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?