Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rebel Without Identifiable Cause (Can Working Animals be Compatible with Animal Rights?)


Working partners or animal abuse? Can support for working animals be compatible with advocacy for Animal Rights?
I may be an older woman, but lately I feel like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.
.
That is because one discovers that when it comes to causes (especially contentious ones), if one takes moderate position in the middle, one can be viewed as enemy or sell out by both camps.  One either has to be solidly on one side or the other -- or just bail out entirely and take up video games or watching Dancing With the Stars.
.
(Perhaps this helps explain why our Congress is so ineffective.  Both parties in lock step position most of the time and very little working across the aisle.  Or, as Dylan so poetically put it, "Everybody talking and nobody listening" -- though one might change the word, talking, to spinning in today's terms).
.
In recent days, I have come out in endorsement for keeping carriage horses in New York City. (Details explained in prior posts.) From all indications, the horses are protected, well cared for, appear to be proficient and content in their work and the job is comparatively easy with regular periods of rest time and lots of human attention. (Moreover and importantly, the job is literally a life-saver.)  
.
It short, both people and the horses themselves benefit.
.
Tragically, the fact that 155,000 horses are currently sent to slaughter every year appears to indicate that it is usually a grim future for horses without jobs. I am not of the mind that horses are "better off dead" than leisurely pulling a carriage around Central Park. Its quite frankly difficult to understand why anyone would endorse such theory (unless just not liking animals in the city). 
.
One suspects that were horses able to speak for themselves, all would express preference to being alive and safe in NYC (yes, even with crowds, traffic and a specific job) than being dead. Billions of people, after all, live such lives. Few humans get a free pass in life or have rich relatives to support them. The same is true for horses. -- Only for those horses losing jobs, there is no Unemployment check or other government programs to support them.  
.
Nevertheless, taking a "pro-carriage horse" position puts one in poor standing these days with most Animal Rights folks, the vocal majority of whom either are actively pushing for a ban or tacitly supporting it.
.
But, if one expects welcome from those on the other side of the issue (keeping the horses in NYC), there are rude surprises there, too.
.
It seems many, if not most carriage horse supporters are vehemently opposed to even the concept of Animal Rights.
.
Perhaps it is understandable that those under such fierce and unrelenting attack for so many years by self-described, Animal Rights activists would now associate the very term with all things evil and destructive in the world.
.
It seems in some ways, the waters have sadly been poisoned for a reasonable dialogue between horse carriage advocates and advocates for Animal Rights.  That is truly unfortunate for as previously noted in situations like these, everyone ultimately loses -- most of all, the animals.
.
For the record, I AM a supporter of Animal Rights and have been for decades.  That does not change by taking what might seem to some, an adversarial position on a contentious animal rights issue.
.
I believe that animals (especially those domesticated over thousands of years like horses, dogs and cats) have the right to engage and connect with humans whether as companions or working partners in a mutually benefiting, give/take relationship.
.
I believe that animals have the basic right to life and to be in New York City as despite claims otherwise, it is generally a safe and protected environment for most. (Horses actually helped to build New York City and were necessary for transportation before the invention of automobiles.)
.
Most of all, I believe that animals have right to dignity, respect and proper and appropriate treatment specific to their species/breed or type.
.
Some might argue these are the components of Animal Welfare. (I.e. "Animals don't have rights. Humans have responsibility.")  But, in fact, rights goes further than welfare alone. Welfare suggests standards for humane treatment, but doesn't necessarily require them unless exacted by specific law. Rights denotes animals are entitled to and deserving of proper, decent and appropriate (to species) treatment by virtue of their being. This is true whether or not their is actual law or human "owners" and power holders are willing to recognize and bestow inherent rights for just and decent treatment for animals.
.
This might appear a meaningless or confusing discussion of semantics, but in human culture and law, words are important. Generally speaking, welfare doesn't require as much as rights do. Welfare is pertinent to the granter. Rights is pertinent to the recipient.
.
In saying these things, one might question how can one be an advocate for animal rights, while at the same time, support something that uses and derives personal benefit from animals? 
.
The reality is that humans use each other for personal benefit all the time whether in personal or working relationships (whether or not we admit to it).   Employers and employees "use" each other for mutual benefit. Friends use each other to help fulfill certain needs. And even lovers and spouses use each other.  In nature too, animals use each other. Flock, herd and pack animals organize themselves to establish leadership positions and each member's specific place or role in the order. That is, in essence, "using" each other both, for personal benefit and the benefit of the whole.
.
Moreover, though some might be loathe to admit it, pet caregivers and their animals "use" each other for mutually beneficial purposes. A well cared for dog or cat never has to worry about predation, shelter or where his/her next meal is coming from. The human caregiver derives companionship and reliable, non-judgmental affection from the pet(s). Everything is give/take and yes, that awful word, use. 
.
Of course, it can be a very thin line sometimes between "use" and "abuse."  Use is generally good and productive. Abuse is not.
.
That is where law and rights come in -- to interpret precisely where those lines are to be drawn.
.
Human workers in civilized countries are entitled to certain "rights" (by law) pertaining to salary, safety on the job, hours, vacation and working conditions. Working animals should also be entitled to similar rights and conditions according to species (although in lieu of "salary" obviously, animals are entitled to proper food, shelter, rest and veterinary care). 
.
Rights of course are also recognized for individual partners in marriage, children, the mentally and physically disabled, ethnic and racial groups and more recently, people of different sexual orientations.  
.
It seems a natural step in human progress and evolution to also consider seriously, the inherent rights of and for animals.
.
I believe in rights for animals which is why I currently support working animals in New York City provided their conditions and treatment meet all the criteria for fair, just and proper care.  So far this seems to apply to carriage horses in NYC, though there is always room in anything for further improvements and safeguards.
.
Moreover, it is extremely important to consider that virtually all the NYC carriage horses are rescues from other industries that could no longer use them. (Former Amish farm horses or retirees from the trotter racetracks.)  Horses don't even begin to work in NYC until 5-years of age.  They are not bred (or really, over-bred) to pull carriages in NYC.  The carriage industry rather represents a safety net (easier work and long term home) for horses who, in most cases, would have no where else to go.  The work is apparently so comparatively easy, most carriage horses are well into their teens having pulled carriages in some cases, over a decade.  How can all this reasonably and accurately be called, "abuse?"
.
It may seem I have gone into great detail over the past week to explain decision and position that ultimately doesn't jive entirely with either proponents of Animal Rights or proponents of carriage horses.  
.
The truth is, I am both supporter of both and critic to both.
.
Call me the enemy or friend to all sides -- or for the moment, the rebel without identifiable cause. -- PCA
.
.
                                                   ***********
   

9 comments:

Steffie R said...

You are not animal rights, and saying it doesn't make it true. In fact, it's bizarre. It's like those people who are "mostly vegetarian," "vegan before 6," "vegan--but not in restaurants," etc.

since you talk about taking a stand and being unequivocal, you should "come out" and identify yourself more accurately.

portwashguy said...

Just a brief comment: I would be very hesitant to suggest that the 65% or so of New Yorkers who support the carriage horses and want to keep them in the City have any particular theory regarding animals (welfare, rights or something other). It may well be, though, that a smaller group of activists do believe in "animal welfare" rather than "animal rights."

SandyLynn said...

I think that most people define "animal rights" differently than you do. What you call "animal rights", most of us do think of as "animal welfare". We think of laws which protect animals from real abuse as "animal welfare laws". So I think you differ from most pro-carriage horse people only in semantics. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know whether you are or not, but I do know that when it comes down to laws, the language can be very tricky. In the recent case in which a Connecticut court ruled "all horses are inherently vicious" it put the horses on the same level as wild animals. This had the effect of making the entire horse industry un-insurable. Luckily, the governor stepped up and pushed a law through the Conn. Legislature counteracting the ruling, and narrowly avoiding disaster for the Connecticut horses and the people who live and work with them. Another instance of the legal impact of words can be seen in the push for horses to be considered pets. A paper put out by the Louisiana extension service explains that horses have more protection under the law being classified as "livestock" - protections they would lose if legally classified as "pets". So, although I agree completely with your take on human-animal relationships, working animals, and the manner in which animals should be treated, I distrust the term "animal rights" in a legal sense. I and many other people worry that if animal are granted legal "rights", it will negate our legal "rights" to ownership which would surely be disastrous.

PCA said...

Sandy Lynn, Thanks for sharing both views and additional information. I understand the term "animal rights" is very tricky these days and to some degree has been perverted by some taking the movement for animal justice to a disturbing and extreme level.

On a more pragmatic level, one would like to think that the recognition and implementing of rights for animals would not distract from and/or impede human rights to interact and in some cases, work with animals for the benefit of both the animals and humans anymore than recognition and implementing of gay rights impedes the rights and choices of herterosexuals. I believe that when practically and ethically pursued, the expansion of rights ultimately benefits all.

Charlotte Allmann said...

I think SandyLynn has given you a very good explanation of your inner anxieties. By identifying yourself as a rebel without (identifiable) cause, you have shared a powerful moment of insight.

I've been involved in animal welfare at the strategic level within the sheltering, breeding, training, behavior, working animal and legislative areas for nearly 20 years, and have watched the Animal Rights Movement (I have a good reason for capitalizing) crystalize into something that really frightens me to the point that I fear for future generations - unless we can somehow put the brakes on this runaway train. I'm deadly serious. Your paragraph here is an important observation, and surprisingly missing in the philosophy of the leadership of the Animal Rights Movement :
"The reality is that humans use each other for personal benefit all the time whether in personal or working relationships (whether or not we admit to it). Employers and employees "use" each other for mutual benefit. Friends use each other to help fulfill certain needs. And even lovers and spouses use each other. In nature too, animals use each other. Flock, herd and pack animals organize themselves to establish leadership positions and each member's specific place or role in the order. That is, in essence, "using" each other both, for personal benefit and the benefit of the whole."

In short, the Movement is not what it appears to be. It is deadly subversive, the complete opposite of "natural", and although the human desire for "animal liberation" can never really happen, there could be a lot of suffering while the First World figures this out. Many cultures have no such luxury.

You seem to me to be very sincere, a caring, compassionate and intelligent person. Could your inner turmoil be a sign of emotional and intellectual growing pains? I think you have already discovered the serious uneasiness that comes when you go outside of your comfort zone. For some, the label of Animal Rights is a shield, for some a badge of honor (that they pin on themselves), and others a cover story for morality, sadly. There seems to be a streak of self-loathing running through it, and distrust of the human race.

I applaud your courage, and I hope that you continue to stay strong, you are on the right track.

PCA said...

Thank you Ms.Allmann for sharing very insightful comment here. As you know, I too am troubled by some of the direction the AR movement is going, particularly on the issue of carriage horses in NYC.

"Abuse" is a very loaded and inflamatory term and not one to carelessly throw around. To do so, (especially when there is no evidence of such)is to hurt other people and ultimately destroy one's credibility. (This in turn ultimately hurts the animals we are purporting to want to help.)

Yet, in expressing personal reservations about this,it has cost friendships that were deemed important.

I still believe in rights for animals, but am not so sure now about "Animal Rights." Some established leaders of the cause give great pause for concern.

Thanks again for your thoughtful and encouraging comment. It ia much appreciated.

Charlotte Allmann said...

The world of animals and the people who care about them need more people like you. I expect we might have some things we disagree on, but it seems we can discuss things rationally, logically and most of all, will listen to each other. I don't want to sound harsh, but those "friends" who kicked you out of their world? Not friends. Not respectful, and clearly not logical, or even intelligent. And compassion, wow - an empty room. Just for the record, I train working dogs for search and rescue and dog sports competitions. I am routinely insulted and hated on by Animal Rights activists for such heinous behavior as to "force" my dogs to do my bidding, and other silly remarks. It's not as extreme as the screaming and hateful protests against the carriage horse drivers, and there is no way they can take my livelihood away and unlikely that they could steal my dogs, but it is rather ugly some days. I think the most disappointing thing of all is that these groups are successfully appealing to naive urban dwellers and young people, who have no history in working animals. Most of them are 3 or more generations from their agricultural roots, and whose education seems to have abandoned the teaching of critical thinking skills. You are a breath of fresh air.

PCA said...

Thanks again, Charlotte for adding so much to this discussion.

It seems a tendency in the modern world to make judgments before actually examining an issue or listening to different sides of it. It also seems tendency in some Animal Rights circles to calls for "bans" on activities rather than pursue ways something can be improved and any alleged and provabble abuses remedied and eliminated. That is unfortunate as I believe such rigid and non-negotiable attitude impedes progress for true animal rights than achieves them.

Currenntly in Central Park, two people were recently been killed by speeding bikes. But, no one (including myself) is calling for a "ban" on bicycles. Rather, laws have to be enforced and if necessary, new restrictions have to be implemented.

I believe the same has to happen for animal rights. Laws will always be broken and those who do violate rules and protocols need to be held accountable. Meanwhile, we keep striving for legal and other improvements in everything, including our relationship with animals.

Please don't judge all Animal Rights proponents by the few who have tendency to go off the rails.

Ours is a big tent.

Charlotte Allmann said...

Thanks for the support, Patty. I truly hope that there is room for dialogue before it is literally too late. The carriage horses are the very top most example of what disaster awaits us - if those horses are banished from the city, they will NEVER come back. Gone forever. I suppose the people who actually want that to happen will simply move on to another target, and it hurts my heart to think what that next target might be. It's a negative, not a positive movement, it's quite harmful, society has relied on animals for life itself for thousands of years, and it boggles my mind to see the unwarranted power that has been somehow attached to such a small percentage of our society. Anyway, we could go on forever - I could, I know, but another time.

Just wanted to know if you heard a nice interview with Jon Katz this morning? Here is the link to the recorded version. His interview starts at 30 minutes. His words are softly spoken, but immensely powerful, I'm sure you would agree.
http://www.horsesinthemorning.com/hitm-for-10-10-2014-by-kentucky-performance-products-jon-katz-challenge-winner-steinert-barbie-doll-horse/#t=48:56.471

Jon "gets it". I am going to give his latest book as Christmas gifts this year.

Have a great weekend, I'm going to enjoy what's left of the glorious autumn and work with my dogs in a kettle moraine state park here in Wisconsin.