’s be honest - these are the people who are terrified you will rip that juicy steak (organic or not) from their dinner plate, so they choose to ignore the blatant animal suffering that takes place within the industry. The irony of it is that by doing so, they don’t even adhere to their own environmental standards. They ignore the fact that it takes far more resources to raise livestock (yes, even organically raised livestock) than it would to use the same land to grow crops for people. Even the United Nations gets it; in a 2006 report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states, "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." The report goes on to say that regarding climate change, "The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport."
- The "progressives" who believe that a person cannot care about human rights while simultaneously caring about animal rights. People from this group will criticize any attempt to help animals with comments such as, "You care more about animals than people!" This one really perplexes me. It doesn’t take advanced multi-tasking skills to support human-focused rights groups while still supporting animal-focused rights groups, and most animal advocates favor efforts to improve human rights. The difference is they don’t stop at humans; their hearts are big enough to feel compassion for everyone, whether two- or four-legged.
- The "progressives" who say that humans are predators just like wolves and bears and hawks – so therefore have the "right" to prey on other animals. This mentality completely ignores the fact that we 21st century humans can choose what we eat, in a way that a hawk or a bear or a wolf cannot. These people also love to point out how gruesome a death the prey animal suffers when killed by wild predators, to justify humans killing animals in brutal, inhumane ways. It’s the "Hey, it’s just nature" defense. My response: what on earth is natural about a factory farm, or a well-fed human who hunts with a scoped, long-range rifle?
- The "progressives" who say that since there is no way we can avoid killing bacteria and amoebas and insects with every step we take, we should therefore not help any animals at all. Besides being preposterous, this is the saddest justification of all. Talk about defeatism! The thinking is this: since we all end up doing some harm no matter how careful we are, we therefore shouldn’t try to alleviate suffering where we can. A dangerous idea indeed.
So why is this group truly not supportive of animal protection efforts, even efforts that so obviously benefit the environment? I think it all comes down to fear. First and foremost, they are afraid to change their lives. They cling to the "As long as it’s sustainable, I can buy/use/consume it" mentality so they don’t have to think about the suffering they’re supporting, and therefore won’t have to change their habits. I also think they’re afraid of that pesky "tree-hugging hippie" stereotype they’ve worked so hard to overcome. Perhaps they fear that if they show that they care about animals, this stereotype will be perpetuated. So, they go on the offensive and lash out at animal advocates, calling us "overly-sentimental Bambi lovers" (or worse).
I know that the thought of changing one’s personal habits can be daunting, but I and many other people are living proof that it can be done with a minimum of inconvenience. And one can easily combine the following two beliefs – the right of a species to not perish, and the right of an individual to exist free from harm. Many people support both tenets, quite easily - it truly doesn’t have to be either/or!
Our nation recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Dr. King once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." I commend what has been done so far to improve the lives of humans, endangered animals and the planet we all inhabit. But I also issue this challenge to progressives everywhere: we are all connected, so please, try expanding your compassion to include all living beings, not just humans and not just certain populations of wild animals.
After all, if compassion is absent, our progressive ideals become anything but.
For more information about the devastating environmental effects of meat production, read this recent NY Times article:
Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler
The New York Times, January 28, 2008
Today, the world had the opportunity to meet many of the dogs once owned by former Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick for the first time since they were seized from Vick's dogfighting operation last year. The rescued dogs made their debut back into the world by showing that all dogs, even pit bulls who have been used for dogfighting, are as much individuals as any other sentient being. Despite a life of neglect, torture and abuse while on Vick's property, and then months of confinement while in shelters as the case worked its way through the court system, many of these resilient dogs are now living in foster homes with other pets and some, with children.
Learn more about the evaluation process, their journey to new homes and how they are doing now...
The power to act for animals – to work for change on behalf of the voiceless – is within all of us. It does not require a vast amount of knowledge, although understanding the abuses animals suffer will make you more effective. Activism does not demand a lot of time, either: you can make a difference even if you limit your involvement to an hour a month. You needn’t be an extrovert or polished speaker – although such traits may come in handy and indeed may develop as you become more accustomed to addressing friends and the public about animal issues.
Animal activism only requires a desire to help and that you follow that desire with action.
You may wonder if animal activism itself is even worth it. Does it have an impact at all? Since 1950, worldwide meat consumption has increased more than fivefold. A rise in the Earth’s population can account for some of that expansion, but such a spike occurring concurrently with an increase in animal-rights activism and vegan outreach is troubling at the very least. Worldwide, an estimated fifty-five billion animals are now raised and killed for their flesh each year. How are we to account for this? Part of the answer lies in how animals have come to be mass produced, commodified and marketed in the last half century. Today’s industrialized farming practices mean that most of the pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, turkeys, goats and other animals raised and slaughtered for food are regarded as little more than units in a massive corporate enterprise designed to make meat, eggs and dairy as cheap and accessible to consumers as possible. Make no mistake: This is a multi-billion-dollar industry, giving the companies that exploit animals the deep pockets and political influence necessary to keep the killing machine moving forward at an ever-growing pace.
The same is true for businesses that use animals for their skin and fur, as well as for product testing, medical research and entertainment. Even the pet industry, which contributes to the constant cycle of breeding and selling, is responsible for making animals suffer.
Yet, animal activists do make a difference, and those who blatantly disregard animals are nervous. A recent editorial in Feedstuffs, the weekly agribusiness newspaper, reads: "Why are [animal activists] winning? It’s simple. They have their game together, while animal agriculture and its allies have a fragmented, hopelessly under-funded, ineffective, reactive approach. The activists are engaged and taking their campaign to chefs, foodservice managers, dairy and meat case managers and policymakers from city councils to the US Congress." (Feedstuffs, page 9, April 2, 2007.)
Animal activism is a struggle for change, and the reality is the human species is hard-wired to fear change. But we have two powerful weapons in this battle: the public’s innate sensitivity and a tremendous amount of animal abuse as evidence. Most people believe animal abuse is wrong; in fact, a 2003 Gallup poll found that ninety-six percent of people living in the US oppose cruelty to animals – I doubt you could find that level of unanimity on many other issues.
People are revolted by animal exploitation – once they learn about it. So, if we can educate people enough so that they can see that their daily choices are supporting practices that they actually oppose, then we can change them, one by one. And as more people change, eventually society will change.
Being an advocate for animals is not always a popular activity, but that should not dissuade you from doing what is right. Every social movement that had any impact – whether it’s the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement, civil rights, the child-protection movement or reforms for farm workers – was initially backed by a person or a group thought to represent the minority opinion, and those opposed to them tried to provoke the fear that overturning the status quo would lead to chaos: the end of slavery would result in economic ruin, granting women the right to vote or banning child labor would weaken national strength, passing laws against child abuse would dissolve families and so on. Animal-rights activists are now hearing the same sort of nonsense from those who profit by abusing animals. According to them, the only way to feed the world, cure diseases or advance scientific knowledge is by using animals. To them, animals are not sentient individuals with their own interests, but commodities to be exploited for human profit, amusement, convenience or taste.
The time is ripe for change. More defenseless beings than ever before are suffering and in need of a voice. All we need are the passionate humans to turn these opportunities into dramatic improvements for billions of animals.
Remember: Reform simply does not occur when people stand idly by.
Mark's newly released book, "Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism," shows how anyone can put their compassion into action.
My husband doesn’t want to hear about my work at the end of the day. Oh sure, he is proud of the work we do here at ALDF, but he doesn’t want to--cannot bear to--hear about the heartbreak of animals suffering and dying due to illegal cruelty and neglect occurring in the cases we work on all across this country. On the occasions when he inadvertently steps into the room as I am reviewing photos of dogs with missing eyes or broken jaws sitting in unbelievable filth, or horses so thin you can count every bone on their skeleton while they chew on a wood fencepost for food, he turns tail and runs back out again and talks to me from the hallway. Sometimes I start telling him about a new legal strategy we are thinking of using and in the course of the discussion I slip into a description of the torture an animal has endured and he slaps his hands over his ears. Oops.
Animal cruelty is hard to hear about, even harder to witness in person or in photos, especially the first time you come across it. As a former prosecutor and now an animal advocate I’ve seen my share of gore and learned to deal with it in order to do my job. But it isn’t an easy thing to get to that point, and every once in a while a photograph of a hurt whiskered face or a written investigative report of an animal’s lengthy death process breaks through my crusty shell and breaks me down. Frequently when people find out what I do for a living, they say they don’t understand how I can do it, face all that horror every day. My response is always that it’s easier to face it and try to do something to help these poor creatures than to do nothing at all.
However, I certainly do understand that many folks want to help without having to endure seeing the things we see here, and we appreciate all of you who do so by either writing to us or to the officials listed in our Actionline cases, or by donating your legal expertise or dollars so we can be your eyes and ears in the field. So go ahead, avert your eyes if you must, just do something else constructive instead. The animals will thank you, and so will I.