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Sextiped Valley: Don’t celebrate animal rights victories just yet

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns dance with fans during a pre show Saturday in Orlando, Florida. The circus will end the “The Greatest Show on Earth” in May, following a 146-year run of performances.
Chris O’Meara / Associated Press |

When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced this week that it would end its 100-plus-year traveling entertainment extravaganza this coming May, animal rights activists around the world celebrated it as a victory.

Paul Shapiro, VP of policy for the Humane Society of the U.S., takes it as a sign that “we are seeing animals in a different light.” Animal welfare groups of all stripes are exulting in the fact that the demise of abusive industries are resulting from a change in public attitudes toward animals that translates into consumer rejection of their products.

A significant segment of American society has become conflicted about established habits of using animals for food, sport, entertainment, research or just about any other purpose. SeaWorld has been forced to abandon its iconic orca shows. Massachusetts just passed what may be the first law requiring the phase-out of meat and eggs from factory farms.



Activists acknowledge their role in exposing the ugly realities behind industrial animal use in shaping public opinion and the all-important consumer choices. Industry fights back with “ag-gag” laws and resistance to humane regulation, but most see change as inevitable, based on popular demand.

As recently as 15 years ago, respectable scientists could not even investigate the possibility of “higher” animals having minds, thoughts or emotions. Now, they are studying the mental and emotional lives of insects, invertebrates, fish, even plants, without apology. To an astonishing extent, research has led to the identification of commonalities with virtually all other living things. Suddenly, empathy, compassion and solidarity with “lowly” life forms are being considered, as consciousness itself begins to be recognized throughout the entire spectrum of life.



I celebrate this, but I also want to raise the question of the unintended consequences of these desirable trends, and what we should do about them.

Every animal lover who ever goes online has seen the videotaped supporting documents: the farm animal sanctuaries’ depiction of the sweetness and intelligence of pigs and calves and chickens rescued from slaughter; the sanctuaries for former performing animals and zoo “surpluses” and the stories of unlikely devotion manifested between species. We see their individual faces.

“No, I don’t want to eat her!” we say. And we study vegetarian cuisine. We donate for the ongoing work of organizations that care for them, promising no more abuse, ever. Yep, I do this, too — and I am not disparaging these efforts as absurd or futile. But I want to raise the curtain, not bring it down, on the scope of the need we create, if we seriously pursue a more equitable, humane world. It will make much greater demands on us than anyone is talking about right now, in the rosy flush of success.

For every rescued calf, chicken, elephant, orca or lab rat, alive but without any place in the natural world, who is no longer assured of even minimal support from consumer dollars, how many billions will starve when their industrial owners can no longer afford to feed them? Is there any possible, realistic way to avoid huge-scale suffering? What is the difference between what all these individual animals need and deserve and what we can give them? Would each of our households have to take in a cow? Two pigs? A hundred chickens?

Before we get too self-congratulatory about our newfound moral improvement, can we step back and really take in the costs of the wasteful and ignorant consumer society that we have endeavored to spread over the entire planet? Costs that will be paid by our innocent victims, no matter what we would like to have happen to them?

If we are serious reformers and not merely followers of the latest feel-good morality fad, we have to admit we are helpless to meaningfully reduce suffering we have caused and will increase through our very attempts to change. While we didn’t intend it, we willingly let ourselves be deceived, carefully avoiding looking behind the curtain so artfully hung by industry marketers. Our guilt is undeniable, and we cannot undo the consequences. But we can raise the curtain and really witness what we have wrought, resolving never to get into this position again.

Maybe this is what all this diffused consciousness is for.

Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.


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