I’ve noticed a common tactic among those who defend the status quo in the dog world is to try to paint their critics as being in league the animal rights extremists. I’m not talking the nice vegans with whom I disagree on certain issues.
I’m talking about the people who support terrorism, theft, and vandalism in the name of liberation. I’m also talking about those who would rather tell other people how to live, rather than working together to try to find ways to reduce animal suffering. (Temple Grandin is a very good example of someone who actually does this work to improve the lives of livestock.)
I’ve always thought liberation was a nebulous term. After all, a Marxist sees liberation rather differently than a libertarian, and in that comparison, I’m talking about two members of the same species.
One can only imagine what liberation would mean to dog, a cat, a hamster, or hippopotamus. Of course, that assumes that these animals know what their liberation means at all.
I’ve known horses that were raised in stables that seem perfectly okay with that lifestyle. It is all they have ever known. When such horses are released into a pasture, they seem lost and certainly don’t act as if they are free. It’s only when they return to a barn stall that seem to feel comfortable again.
That said, I do oppose any intentional animal suffering that is necessarily prolonged. The wold is full of suffering. We all experience it. All species feel pain, suffer, and die. The only thing enlightened and moral people can do is reduce suffering. Veganism is one way to do this. However, it will never become the universal diet of the planet. I don’t do well without meat in my diet. I’ve been at my happiest and healthiest when I reduced my carbohydrate intake and embraced the hunter-gatherer blood coursing through my veins.
The way I justify these two apparently contradictory notions that lie deep within my ethical sense is that I take a Benthamesque approach. I don’t do it exactly as Peter Singer did. I am willing to tolerate a certain amount of suffering and pain so that I can live, but the main goal is to reduce it. I particularly am more opposed to actions that result in prolonged pain and suffering than those that cause the animal suffering for just a very short time.
And for that reason, I can tolerate foxes held in leg hold traps (especially those that have been designed not to damage the fox’s foot) far better than I can tolerate breeding dogs with conformation that makes their whole lives miserable. That fox feels discomfort only for the last few hours of his live, because in most states, the traps must be checked daily. A pekingese that cannot cool itself properly suffers for a longer period of time than that fox does. The peke suffers from excess heat through its entire life, while the fox got to be wild and free for most of its life.
The animal rights people may have locked onto the issues of purebred dogs. On some issues, they are correct. On others, I respectfully disagree.
You see, the animal rights lobby doesn’t have the institutional power that the dog fancy has right now. The animal right lobby does have some victories, usually in the industrial farming sector, but in stopping hunting, meat consumption, and dog showing they haven’t been that successful.
In Europe they have been more successful in stopping hunting and even stopping reasonable farming practices (like the use of sheepdogs!), but that happens because most European countries (with the exception of the Nordic countries) have had a long history in which hunting rights were the realm of only the very wealthy. In the US, the hunting culture is more egalitarian, and thus, you don’t have the major center-left parties siding with the animal rights lobby.
In comparison, the purebred dog fancy does everything it can to ensure that reforms never take place here. The registries must operate closed stud books, and breed purity is everything. Those who do try their best to breed for health are often confronted with a general loss of genetic diversity and the sudden appearance of new genetic disorders that were previously unrecognized. Breeders who go outside the strictures of the fancy are pilloried.
It’s because of all of this that I am more outraged by the dog fancy than I am outraged by the animal rights people. I might make common cause with the animal rights lobby on this issue, and I hope that meat-eaters and vegans can at least agree on trying work together to reduce animal suffering. I’m with them on that one, but on the issues of banning hunting, dog-ownership, and the consumption of meat, I’m definitely not singing off their page.
However, if you group me with the really nutty animal liberationists out there, you are setting up a straw man. And that’s one argument tactic I find particularly exasperating.
The dog fancy defenders like to portray everyone who opposes them as existing within the framework of either being with them or with the animal rights extremists. It’s a nice dualism, and in highly dualistic, melodramatic culture, this narrative certainly helps their cause.
However, the real world is always more complex than this narrative. The world exists in shades of gray, not clearly defined bands of black and white.
And that’s why it’s a mistake to assume those who want a better system for breeding dogs are also in league with those who want to ban dog ownership. It’s called nuance, and it’s something that is apparently much harder for people to see than I thought.