No country for old bears

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US Fish & Wildlife Service photo

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

“Grizzly bear euthanized due to history of conflicts.” “Montana wildlife officials euthanize problem grizzly bear.” “Old grizzly euthanized, tried to get into building.” “Intrusive grizzly euthanized.” “28-year-old grizzly euthanized.”

Those Montana headlines greeted us a few days ago. This must have been one dangerous bear. Intrusive. A “problem bear.” An habitual offender.   Continue reading

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Sheep dressing, pig wrestling, chicken scrambling: Bullies are made, not born

piggestraffleKathleen Stachowski    Other Nations

For weeks now, our local newspaper has been running a full-page ad for the PIGGEST. RAFFLE. EVER. It exhorts me to kick-off my summer “the right way, by winning the ultimate BBQ package.” A pink pig, arms akimbo, grins sardonically. If he’d just glance down the page some nine inches, he’d see a chart of his body sliced up into meat cuts. A little less to grin about, no? The grand prize is a Weber grill and one-half of a pig. Second place gets the other half.

Every time I see this ad I’m reminded of the human tendency to distance ourselves from the other animals with whom we share sentience. We make cartoons of them and require that they serve as willing purveyors of their own dead bodies Continue reading

Speciesism: If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention

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Branded sea lions – click image for report

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

If you aren’t angry, it’s possible that you aren’t concerned about speciesism. If you are concerned about speciesism but you’re not angry, you probably aren’t paying attention. Because lordy, speciesism is everywhere and so thoroughly normalized that it’s invisible in plain sight. Once you’ve seen it, though, you can’t un-see it, and then you’re screwed. Because how do you fight an injustice that’s been marketed to us–insidiously, with happy, smiling animals–since birth?

Now I know what you’re thinking–it’s not healthy to live in a state of perpetual, seething anger. And you’re right. That’s why I routinely alternate my seething anger with abject despair. Let’s take a gander at just a few episodes in that wildly-profitable, long-running series, “It’s a Speciesist Life.” But beware: you might end up seeing what others of us can’t un-see, and that changes everything.  Continue reading

What’s Wrong with Happy Meat?

Spencer Lo

Suppose animals could be raised humanely, live considerably long lives, and then painlessly killed for food. Would eating such happy creatures be wrong? That question is suggested in a recent article by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, who answered it in the negative. According to Kristof, as an alternative to consuming tortured animals raised in factory farms, which is problematic, it is possible to consume happy ones raised on efficient farms with “soul.” Some will even have names: like “Jill,” Sophie,” and “Hosta.” In the article, Kristof introduces us to his high school friend Bob Bansen, a farmer raising Jersey cows on “lovely green pastures” in Oregon. Bob’s 400+ cows are not only grass-fed and antibiotic-free, they are loved “like children” – every one of them named. “I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me… They’re living things, and you have to treat them right.” With great enthusiasm, Kristof concludes: “The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.”   read more

Thinking About Elephants

Bruce Wagman

I have been thinking about elephants.  The recent disappointing judgment in the hard-fought Ringling Brothers case is really only one reason.  I’ve been involved in a few nonlitigation matters trying to help make life better for elephants in zoos in different states, have visited the elephants at PAWS in California, and have spent many hours watching the amazing interactions and overwhelming magic of hundreds of elephants in several Tanzanian parks.  There are many elephant experiences that stand out in my mind, including on the one hand one long heating-up morning when we spent about two hours watching about 220 elephants of all ages and sizes (as best as we could count) in one spot in Tarangire National Park, and on the other being shocked into outrage when I learned about the crushing pain they suffer by virtue of almost every confinement situation in America, the literal disintegration of their foot bones as they are forced to stand on them, in some of the worst pain one could imagine, without any relief.  When it comes to elephants in zoos and circuses, the news is grim. 

I had to learn the science of elephants for my job, and that requirement is one of the fantastic things about practicing animal law, especially for someone like me.  That is, in order to do a good job, I am compelled to learn not just the law, but often the biology, physiology, psychology and behaviors of whatever species is at the center of the case I am litigating.  For me that is turning work into fun or at least intellectual exploration, which is fun for a law geek like me.  Because there are “cat people” and “dog people” and “chimp people;” and when on safari in Africa some people mainly want to see the big cats; others the birds.  There is an inherent speciesism, just like when we pet a cat and eat a cow, or think it is bad to eat dog because we do not do it, but it is okay to eat a pig because we do.  But I’m a garbage-can animal lover, meaning I love them all.  So when I am in Africa, ask me what I want to see, and I don’t care, as long as it’s wild.  People say warthogs are ugly and I think they are beautiful, perfect.  And when I am home ask if I prefer my dogs or cats, and my response is: “anything nonhuman will do, I love them all.”  So the requirement that I learn about some species or other is just a joy, and something I have done literally dozens of times over the course of my career.  And you really cannot adequately litigate for animals if you don’t understand them – as well as the law.  Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Animal Blawg!!

Happy B-Day, Animal Blawg!!It’s difficult to believe, but Animal Blawg just turned 1!! These last 12 months have been wonderful. Animal Blawg received only 5 or 6 hits per day during the first month or so. Slowly, but surely, the number of hits started increasing.  I’m pleased to report that during the last month or so the Animal Blawg has received over 1,000 hits per day on several occasions.  Our goal is to reach an even broader audience, but I believe this is a good start.

Thanks to all of you for reading the blawg and for your frequent and insightful comments. Thanks are also due to our numerous guest bloggers.

On a more personal note, I want to thank my dear friend and colleague, David, for encouraging me to think about these issues, for allowing me to co-host this wonderful blog with him, and for keeping the blawg going come rain or shine.

Just like it has done since October 2008, Animal Blawg will continue transcending speciesism through 2010 and beyond.

Luis Chiesa

Can Animals be Immoral?

Guest Blogger: John A. Humbach

A few years ago a young patron at a municipal zoo climbed into the polar bear exhibit and was promptly attacked and killed. The newspapers reported talk of destroying the attacker, but many favored sparing him. As one observer put it: “He was just being a bear.”

But was he?

Most of the discussions of moral concerns in relation to animals have centered on the conduct of human animals rather than of the non-human kind. While this conspicuous disproportionality may appropriately reflect the species-centric point of view of the discussants, it does narrow the frame of reference substantially.

It also impoverishes the discussion because, if morality and immorality are properties of non-human as well as human behavior, then humans may well have much to learn by observing our less disingenuous fellow beings. Such observation would be particularly fruitful if, as many appear to assume, morality is not merely a human construct but rather part of the fabric of the universe. For if morality is, indeed, an intrinsic attribute of the stuff and sequences of the life, it would be surprising to find it confined to a single species among the millions that walk (and have walked) the earth. To view moral capacity as an exclusively human attribute would be, at least, suspiciously speciesist.

Beyond this, is it far-fetched to think that animals make moral judgments about us, at least in some cases? What person with pets at home has not felt the occasional rebuke of a non-human companion who is fed too late or is clumsily stumbled over? The animals who live in our homes tend to be profoundly forgiving, which is much to their credit (and maybe part of what we can learn). But it is hard to miss the fleeting flash of disappointment or anger in their eyes when, due to malice or mere misstep, they find themselves treated with disregard or disrespect. Perhaps their well-known and, frankly, appealing patterns of moralistic behavior, deeply considerate of others but without abandonment of self, far surpasses the structures and stylized moral artifices of human behavioral conventions.

But there is also a somewhat darker side to the question. It is widely accepted that human beings morally “deserve” various forms of ill-treatment when their conduct strays outside the accepted boundaries. A number of elaborate and robust retributive theories of punishment are built upon this foundation, and the infliction of punishment in that pursuit is a primary government activity. Ideas of retribution are sometimes closely attentive to the moral culpability of those alleged to deserve suffering, but not always. There are also important strains of retributive thought that regard there mere doing of harm as being, in itself, deserving of painful inflictions-such as when a “sick” individual is driven by violent internal compulsions to horrific actions that may be functionally beyond his control. (Or when a person who is unjustly imprisoned kills a guard in order to escape?)  At any rate, the point is this: Even if animals do not have “free will,” it far from clear that the presence or absence of this dubious faculty is a necessary pre-requisite to ascribing moral responsibility, or just deserts.

So what can we say of a killer bear, that he is “bad” or “good,” or merely that he is? Can we, in short, ascribe to animals the capacity to be immoral? I am not, at this point, prepared to reach a conclusion. It is not, however, the kind of question that can be lightly cast aside. It runs indeed to the very core of relations among the species.