Yesterday I received an email with a picture of cats that were force-fed toilet cleaner by Proctor and Gamble – an example of animal testing of the type that goes on every day. The photo was posted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an umbrella entity that many view as a fringe and frightening network of individuals who are willing to save animals in testing facilities by taking steps that are prohibited by society such as property destruction etc. (ALF’s guidelines insist that all precautions be taken to make sure no animals or humans are harmed when any destruction occurs, but the fact remains that arson and similar activities are carried out at times). I have seen other information posted by ALF, perhaps the most disturbing being the story of Britches, a newborn monkey stolen from his mother for a study on “maternal deprivation” and whose eyes were sewn shut to study “sight deprivation.” He was kept in what appeared to be a shut cabinet and given none of the affection a young animal requires. Members of ALF saved him and, watching the video, I’ll freely admit that I saw them as the heroes of the story despite their reputation.
ALF holds a strange place in the world of animal activism. Individuals working under the ALF banner take concrete action to pull animals out of situations that many of us decry and rail against, and yet they are derided for their extremism and many other people who are concerned about the fate of animals in society do anything they can to disassociate from them. They are one of the groups that those on the other side point to when they want to discredit all individuals who fight for animal welfare. It is an unfortunate fact that many people lump all animal welfarists and activists together, and so when individuals involves in ALF are labeled as “terrorists,” then by extension, other animal activists who do not take such controversial actions must also fight against that label. But the fact also remains that there are animals alive today, living actual lives, that would have died in extreme pain save for ALF’s actions. There is simply no getting around the fact that ALF members have saved more lives than many of us who walk a tighter legal line.
There is a law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) that purports to protect animal enterprises from animal activists, such as individuals involved in ALF, who “steal” property in the form of animals and engage in destruction of facilities to achieve their rescues. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Act based on free speech issues, as well as the fact that it partially ties its punitive sections to economic damage done to animal enterprises and the fact that such damage could be brought about by perfectly legal and non-violent activity such as boycotts and protests which are undertaken every day by more mainstream activists. (See Equal Justice Alliance for more information on the civil rights aspect of the AETA controversy).
However, there is another question that the law raises: why is it that society focuses on the sometimes illegal actions of animal activists but turns away from the insane violence that corporations inflict on the most helpless of creatures – animals absolutely alone and in the power of the testers with no recourse and no help? Who defines which activity is violent and why have we, as a society allowed this definition, finding that the torture itself is not violent enough to outlaw, but the recues are? Which is more immoral – torching an empty building, or pouring toilet bowl cleaner down cats’ mouths? Is violence to inanimate property really worse than violence to animal life? This is not to say that I condone arson – I do not – but simply that there is a disconnect in the fact that society as a whole has chosen to identify the burning of an empty warehouse as violent and subject to legal sanctions, but the cruel testing and vivisection of animals, of living beings, as not. It is a question that others have written about more elegantly than me, but one that I considered when I first learned about Britches. It is a question I considered again when confronted with the picture of the cats, who had obviously died in torment. It is a question worth thinking about.
Filed under: AETA, animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal law, vivisection Tagged: | AETA, ALF, animal ethics, animal experimentation, animal law, Animal Liberation Front, animal suffering, animal testing, vivisection