If you have read the other posts I’ve uploaded so far, you will know that I try to go out of my way to be extraordinarily fair. I search out different sides to every topic I write about so that I can discuss the pros and cons in order to arrive at a well-educated conclusion. I try to avoid making emotional reactions and try to keep my own personal biases in check. I want to avoid being inflammatory and confrontational as it puts people on the defensive and blocks any progress from being made.
This post is not quite going to be like that. This time, I’m pointing fingers and not holding back my feelings or opinions. Animals are one of the greatest joys in my life. I love having pets and keeping animals of all kinds. I love learning about and seeing animals, whether in the wild, in preserves, in zoos, or on television. I think animals should be understood and cared about. But people are ruining things. Because they’re being stupid. So this time, I’m breaking my own rules about keeping things even-tempered.
The Immortal Wisdom of Ian Malcolm
I just turned thirty (so perhaps this post is just me becoming a cantankerous old man), which puts me at the age that one of the most important movies of my childhood was Jurassic Park. It still resonates and influences me in a number of ways, including a few pearls of wisdom that have stuck with me over the years (life truly does find a way…). Perhaps one of the biggest of these is when Ian Malcolm tells John Hammond “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
You can substitute the scientists with practically any group and this line speaks to the heart of the problems we are seeing. Pet owners, hobbyists, animal rights activists, the media, the general public who hears one piece of one side of one argument and becomes rabid believers in a flawed idea, you are all causing further harm to that which you claim to care about and want to protect. Take some time to stop and think about the consequences and results of your actions, because many times they may be more widespread and damaging than you believe. In the meantime, allow me to address the two sides of the pet ownership argument, the owners/hobbyists and the animal rights advocates.
To the Pet Owners and Hobbyists
In past articles I have touched upon the desire of certain animal rights organizations to end the ownership of all animals, including common domesticated pets. The common pets, such as dogs and cats, are especially powerful tools due to the large number of people who have formed close personal attachments to them in the past. Every time a story comes out about neglectful or abusive animal owners, it opens the door for organizations use that as justification for enacting regulations that claim to be for protecting animals when in reality they are building blocks designed to make it harder for even responsible owners to keep pets.
There was a fantastic editorial in the last issue of Coral Magazine in which Ted Judy pointed to aquarium hobbyists as being perhaps the biggest threat to the long term survivability of the aquarium trade. There are constant reports of non-native and invasive species being found in the wild, and the bottom line is that most of the blame ultimately does lie with the public who irresponsibly buys fish they cannot take care of and allow them to escape or release them. He points out the number of times he gets requests from individuals in different states asking for him to ship fish that the customers know are illegal in their state, precisely because of the (real or perceived) threat of those species becoming established should they escape or released.
This problem is especially pervasive here in Florida where there are a number of high profile species that have established themselves such as the giant constrictors in the everglades and lionfish off the coast. Just this week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission drafted a proposed ruling regarding lionfish that included, among other things, the complete ban on imports of all species of lionfish (Pterois genus) from anywhere in the world. While this is an easy selling point to those who are willing to make a rash and emotional reaction to the problem of invasive lionfish, in reality it will result in what I see as being a couple of additional problems. First is that it severely limits the potential for individuals to keep even those species of lionfish that have never been a problem (which in itself is a dangerous precedent to set to set that could result in other species being banned merely out of fear). Second is that lionfish have already spread throughout the Caribbean, and without the ability to import them from other Caribbean countries in an effort to reduce those populations as well, they will merely re-establish themselves even if we could reduce the numbers in Florida waters.
Invasive species are not the only problems facing pet ownership that werebrought about largely by the pet owners themselves. There is an enormous push right now to ban many species of reptiles that is supported in large part by sensational media reports involving those animals. While those of us who love reptiles largely discount these report as fear mongering and irrational prejudice against reptiles, the bottom line is that many of these reports would not come about if it wasn’t for the way that the reptile hobbyist community has organized itself. It is frighteningly easy to acquire highly dangerous species, often with little or no questions asked in regards to the ability of the purchaser to adequately care for or control that animal. While there are certainly responsible breeders and sellers, if the reptile community as a whole doesn’t police itself, then sooner or later someone else will.
There are many forces out there that want to eliminate the pet industry and the rights of individuals to keep pets. The more fuel that is given to them, the easier it is for them to pass their agendas through. Further, the more they are able to set precedents of taking away certain rights, the more they can leverage those precedents in order to push through even stronger legislation restricting even more rights. It is a dangerous slope, and one that in many ways is being created by the actions of those who keep pets. If you keep pets, be responsible about it. Do your research before you get the animal so that you know whether or not you can take care of it for the long term. Otherwise, you will be part of the reason why these rights are taken from everybody.
To the Animal Rights Activists
First, let me start of by acknowledging there is a wide range of people and groups who consider themselves animal rights activists, ranging from those whose goal is for all animals to be treated humanely (and are probably more accurately labeled animal welfare activists) through those who think that all animals should live wild “natural” lives and that no animal should be kept or used by any person for any reason. Secondly, let me express my opinion that there will never be a time when no animals are kept by people, even if the day comes where it is illegal to do so. Animals play too important of a role in too many people’s lives for this to happen, and I think we can look to other bans (such as those on illegal drugs and certain weapons) to realize the futility of such bans and the naivety in thinking that people won’t do something simply because it is illegal.
While I vehemently disagree with those who say that pets should not be kept, I fully agree that we should do everything we can to ensure that all animals are protected and treated humanely. However, to put it bluntly, many of the ways you are trying to go about your agendas are short sighted and counterproductive.
Perhaps the most widespread targets for animal rights activists are those who sell animals, particularly pet stores and breeders. The fight against “puppy mills” has become so heated and the subject of so much propaganda that in many people’s minds anybody who intentionally breeds a dog is a “puppy mill.” While there certainly are large scale commercial breeders who raise dogs in inhumane environments, there are also small scale, responsible breeders who take care and pride in breeding. These breeders are finding it harder and harder to continue operating and offering well-bred dogs to the public. On the other side of the coin is the obviously enormous demand from the public for purebreds, which is readily apparent by the quantity and prices of dogs being offered.
The result of this huge demand and dwindling supply is twofold. First, the puppy mills that these propaganda campaigns are targeting are quickly becoming the only sources that can keep up with the demand for these dogs. Second, more and more consumers are turning to the internet to find the animals they are looking for. Combined, this means that those operations that animal rights groups are fighting against are in many ways benefiting from those attacks to the detriment of the responsible breeders. I am all for adopting methods of ensuring a standard of quality in regards to dog breeders (and pet stores), but adopting regulations that is aimed at or results in shutting down as many breeders as possible is not the way to go about this. Looking to the future, if the trend continues, there will certainly be a growth in “black market” dogs where there is little or no oversight or care given to the welfare of the dogs being bred.
Another huge target of animal rights activists are public zoos. This is another area where there are definitely examples of great work and great care being done as well as examples of sub-standard facilities operating. While there are many criticisms being lobbed at zoos (which I will discuss in another article), you must look at the goals upon which credible zoos are built. The primary functions of zoos are for education, research, and conservation, and it is for these reasons why taking the stand that zoos should be eliminated is counterproductive to trying to protect animals.
There are many people throughout the world who hold no special regard for animals. The most glaring example of this are the poachers who slaughter rare and endangered animals to make a quick profit with no regard to the impact it has on the long term survivability of these species. Even in this country, there are many people who think nothing of killing or displacing animals for no reason. I believe that this is because these people have no personal or emotional attachment to the animals, which can only come from experiencing and learning about them. The more distant and unknown an organism is, the less likely anybody is to care about or try to protect it.
The research and conservation goals of zoos are equally vital to ensuring the long term survivability of species. Studying the habitational requirements or mating habits of species in order to protect the environments or resources necessary for long term survival is invaluable. There are species that only exist in zoos or that have been saved from extinction because of breeding and reintroduction programs. Without zoos, these animals would not exist at all, which to me is reason enough to support zoos.
You can argue that both groups, pet owners and animal rights activists, are acting from the same core value, which is the love of animals. However, both groups are making mistakes and poor decisions that ultimately will hurt those very animals they love. Pet owners, when you acquire an animal, you make a commitment to provide and care for that animal. If you can’t fulfill that commitment, don’t make it. Animal rights activists, you may be trying to do what you think is best for animals, but your goals and methods are short sighted and ultimately can be more damaging to the animals you are trying to protect. Unless you want to live on a planet where there is little or no animal life remaining, everybody needs to take responsibility, because you are all making bad decisions.