Animals of All Kinds

Posted 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. 


16 thoughts on “Animals of All Kinds

  1. Karen says:

    I have been faced with this exact question many times. I appreciate your answer for several reasons. For one, it lets me know I am not alone in dealing with those who see animal rescue and non necessary goals and those who want to prioritize human welfare above animal welfare instead of concentric goals. And indeed they are overlapping as each influences the other. They use dog training as a method of teaching inmates skills to be utilized outside prison. A dual effect is reached. The inmates learn how to care for a dog as well as a skill that is marketable. Some day, I hope the question of “why rescue and care for animals” is so well answered as to be unasked.

  2. Susan Ruderman says:

    Great post!

    I once had a vendor say to me, “Now you have a lot of fundraising expertise and experience. Shouldn’t you be devoting your career to helping raise money for children with cancer or homeless senior citizens?” Now apart from being amazed that someone trying to sell me something would go ahead and insult my occupational choices, I was struck by the expectation that I somehow needed to *defend* working to help animals! Life is not an either/or situation. And I would much prefer that someone do anything for anyone rather than do nothing for everybody. Instead of creating some judgmental hierarchy of causes that ranks exclusively helping humans above helping animals, perhaps we should look at it more as a continuum of vulnerability. By that measure, animals are even more vulnerable than children since at least children have multiple strong advocates as tracked by dollars and donors. (And no, I didn’t buy the vendor’s product!)

  3. Lodenger says:

    Animals (and all nature) are my priority.
    There are many movements for help people (but never enough).
    But there are very few movements for help animals.

    Animals can not speak out for help. And they are all innocent.

    God bless them!

  4. Sharon Lakey says:

    When I’m confronted, I just say that animals are God’s creatures too and that they can’t help or speak for themselves.

  5. Liz Carlton says:

    People who have evolved to feel empathy feel it for all creatures. People who have not, don’t.

    Most people who campaign for animals also campaign for humans – so next time you are asked this question just ask your questioner what they do for humans. I’ll wager it is less than you do!

  6. Lucy Muller says:

    I, too, have often been challenged by the question,”Why don’t you help people?”
    My response is: who says I don’t and why does it have to be either or?
    I have chosen animal’s issues, because people will always find plenty of help and money for their causes. There are not enough of us to help animals and keep their issues on the front burner. We few are just very visable and vocal.

  7. Bobbie Murray says:

    I think we have all been asked that question; “Why don’t you care about humans.”
    #1 Those charities are so big, I feel the animal ones need more help because of the species separation.

    #2 Gandhi did pave the way for empathy for animals in our century. I also learned in psychology “Jeffrey Dahmer showed an intense interest in dismembering animals as a child. As an adult he was charged with murdering and dismembering at least sixteen people.”1(1.2.http://www.jaapl.org/cgi/reprint/30/2/257.pdf :The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 30:257–65, 2002)
    “A history of animal cruelty during childhood was significantly associated with APD [Antisocial Personality Disorder], antisocial
    personality traits, and polysubstance abuse. Mental retardation, psychotic disorders, and alcohol abuse showed no such association.”2

    Basically if we change the way we treat animals in turn it should better the way we treat each other. Showing empathy for another species is a big step that in turn showing empathy for another human being is easier.

    We can’t change people’s hearts and make them care, but if not for your concern of the animals, they should at least do it for
    the concern of your citizens.

  8. Ms. April B. Denton says:

    I have felt apathy for people and aimals all my life even as young as five or six years old. I have joined many Organizations for children in Africa and other areas of the world. After living in Brasil for a time, I realized more than ever how primitive most peoples of the world see animals. As disposable!!!! Just about the whole world feels compassion for children, however, we have as a people,a long way to go for enough empathy to make a difference for all animals, wild and domestic!! April Denton, Coconut Creek, Florida U.S.A.

  9. Celeste says:

    I would say that by helping animals I am helping humans. Be it, by military dogs, K-9 dogs or therapy dogs. These dogs in turn help humans by their trainers. So it is connected.

  10. Katie Cather says:

    Good blog and good comments.
    I’ve tried to respond as a responsible adult to the accusatory tone, “Why aren’t you helping ___ fill in the blanks.” But sometimes, it helps to turn the tables with something along the lines of, “Last I checked, it’s still a free country, and I’m allowed my own values. I don’t go around setting the agenda on your values; don’t try to set mine.”

  11. Kim S. says:

    Neglect, cruelty and abuse is wrong in any form and we all have a duty to help stop it. Animals cannot defend themselves.
    We humans need to get over ourselves, we think much too highly of ourselves and believe we are all that matters. Why do we feel we count more than anything else on this planet?
    Animals do what nature intended. Only humans murder, cheat, are greedy, molest, rape, rob, start wars, destroy, sell other humans including babies for profit etc..
    Animals also deserve to be protected……from humans.

  12. ACE says:

    We are ALL connected — you cannot love one species and ignore the other. I resonate with the animals and THAT is my calling. And I know FULL well the suffering that an abused animal goes thru — I was once an abused child– I understand FULL WELL the fear and terror that a small innocent being goes through when it sees a towering enraged human being descending upon it to inflict untold pain and damage. As a child, my screams were eventually heard — but the animals’ screams are sometimes NEVER heard. I resonate with the animals and THAT is my calling.

  13. Tim Layman says:

    I don’t know how anyone can ignore the pain and suffering that so many animals are subjected to. To believe that only human issues are important, or that we are somehow better than all other animals is nothing more than human arrogance. You either respect all life or you respect none of it.

  14. Valerie Wehmueller says:

    I believe personally, that we animal advocates also care very much for people, & that same caring attitude carries over to our animal friends. The main difference I see is, in many, if not all or most cases, humans are able to get together & change things for the better, we can help each other. Unfortunately, our animal friends can not change anything, or get together to help themselves & others, or raise their voices for help, so we help them in any way we can. That, in my opinion, does not mean we don’t care about people, we just choose to help those who have no say, no voice, or control over their situations.

  15. Lisa Perkins says:

    It’s easiest to be compassionate and generous to our own kind, those who reflect “me” — our family, our local community members, our country-people, our race, our species….

    Those who recognize the need for and extend compassion and generosity beyond themselves and their own kind are farthest along on the evolutionary spectrum.

  16. Ilene Bilenky says:

    I say, “If everyone picked one area of concern and devoted time and money to it, a lot more areas would get fixed.” I don’t have to defend “my area” being animals, and quite often the person asking the question isn’t giving anything to anyone about anything, so, end of conversation.