Category Archives: books

It’s All Already Been Said

The Huffington Post recently featured an editorial by William T. Talman, M.D., defending animal research.  It’s a…poisonous little read, interesting primarily in that it runs, as though on rails, through the scientific community’s long-standing, standard responses to the animal welfarists’ long-standing, standard objections to animal testing.  There is nothing new here, and everything he says has already been thoroughly debunked.  My inner angry person wants to scream and shout and take down every argument he presents, but it has already been done, in the excellent work Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, by C. Ray Greek and Jean Swingle Greek, which came out more than ten years ago.

If I start pointing out all the errors in this editorial, I will be up all night attempting to re-write Sacred Cows.  I would just like to point out that the man can in no way be considered an unbiased source: here’s a sampling of his rat-based research — any beneficial results of which will still need to undergo testing on humans (“Really!”) before being officially adopted.  (And dude?  People do volunteer to be research “guinea pigs”.  In fact, your own facility has a web site where people can sign up for that very thing.  Why are you dismissing the idea of skipping the “animal” part, and just doing the human research you will still need to do anyway?)

In fact, Talman’s job is trying to convince people that animal research is a great idea.  Here’s an issue of The Physiologist, published by the American Physiological Society — he’s the chair of the APS Public Affairs Committee (or at least he was in 2006 — check out page 44/266 of the PDF).  This is not a disinterested party listing verifiable facts — this is an invested participant feeding you propaganda.

For what it’s worth, my aversion to his arguments is not just automatic denial.  Despite all that I have seen I still think it’s possible to perform animal-based research humanely.  Do I think that we are doing so right now?  Particularly in research?  God no.  Do I think any of Talman’s arguments in this article are valid?  No.  I call absolute shenanigans on this man, and I really wish the Greeks hadn’t written Sacred Cows already, because the urge to explain why this man is wrong is making me want to write it again.  Perhaps I should just mail him a copy.

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Book Review: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money

Meat Market: Animals Ethics and MoneyMeat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, by Erik Marcus, is an interesting, if brief, read, and a good answer to the question “What are these hippie freaks whining about, anyway?”  It’s not a perfect introduction — I’m still looking for the best way to suggest to, say, my parents that they not eat factory-farmed animal products — but it’s a good explanation of where one is coming from which doesn’t involve showing one’s audience graphic video of a slaughter plant.

The book begins with a glimpse of how and why small-farm practices become factory farm practices, follows up with an excellent, reasonably impartial, description of common factory farming practices for chickens, pigs, and cattle, and describes some options for what could be done to alter the status quo, along with what is currently being done.  It examines the three facets of the current what-the-hell-is-going-on-here movement (animal welfarists, animal rightists, and vegetarians), describes their goals, actions, and methods, looks at what is working and what isn’t, and suggests an alternative option (complete dismantlement of the system).

The book ends in a flurry of interesting essays and appendices, with subjects ranging from Starting a Local Vegetarian Society to The Ethics of Hunting.  It’s a lot of different viewpoints (although, toward the end, the vegan viewpoint grabs center stage and holds it), and, more, it’s thought-provoking material.

For example, it thoughtfully compares the relative quality of life — inasmuch as we can measure “quality of life” for another species — of various factory-farmed animals.  If you only give up one thing to make farmed animals just a little happier, Marcus says, give up eggs: the hens producing them are confined in ludicrously tiny cages their entire lives, debeaked, crippled, repeatedly force starved, and then slaughtered at the end.  The animal with the “best” relative life is the beef calf, which has a pretty good time of it (out at pasture, with mom) until about six months of age (after which it all goes to hell, but briefly compared to the two years’ close imprisonment of the laying hen).

The other thing that hit me was the reminder that, even though I am carefully purchasing milk from “certified pasture-kept” (and, theoretically, happy) cows, by purchasing milk at all I am contributing to the veal industry.  I am ashamed it didn’t occur to me before — of course!  What are they doing with all the male calves? — but now that I know I am trying to figure out how to get milk out of my diet, or at least minimize it.  Alas, soy milk tastes like liquid Lucky Charms, and unsweetened soy milk has the texture of Elmer’s glue — I am working on it.  In the meantime, I do my best to minimize consumption of milk and cheese….

If you are just starting to look at vegetarianism or veganism or know someone who is, Meat Market isn’t a bad start.  It is not overly preachy and does not use “We can’t kill animals because they are so CUTE!” faux logic — it produces rational, empirical examples which make it difficult not to listen.  I kind of wish it hadn’t ruined milk for me, but I can’t honestly blame the messenger.

New Book Available on Wolf Hybrids

The bulk of my animal career has been spent working with the socialized, hand-raised wolves of Wolf Park, a wildlife facility in Battle Ground, Indiana.  While working there I met a variety of people who had issues, of one kind or another, with wolf hybrids (also known as wolfdogs, or wolf x dog hybrids).  The problems these people (and their animals) faced inspired me, and a coworker of mine, to write a book, so that people who suddenly find themselves confronted with something labeled a “wolf hybrid” would have somewhere to turn.

The book is now available for purchase.  It can be purchased through Wolf Park, if you’d like to support a nonprofit animal facility.  It can be purchased through the publisher, Dogwise Publishing, if you’d like to support an excellent publishing house with an emphasis on dogs, training, and canine behavior in general.  It can also be purchased through Amazon if you would like to take a look inside the book before purchasing it.

It was our goal, in writing this book, to make the world a little better for critters that got inadvertently mixed up in the “wolf hybrid” controversy — whether they be wolves, dogs, wolf hybrids, or the people who meet them.  If you are a shelter worker, a rescuer, a veterinarian, an animal control officer — or just someone who loves dogs and the things that dogs do — please consider picking up a copy.  The more people know about these wonderful animals, the better.

“No Nonsense Guide” Contains Nonsense

In my search for What The Hell Is Going On I have been reading a lot of different books from a variety of sources.  Today I was leafing through a copy of The No Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights, by Catharine Grant, which has a foreword by Ingrid Newkirk of PETA and a definite animal-liberation bias.  I tend to avoid such books not because I entirely disagree with them, but because they tend to prefer emotional arguments over logical ones.  In their search for a black and white view of the world, they also occasionally take logic a little too far: Following a description of a visit to a pretty much idyllic little English farm, wherein the animals all had enough space, affection, shelter, food, water, and medical care, with owners who knew them all by name, the book immediately adds: “However, even organically reared animals are raised to be killed…[and so] many animal rightists believe that all husbandry is inherently unjust.”  Take that, caring and affectionate farmers who put so much time and work into your animals!

Anyway, the part that got me was in the book’s description of the farming of sheep for wool:  “Most sheep…live outside.  Free-roaming sheep are a common sight in many parts of Britain, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.  The sheep are largely left to themselves until they are herded for shearing.”  Sounds as good as sheep can have it, doesn’t it?  So what’s wrong with this hands-off approach to sheep husbandry?  The book notes that, because the sheep are left to themselves, “many sheep die of exposure or neglect every year.”

Where is the happy ground here?  If the farmers provide good (but barn- and pasture-based) care for their sheep (or cows), the sheep are healthy and protected from harm but are still captives in thrall to their evil human overlords, which is Wrong.  But if the farmers let the sheep loose to graze freely and without interference over the countryside, they are abandoning the poor defenseless sheep to the cruel vagaries of nature.

Assuming we stopped all human use of animals tomorrow, and we could just let all domestic species loose and they would be able to fend for themselves…aren’t we just abandoning them to whatever horrible death nature has in store?  Is living for 7-10 years well loved, well fed, warm, and healthy in a barn, under the care of humans, really less preferable to being eaten by a mountain lion or starving to death when one’s teeth wear down with age?  Nature does not offer a guarantee of a peaceful death.  Neither do humans right now (although such a guarantee should be a part of humans taking responsibility for an animal) — however, living with humans, even under current conditions, gives a much greater probability of a humane death than does living in the wild.

If the issue is about freedom, and freedom of choice, for the animal…would (at least some) animals not choose warmth, safety and protection with humans if given the opportunity?  Feral cats and dogs choose this option all the time, as do rats, cockroaches, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and all the myriad species who live in close contact with human habitation.

It sounds like letting animals loose to roam and not protecting them is just as horrible as keeping them in barns and pastures.  Are we required by this book’s extra-compassionate moral code to not only stop using animals but also then to spend the rest of our lives following around the wild animals and protecting them from harm?  We are all fighting together against the big, scary thing that is the universe, life, and death.  Why not do it literally?

Good Advice on a Lot of Levels

“My advice to you: Get several books. When you get confused, if all of the books tell you to do the same thing, believe it. If they tell you to do completely different things, someone if not everyone is talking out their ass.”

via The Story About the Baby, Volume 2.

This is posted on a blog about raising an infant human, but, honestly, this is good advice on any front.

This.

Slaughterhouse by Gail EisnitzWhen I first started working in the laboratory animal industry, and got my first taste of the Machine, my immediate reaction was that I was hallucinating.  I could not possibly be seeing what I was seeing, I reasoned, and I immediately went researching.  Surely there was an explanation for the things I saw happening.  Surely I was wrong!

It disturbed me beyond measure to discover that not only was I not wrong, but that I was only getting a miniscule taste of what was really happening.  The more research I did, the more horrified I became, until I eventually had to put things down and walk away.  Every time I tried to write something about a I would do research on a and then learn about x, y, and z as well.  Then I would have to research them, and….

These days I’m a little calmer, and I can pick up books and do research again.  My most recent acquisition, Slaughterhouse, by Gail Eisnitz, is the closest thing I have so far seen to what happened to my brain when I saw the laboratory animal industry for the first time.  Due to the “shock value” cover and title, I’d been avoiding it, but it turns out to be a well-written, rational, well-researched volume which makes its statement simply and reasonably (well, as reasonably as it’s possible to be in this case).  It follows Gail, a journalist for an animal welfare group, from the moment a USDA inspector writes her saying “Something’s wrong here” to her struggle to get someone, anyone, to break the story, and through it you see, through her eyes, her unbelievable, terrible discoveries.  Every piece of awful information leads to two more pieces of awful information, and the higher she climbs in the bureaucracy, looking for the source of it all, the more distressing it becomes as she realizes that the people in charge know, and they don’t care.

This is a book you will read with your mouth open, drop at the end, and say, “No.”  No, this isn’t true.  This does not happen.  She’s a journalist; she’s being sensational.  She’s biased.  She’s just selling a story.  Speaking as someone who’s seen another facet of the Machine at work — the laboratory side — Eisnitz is not lying.  The things she is describing are real.  They are happening right now.

It’s such a relief, and it’s so scary, to know that someone else sees it too.  Through my research, I’ve actually amassed quite a collection of books over the past few years, and most of the books actually corroborate to varying degrees what I personally saw, but Slaughterhouse is the first to describe the entire eye-opening journey of discovery.

I strongly recommend it, although I would suggest not reading it while eating a hamburger.