Animals of All KindsPosted by Michelle Lee, ALDF Litigation Fellow on August 1, 2011
Spend enough time in the animal movement and you will invariably encounter people with suggestions on how better your time could be spent. What about famine? What about neglected and abused children? War crimes and genocide? The wrongly accused? In short, what about the humans?
It is true that the scale of human suffering and injustice in human society is immense and needs to be addressed. However, to dismiss animal advocates as “people who care about animals but don’t care about people” is as unfair as accusing the people who run school breakfast programs of not caring about humanitarian relief. No one can do everything. If it’s worth doing, then it needs to get done. What people really mean when they say “What about the refugees?” is: “This animal work is not worth doing.”
Animal Legal Defense Fund members and supporters, of course, disagree. The interests of animals do matter, and this work is worth doing. Further, what animal advocates do is not different in kind from the work being done by those focused on human issues. Human and animal advocates alike endeavor to promote the well-being of their constituencies, including: liberty from restraint and physical violence; security; a healthy environment; freedom to grow and develop; peace of mind. The work of all advocates is based on a recognition that the lives and suffering of others, no matter how different those others may be from us, matter; and that our society and practices must evolve in the face of that realization.
Given that we have so much in common, it makes sense that animal advocates and social justice workers should explore the ways in which their work is connected. Animal advocates have drawn the link between animal and human violence, noting both that abuse of animals can be a precursor to aggression against humans and that domestic violence can put companion animals at risk. We have been less quick to embrace causes that we see as "mainly human," but in disregarding these problems we may be losing opportunities to forge alliances with our like-minded colleagues engaged in advocacy for humans. For example, poverty and lack of education are seen as "human" problems, but they have a serious effect on what we can achieve for animals. A poor family faces constraints that make it difficult to avoid animal products; schools that fail to engage our youth may miss the opportunity to encourage them to think about their place in the world. A climate of retribution in a community’s approach to criminal justice fosters division rather than the development of empathy. It prevents the community from formulating a system that is truly just and from addressing the underlying causes of crime, including crime against animals. These are human problems that are important for their own sake, and they are animal problems, too.
Obviously, animal advocates focus mainly on what directly impacts the animals. But from time to time, our work brings us in contact with some important human problems. It’s worth considering how our work affects our human societies and power structures, both for the sake of the people themselves and for the sake of the animals. In doing so, we may also gain ourselves allies outside of what we consider the "animal movement." Since the aim of any movement is to become mainstream, that would be a great accomplishment for animals of all kinds.