In the last issue of CITATIONS, I posed a question. What would happen if one phrase were excised from Genesis, that verse that states humans have dominion over all the creatures that live on the planet? It appears to me that habitat loss and species extinction is just one of the consequences of this short phrase, but there are other ethical questions that we must ask ourselves.
The use of living breathing creatures, “God’s creatures,” to quote Saint Francis, as test subjects is a crime that continues to slaughter an estimated 27 million animals every year (25 million rats and mice, 65,000 dogs, 210,000 rabbits, 21,000 cats, 53,000 pigs and more). Ninety percent of the animals killed – including the mice and rats – are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act. It is state-sanctioned cruelty so heinous that even reading the Code of Federal Regulations will cause you to retch. The code (9 CFR parts 1 and 2) explains in painstaking and mind-numbing detail the proper way to torture an animal to death. Rabbits are discussed in 9 CFR 354. What the CFRs don’t explain is that rabbits have literally broken their own necks in an effort to escape from the scientists that torture them. What happens to rats and mice is as bad, perhaps worse, because those species are not protected by law. But we were given dominion over all the creatures that fly and crawl over the earth, so we are somehow entitled to continue this moral breakdown.
In the past 5,000 years, this Biblical phrase could have evolved differently. It could have been interpreted in a protective way, that we were to cherish and nurture the other species in order to prevent harm to the creation we inherited. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Even those species we treat as companions, the ones that share our homes, are treated in many communities as disposable. The No Kill movement is working hard to change the way animal shelters are run.
In a twist that has no rational basis, some of the nation’s largest “animal welfare” organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), have fought against (“PETA”), have fought against No Kill shelters. The No Kill Movement has established protocols that minimize killing and maximize adoptions. It is a combination of many factors: use of volunteers, micro-chipping, message boards and lost-and-found internet sites, spay and
neuter outreach, and more. The No Killsponsored Companion Animal Protection Act is being brought to legislators across the country and is being passed by more and more public entities (see www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/infobox/CAPA). Once initiated, the Act serves as a template for No Kill, and it is working.
These are tried and true techniques. Austin, Texas was killing 20,000 animals a year, with only a 45 percent save rate; shortly after initiating No Kill in 2010, the save rate doubled, to 91 percent. Allegheny County, Maryland went from an 85 percent kill rate in 2010, to a 94 percent save rate in 2011, only one year after initiating the No Kill protocols. Shelbyville, Kentucky, a rural shelter, went from high kill to a 94 percent save rate for dogs and a 98.5 percent save rate for cats. The Seagoville, Texas, shelter, killed fewer animals in its first year of No Kill than it previously killed in a week. Reno, Nevada is a No Kill shelter. It went from filling 15 barrels a day with the dead with two full-time animal control officers dedicated only to killing, to a 94 percent save rate; this, in a city beset by the recession and a population that is highly transient (www.thenokillnation.org). Yet even with these impressive statistics, HSUS and PETA claim that No Kill is a myth, and continue to support high kill shelters. In fact, PETA kills almost 90 percent of the animals that it “rescues” (see Homans, “PETA and the World of Dog Politics,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 10).
Clearly, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make the world more humane. But changing the culture of killing – whether of wildlife, test animals or pets – is a gargantuan task. One would think that we, as an advanced civilization, should recognize that other species have a right to live. It is difficult for me to comprehend how humans have a “right” to determine which other species can survive.
Whales may be far more intelligent than we are; they have complex social structures and language, just as we do. Recently, elephants in Zululand mourned the death of Lawrence Anthony, a human researcher. Anthony died on March 7. On March 10, two herds of elephants walked for 12 hours to his home. They stayed for two days, and then quietly left. Anthony spent his life on conservation of the African herds (his most recent book, The Elephant Whisperer, was an international bestseller). Recently-released research indicate that the wolves of the northern states also have a very complex social structure, which is shattered by the killing of pack members in the name of preservation (see, e.g., Levy,“Wolf Family Values,” New Scientist Magazine, June 12, 2010). Why do so many humans believe that the social structures and right to life of these species are less valuable than ours?
While I can’t argue against using certain animals for food, I can certainly lament the way in which we choose to slaughter the innocents. Factory farming is without doubt incredibly cruel and yet it persists. There are better ways, kosher ways, that reflect a more enlightened approach, but there are still those who argue that we need not be kind. As humans we should find such arguments unenlightened and unethical.
When I started this article, I was welcoming the new pope and meditating on St. Francis, friend to all creatures. Well, Francis, humankind has become very efficient at killing God’s creatures, through global climate change, habitat loss and destruction, animal experimentation, factory farming and relentless euthanasia. We need a leader like you. But in the meantime, perhaps you could work a small miracle and delete that pesky phrase out of Genesis for me.
Kate Neiswender is a Ventura-based land use and environmental lawyer. She will be lecturing again this year at the July 13-14 No Kill Conference in Washington DC on “Legislating No Kill” and “Use of Public Records in Forcing Shelter Reform.”