Do Animals Have Rights?

Bull_moose_stands_in_water_in_silhouetteA few people have asked me if I ever considered writing on animals or animal rights.

It’s a topic I’ve generally avoided, although my first post to get Freshly Pressed was about animals (time flies!).

Lately, I’ve been revisiting it. A reader recommended I check out Earthlings, which is available for free on YouTube. Earthlings delves into the way human beings use and treat animals in daily life, whether as food, clothing, pets, science experiments, or sports gear. I’ve watched part of it now and am still working up the strength to get through the rest.

I grew up in the land of BBQ, where green beans didn’t count unless they were soaked in pork fat. “Animal rights” were never really discussed, unless perhaps as a joke. I know even now some of my readers will think the very concept is ridiculous.

But sometimes I look in my dog’s eyes and I see this strange connection, a sort of wisdom I can’t grasp, like he knows something I don’t know. He feels earthquakes before I do, hears sounds I don’t hear. He senses when I’m threatened or sad and responds to it. He knows, I think, more than me, even as I patronize him for chewing rubber toys or being excited about a stick.

Pet owners will describe an animal’s love as unconditional. Trainers will describe their animal trainees as incredibly smart, free-spirited, or strong-willed. Mammals feel pain, as do birds. It’s even clear animals sense injustice, as seen in this video picked up as a rallying cry by the Occupy movement.

The question of animal rights may sound like liberal mumbo jumbo to a lot of people; and indeed it’s problematic: Where do you draw the line? Do all living things have rights? Am I wrong to kill a bedbug or venomous snake? Do malarial mosquitoes deserve their day in court?

But one thing is clear to me: the modern treatment of animals – technology-driven factory farms and puppy mills and $.10 chicken wings – do not benefit humankind in the long run.

Proverbs 12:10 says, “A righteous man knows the needs of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruelty.”

When we respond to the animals around us in ways that are cruel, we deny ourselves the chance to show compassion. We learn habits of selfishness – our needs come first before kindness or mercy. And those habits can work their way into our human relationships, too. We become unrighteous, in more ways than how we make pet food.

If we separate ourselves from other creatures and treat them like commodities instead of living, breathing partners on this planet, we separate ourselves from the humbling concepts of sacrifice, moderation, and mortality.

All of these ideas used to be very familiar. We can trace them back to the days in which farming was a sacred profession and a necessary good supported by the community. But today we over-eat, over-indulge, and under-value.

A lot of people blame our current health woes on an unhealthy relationship with food. I agree. But I think looking deeper will fix even more than our diabetes. The way we view and treat animals will affect how we love and hate, how we make decisions, how we live, and how we die.

6 Responses to “Do Animals Have Rights?”
  1. Joan Castle says:

    There is a lot of wisdom in these words. It gives me pause to think!

  2. There is a difference between criminalizing cruelty and declaring that animals have rights which could give them individual standing in court, etc.

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