An article was published this week reporting that the Province of Ontario will be introducing legislation this spring to, “ban the breeding and acquisition of orcas” in captivity. Obviously this is great news and I’m sure the tremendous film Blackfish has had something to do with the growing demand to free these animals (if you’ve not yet seen it, I highly recommend a viewing, especially if you’ve ever visited Marineland here in Ontario or a SeaWorld anywhere). But this is just a start: hundreds more species of fish and sea life should also be freed from their forced breeding and captivity across the country and not just in Ontario and not just orcas.
There was another article this past week about Pierre Paradis, the Agricultural Minister in Quebec, who has proposed new legislation to impose harsher sentences on people convicted of animal cruelty. According to the article, he was personally moved to introduce the legislation after seeing baby cows on a veal farm being beaten. If passed, the legislation would allow a sentencing judge to take into account the extent of the animal’s injuries when determining judgement. This would be a step forward in taking animal cruelty crimes more seriously in Canada and I’m particularly encouraged by this story not only because it would specifically include farm animals but because it is legislation that has been introduced out of someone’s outrage: bearing witness to cruelty and injustice can spur us to action and I’m thrilled it was a politician for a change.
Now, I know I shouldn’t read comments when it comes to animal welfare stories but I do. And here’s why: I want to see what the general tone is. Are the reactions changing at all? Are they what I expect or are there some surprises? How many do I have to scroll down to before I reach the lone comment voicing support for the animals or the one calling animal activists crazy lunatics with nothing better to do with their time? Occasionally I’m surprised. Sometimes the skeptics actually construct their arguments thoughtfully and sometimes the dissenters really do sound nuts. But that’s not typical, at least not on the mainstream news outlets anyway.
As I was reading the comments from these two stories (there were only a handful on each, another indication of how few people even bother to read stories about animal welfare), a thought struck me that had never occurred to me before. There were two very typical comments from each article, one I see over and over again in regards to animal rights and protections. From the article on banning orcas in captivity, one comment posted was:
“Thank god. Orca whales are a huge priority for the province of Ontario. Good thing we have nothing better to worry about!”
On the article about the Quebec legislation:
“Why do people seem to care more about what happens to animals than what happens to people?”
At least the latter comment seemed like a genuine question.
I’ve written about this before, this “but-what-about-the-children?” attitude when it comes to animal rights, as if society couldn’t possibly care about children and animals simultaneously. But what struck me differently this time was that no one ever uses the “but-what-about” or the “thank-god-we-have-nothing-better-to-do” comment on any other welfare issue except when it comes to animals .
When I read an article on the latest treatment for cancer patients, I’ve never seen a comment that says, “Guess no one cares about people living in poverty!” Or when I read an article on new safety guidelines for workplaces, I’ve yet to see a comment that says, “Glad we have nothing better to do!” In fact, when I saw the news that broke late today about 200 emaciated and abused dogs that were seized from a home in Alberta, not one of the comments posted to the story indicated that rescuing these dogs was a waste of time and money. And I don’t expect there will ever be.
So why…why do farm animals, ocean animals, wild animals and the animals we hunt, eat, wear, breed, and pay money to stare at have to wait for our attention? Why must they wait for our human problems to be completely solved before we will even consider helping them? Why can’t they be as important as people? What is so objectionable in caring about their lives, their safety and their happiness in the same way we care about a human’s? What did these animals ever do to deserve being held in such low priority?
When people make these kinds of comments they think they’re posing them as arguments. But they’re not arguments; these comments are groundless rationalizations and they are excuses. Excuses not to care, excuses to dismiss animal rights and an excuse to do nothing.