The other night my mother sent me a disturbing email. She had just read that Herceptin, a cancer-fighting drug she took when she had breast cancer a few years ago, is made from Chinese hamster ovaries. She had always assumed that it was a synthetic concoction. She asked me if I had known this information during her treatment, and if I had kept it from her so I wouldn’t add to the huge amount of stress and fear that she was already dealing with at the time.
I confess that I did not know anything about the drug or how it is made. And after doing some further investigating, it appears that the ovarian cells, while no doubt originally taken from hamsters at some point, are genetically reproduced in a lab without actually using the hamsters or ovaries themselves. Although I was relieved to discover that millions of hamsters are not killed for their reproductive organs, her email got me thinking: if the drug really was made from hamster ovaries and I had known it at the time, what would I have done? Would I have pointed this out to my mom, heaping guilt on top of the other painful, frightening emotions she was feeling? Would I have taken the risk that telling my mother, and her possible refusal to take the drug, could have led to her suffering and death? How could I, as her daughter, have ever lived with myself had that happened?
But on the other hand, how could I have not told her? She would have had the right to know, wouldn’t she? And what about the millions of animals who are purposely given cancer in laboratories or are otherwise used in cruel pharmaceutical tests, including for the same drug she took? Where are their rights? Aren’t their lives important? Having once been the adoptive parent of two domestic rats, I know how sensitive they are, and it’s unbearable to imagine the pain they must suffer.
Of course, we who want to protect animals and who therefore try to follow a certain code of ethics say that their lives do count, and that they should have the right to not be used, abused and exploited. But “doing the right thing” sure doesn’t seem quite so crystal clear when we’re talking about our loved ones taking a drug that quite possibly could save their lives.
My mother is the person from whom I inherited a desire to protect animals from suffering, and she seems to have inherited this trait from her mother. My mom was the brave little girl who stood up to the (big) neighborhood bully, threatening to hit him with her lunchbox when he refused to stop shooting birds with his bb gun. She is someone who refused to eat poultry after seeing a chicken slaughtered on a family farm in Michigan when she was a child. And she is someone who told my aunt, the matriarch of the family, that she could not bring her fur coat into our house one cold Christmas Eve when I was young. (You can imagine how that went over.)
My mom ended her recent email to me by saying that it must sometimes be difficult for me to sleep at night, knowing all the things I know about animal cruelty. She said that this knowledge must be, in her words, “a blessing and a curse - a blessing to know and make better choices, and a curse to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues.” In some ways, I think she’s right. I’m glad I know about these things, but sometimes I think that ignorance would indeed be bliss. It’s not always easy to face the smaller ethical dilemmas, much less the bigger, life-or-death ones.
For example, the holidays are just around the corner. For many of us, ethical issues, especially concerning food, become front and center during the holiday season. Do you attend the Thanksgiving feast with the turkey carcass as the table centerpiece, or do you give up spending the day with your loved ones so you can eat dinner with like-minded, vegetarian friends? Do you go to Uncle Bob’s house to spend the holidays with him and his mounted dead deer heads on the wall, or do you skip seeing him because you just can’t stomach hearing yet another hunting story (and seeing the evidence hanging on his wall)? If you’re vegan, do you eat those buttered vegetables that your well-meaning but obviously clueless Aunt Marge specially provided for you, scraping off as much butter as possible (but no doubt eating some), in order to recognize her efforts and maintain family harmony? Or do you stay true to your beliefs and refuse to eat them?
When these big or small moral questions inevitably pop up from time to time, I think the important thing is that we do the best we can and make these decisions with compassion. That includes compassion for ourselves and each other, when there just isn’t a perfect choice to make and we are forced to choose the lesser of two (or three or four) evils.
However, we should never forget that the animals are counting on us to ask the tough questions and to stand up for them. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to make these decisions, but what the animals go through is much, much worse. The number of people who pause to consider these issues is growing every day, and that gives me hope. I am very fortunate to work with such a group of people at ALDF. I’m also grateful that my mom, who started me on my mission to help animals, is still with us, and continues to contribute her own unique form of compassion to the world.
Can I just say that if I hear someone say one more time “why is there such an outcry for animal cases when humans are hurt all the time and those cases don’t get the same outcry as animals” my head will explode? Because I am really just so sick of it, especially when it comes from folks who should know better, like police officers and prosecutors and even media commentators. Perhaps if they merely thought it through they’d see the answer, but allow me to express how I usually respond to such comments: I have enough compassion to empathize and be truly concerned about both kinds of cases—my compassion is not a finite amount, nor is it mutually exclusive in how it is expressed. How silly to suggest that folks like me would be any different! Perhaps it is the commentators themselves who are unable to care about or address more than one problem at a time.
My household includes both children and nonhuman animals, and I am deeply concerned about the world they live in now, and the one we’ll be leaving them. However, one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that our criminal and civil justice system was long ago set up to protect and accommodate human victims--even children and the mentally incompetent have innumerable laws and agencies and regulations protecting them, and they must have advocates appointed to represent their interests in court. We trust the courts will work to help them, as they’ve done for a long time, without any outcry needed.
But our courts are sorely lacking in even recognizing nonhuman animals, let alone protecting them or giving them any measure of justice. Changing that fact is my particular concern and passion, and that is what I spend my days working to improve, through better laws and educating those who work in the legal system. The fact I work for animals does not mean that I do not also hurt when I read about people who are hurt, or write letters or put my dollars toward those cases as well. My compassion cannot be compartmentalized.
In the meantime I and other like-minded folks understand that change for animals is still a long way off, and until it comes there will be a huge outcry when we see them harmed and those cases come to light, and I won’t apologize for it.
Now let’s go out there and make this a kinder, gentler world for all of the vulnerable creatures with whom we share it.
There has been no shortage of news and commentary about the Michael Vick case (including on ALDF’s website)! Nevertheless, here we go again. I’ll spare the rehash of the disgusting and depraved facts of the case. We’ve all heard them. And, while what Vick and his knuckle-dragging cohorts did was not only illegal but unimaginably heartless and cruel, I think the importance of this case must be measured in how we, the people, respond to it. Rarely is there such an opportunity to take the measure of the public’s outrage over cruelty to animals and its willingness to do something about it. So, to keep this brief, I’ll summarize some of what I learned:
1.) The public really, really cares about animals! This is the most heartening revelation to come from this case. I think everyone who cares about animals, from their family pet, to shelter dogs and cats, to farmed animals, felt the same surge of pride I did when this nation rose up en masse to express its outrage over Vick’s abuse of animals.
2.) There are way too many people who were not outraged at all, including some who should know better. Yeah, I’m talking about you, R.L. White, President of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP and you, Whoopi Goldberg, and you, too, Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels (aka Dumb and Dumber).
3.) The laws to punish the abuser and to protect the animals involved are not strong enough. The fact that Vick was able to dump his house in a big hurry while under investigation while the fate of the dogs hung in the balance due to uncertainty in forfeiture laws, points to some holes in the laws against dog fighting that must be fixed. And despite the public outrage over the cruelty involved in this case, Vick’s primary legal worries were due to the gambling involved.
4.) The public outrage over the Vick case raised some good questions about the state of our animal laws and commitment to anti-cruelty in general. One sports writer on ESPN, while seeming to defend Vick in some ways, did so by raising some difficult questions about the seeming schizophrenia of our animal protection laws. Are we, as a nation, opposed to animal cruelty or aren’t we?
Ever ready to make the most out of an opportunity to advance the laws protecting animals, ALDF is working on some exciting ways to add more teeth to the laws against animal fighting. Use the comment form below to tell us how you feel about this case or to share your ideas for stopping animal fighting.
And thank you for your support!
The post-plea, presentence phase of a criminal case can be a very interesting time. So it is with Michael Vick. For different reasons, Vick’s defense team, the NFL and the Falcons are all desperately trying to deflect and refocus the public’s attention. Vick’s defense team will continue to spin this as a “tragedy” for Vick’s family, for Vick’s teammates and for a “talented young man who is trying to rebuild his life after making a poor decision.” Classic: minimize the conduct and attempt to induce empathy for the defendant (oh, yeah, appeal to the religious right by invoking Vick’s newfound love of Jesus). This is the only hope Vick’s camp has of keeping him in the NFL. Serving a federal sentence is a second-tier concern—retaining access to a multimillion-dollar income is the top priority. Despite the disappointing decision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to allow it as part of the plea agreement, why do you think Vick refused to admit to betting on his dogs? To improve his chances of staying affiliated with the league.
From the league and the team, the message seems to be, “We didn’t know Vick was a dogfighting thug… But, hey, it’s football season, so sit down, crack a cold one and watch the game!” The hope being that, just maybe, folks will stop talking about this situation.
Enter Whoopi Goldberg and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Coming at it from very different perspectives, each has generated yet another news cycle for a story that has very impressive staying power. Ms. Goldberg seems to be of the “View” that since Vick is from the “deep south” where she says dogfighting is part of the “culture,” his conduct should be measured against that backdrop rather than against the cold and impersonal backdrop of the federal criminal code and those pesky laws Vick repeatedly and systemically violated for years. Ms. Goldberg’s logic is so painfully flawed that one can’t help but feel sorry for her. If Ms. Goldberg’s reasoning is accurate, then judges should consider a hate crime offender’s “cultural heritage” as a mitigating factor in sentencing. The Goldberg mitigation argument would go something like this: “Your Honor, my client is from the deep south and he was raised in an environment of racial intolerance. Therefore, in fashioning a sentence for burning a cross in Mr. Smith’s front yard, I urge you to be sensitive to his cultural heritage and judge his conduct in the context in which he was raised. Simply put, he was raised to think that way and [by inference] just didn’t know any better.” Labeling this logic as offensive and insulting is being way too generous. The federal sentencing guidelines do not subscribe to this ridiculous view and no judge worth his or her salt does either. Shame on you Whoopi. You should have stayed in that coveted center square and steered well clear of commenting on federal sentencing practices.
Next up, the AJC’s story proclaiming that Vick’s extended involvement as a dogfighter was an “open secret” known to many well before his arrest. And yet, in the wake of Vick’s guilty plea, the brass within both the Falcons and the NFL would have us believe that they knew nothing of this side to Vick’s character. Do you honestly believe that any for-profit enterprise (team or league) preparing to invest tens of millions of dollars in a marque player would conduct a less-than-thorough background investigation of their investment or neglect to take steps to protect that investment once it’s made? Perhaps even more telling is this gem about the Falcons’ management, as reported by the AJC story: “The degree to which the team monitored off-the-field activities of its highest-paid player is not clear. Reggie Roberts, a spokesman for the Falcons, declined to comment.” Why would the Falcons decline to comment on this and why would the Falcons be anything less than clear about what they knew and when they knew it? It’s almost as if they are taking plays right out of Alberto Gonzales’ playbook. This is all-too predictable and, yet, sadly disappointing at the same time.
The New York Times ran a story earlier this week about the recent popularity of creating “life lists”—to-do’s for the long haul. I’ve got various lists lying around on crumpled post-its and envelope backs, and for the most part they look alarmingly bourgeois (restaurants to eat at, countries to visit, dance steps to learn). Clearly I’ve been too offhand in my goal setting. Because there’s one thing I really want to do someday, more than tango in Buenos Aires, play craps in Monaco, or sport cruelty-free couture at some lavish premiere. What I really want is to have my own radio show.
I love the radio. I adore Howard Stern, and I have a mega-nerd-crush on Ira Glass. I feel like I know them, you know? Much more than newspapers and TV, the radio seems, somehow, intimate. Like these people, via their voices, are in my living room with me while I make my bed and dry my hair and go about my life. There still remains something that is beautifully candid and unscripted and manages to capture people in all their unedited glory (for better or worse) on the radio that is long gone from television, if it ever existed there at all.
While I work on the concept for my show (wacky guests? people I just happen to find interesting? regular airtime for people who bring vegan baked goods to my studio?), I invite you to get to know some of our staff here at ALDF—on the radio:
-On May 15, KPCC 89.3 in Pasadena spent a quarter hour talking with Founding Director Joyce Tischler about ALDF’s plea to the LA Dodgers to stop selling their stadium’s iconic Dodger Dog until supplier Farmer John stops contracting with farms raising pigs in cruel gestation stalls.
Here’s what she had to say. (RealPlayer required.)
-Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s chief outside litigation counsel, joined San Francisco’s KQED on July 23 to discuss legal and social issues relating to animal fighting and other ways in which animals are abused for “entertainment.”
Tune in now.
-Just last week, on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, ALDF’s Chief Contract Attorney Dana Campbell joined Los Angeles radio station KPFK for their show “Rescue Me,” looking at the legal issues affecting evacuation of animals in disasters, and the challenges that remain.
Listen to her interview.