By Patrice Greanville
YESTERDAY I came upon this story. I quote it so that you may grasp the full flavor of this extremely sad event, yet, so common in our experience. The news was carried by The Washington Post. The headline almost said it all:
Maryland man left maggot-infested dog to die, officials say
By Justin Wm. Moyer June 29, 2016, The Washington Post
A Maryland man was arrested on animal cruelty charges last week after he left his maggot-infested dog outside to die, Montgomery County animal services said Wednesday. On June 21, an animal services officer responded to the home of Ronald Vaughan, 34, in the 13000 block of Deerwater Drive in Germantown, the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center said in a statement. In the back yard, the officer could see a small dog lying on its side in a crate, which was covered by a towel and encircled by flies, and could hear the animal’s cries of distress, the statement said. When questioned, Vaughan claimed that he had been out of town and that a friend was caring for the dog, named Cholula, according to the statement. Vaughn said the friend had notified him that Cholula had many flies on her, and Vaughn declared that he had made plans to take her to a veterinarian, but officials later confirmed that no appointments were scheduled, the statement said. In the meantime, Cholula was placed outside the home because of the odor she was emitting, according to the statement. Vaughan surrendered Cholula to the officer, and she was examined by a veterinarian, who noted that her body cavities were infested with maggots, as were wounds of unknown origin, the statement said. It was decided that the opportunity to treat the dog had passed, and she was euthanized at the shelter, according to the statement. Vaughan was arrested June 22 and charged with two counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, the statement said. Animal control obtained custody of a cat and a 6-month-old puppy in his home.
“This is an unfortunate case that ended with the euthanasia of an animal that, if properly treated, could have lived a much longer, healthier life,” Tom Koenig, director of the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center, said in a statement. “The public should be aware of both state and local laws that protect animals, especially with regard to obtaining medical care for those who are injured or are suffering.”
The above case, as sketched out in Justin Moyer’s report, triggered the usual emotions, and some thoughts about the sheer banality of such acts, and our pallid ability to prevent future occurrences of this type. Allow me to share some with you.
HOW MANY OF US in the animal defence movement will nod in recognition and despair upon reading this story? Probably the majority. The plot line is overly familiar: Human abuses animal brutally, or shows patent negligence leading to her impairment or death, and walks away with a slap on the wrist. In fact all too often s/he is not even forbidden from acquiring more animals.
Events like this cry for an explanation, but no easy explanations are possible nor forthcoming. We are forced, therefore, to dig deeper, to look further, to reveal the diverse forces that made this poor animal’s fate (and those like her) a foregone conclusion.
Many decades of working in this trench has shown us that changing the ways of society is hard work, that some victories are frequently rolled back, and that the status quo packs numerous areas filled with customs that facilitate and even encourage animal cruelty. From dominionistic religions—the Abrahamic triumvirate of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is notorious for that, as it literally sacralizes human tyranny over other sentient creatures and nature itself—to huge industries and commerce rooted in massive exploitation of animals, from factory farming to unrestricted fishing and deforestation, to national pastimes of varying idiocy—from Spanish bullfights to the recently cancelled Nepalese Gadhimai festival, a ritual slaughter of epic dimensions that will surely remain a landmark in the history of human depravity and imbecility for centuries to come.
Under such circumstances the severe disconnect between the gravity of the offense and the punishment meted out to animal abusers is bound to offend and enrage many animalists who see time after time that such characters suffer little retribution for their despicable acts. Why is this so, even in the 21st century? Has “civilization” meant any real progress in this complicated area of species interactions? Let’s recapitulate the situation for a moment.
A FRACTURED LEDGER OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND DEFEATS PUNCTUATED BY LONG PERIODS OF STASIS
WHILE IT IS PERHAPS clear that in some areas most of the world has seen a glimmer of progress in the treatment and status of animals, especially in the affluent nations, the benefits remain deeply sectionalized by species and a number of cultural factors.
It’s undeniable, for example, that companion animals —chiefly cats and dogs—or those animals we have come to regard as “pets”—may be enjoying a relative improvement in their lives in the developed world. This is something to celebrate indeed, for it has taken (and still does) enormous efforts to turn that tide of suffering. Barely 400 years ago many felines were persecuted with viciousness throughout Europe, the victims of faddish superstitions, while the vast majority of dogs were consigned to a life of errant destitution, persecution and starvation. That has changed, somewhat, albeit we still talk of incomplete victories.
At the same time, a multitude of animals which many cultures continue to classify as “food animals” or “draft animals” remain the object of extremely cruel treatment and industrialized death. Under such circumstances, the net effect, compounded by the ecologically criminal expanded consumption of meat as a symbol of economic success, is overwhelmingly negative. Indeed, relative melioration in some areas is being quickly obliterated by the appalling growth of meat production, the ugliest of human addictions, a habit that translates into the enslavement and murder of billions of creatures every year, from birds to cattle to hogs, plus other species consigned to the human table, not to mention the terrible harm we do to our planetary life-sustaining systems. These crimes—for the word is no hyperbole when we look at the situation with a modicum of honesty—are made even more odious by the impersonal business calculus ruling these operations, a mentality that reduces animals to mere non-sentient entities to be produced at the lowest possible monetary cost and in mind-boggling quantities.
Against this Dantesque backdrop, we should expect that as long as factory farming systems continue to exist, it will prove impossible to create or enforce effective broad protective legislation at any level – city, state or federal – that will do away with the crimes we commit in other far less defensible areas than food production, such as hunting, furs, blood festivals, etc. For, after all, according to the accepted rules of speciesism animals are “things”, and can thereby be “owned”, traded, used, exploited, and killed with relative impunity.
The existence of legal activities in both commerce and entertainment—factory farming, hunting and fishing, etc.—that endorse massive animal abuse and death for the most indefensible or trivial of reasons, make ratcheting up the penalties for animal cruelty difficult to attain.
THE CAUSES OF OUR FAILURE
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”— Wm. Shakespeare
ANIMAL EXPLOITATION and abuse is such an old and massive phenomenon that it’s hard to sort out the many cultural streams that give rise to this mighty river of suffering. The dimensions of this problem are such that many activists often burn out or are frequently paralyzed, depleted and overwhelmed by the seeming intractability of so many issues.
In general we can argue that the failure to really make a dent on speciesism stems from two major interconnected areas: internal and external causation, and the prospects of improving either follow different logic and approaches. Simplifying the matter a bit, internal causation relates to the poor performance of major animal groups, and the general small-bore vision of many animal activists. When changing human society, perhaps one of the toughest and most thankless jobs anyone can undertake, it’s essential to have a sense of the broader field affecting attitudes and policies towards animals, and the forces shaping it. Put charitably, the longer view is in scant supply in our movement. Passion and short-term thinking are the rule, especially for people in the “trenches”—the people who go out every day and night to rescue or rehab animals, the people who embrace a variety of issues (there’s never any shortage of that), often at great expense and even risk in their personal lives. In my view these people—the majority of whom are women— are the real heroes of the animal movement, exemplars of what compassion in action is and should be. My respect (and love) for them is immense and unswerving. That said, I must also say that their stubborn refusal to amplify their understanding of the social and political matrix in which such issues arise, or master more effective tools (such as media creation or manipulation) to combat issues at the general, social level, perpetuates the tragedies they fight so bravely and with such dedication every single day. Aversion to “politics,” or an amateur understanding of the nature of politics, harms our movement at the rank-and-file level, and I see no easy solution to this.
Compounding the problem is the fact that our ranks are riddled with de facto disunity and, in general, poor leadership. Sadly, despite the lip service paid to collaboration by most big organization leaders, a virtual lack of collaboration and jealousy about turf (read: supporters’ list and credit for whatever victories are secured) are the norm, and this reality cripples the animal defence movement to this day. Media campaigns, for example, should be supported by all major organizations, the funding issuing from a media pool, and ideally implemented by our own national media staffed with talented professionals (but not careerists) from top to bottom. Is this doable? Of course it is. A look at history shows it’s been done by organizations and groups with far less societywide support and fewer talented people. What is still missing is the leadership and willingness to move toward convergence of operations (wherever possible) instead of the preferred mode of going it alone.
THE BROADER FIELD: TRIBUTARY ISSUES
SO SOME OF THE FAILURE to really make a breakthrough in animal liberation, to defeat some of the factors that make their lot so hard, is at least partially self-inflicted. But what of the “external causes”?
If changing the subculture that permeates our movement is difficult (but something we can envision nonetheless), tackling the external causations is harder still, but, again, not impossible.
As they seek change for the sake of the animals, activists collide with what seems to many of them like an immutable thing, the mores that people embrace at any given time. Indeed, social customs can extend for decades and even many centuries, even while they are imperceptibly changing all along. At present, a look at society in general, when so many problems converge to define what looks like a virtual implosion, is bound to inject despair into the soul of any social change activist, especially those engaged in the toughest struggle of all, animal liberation.
The enforcement and proper provisioning of animal protection laws, such as they are, which could have saved Cholula, remains spotty due to the innumerable conflicts and corruption of the society at large, the rationales and the morally bankrupt priorities assigned to public monies and social resources of all kinds, which tend to underfund not just animal protection—regrettably still a low priority for far too many human beings—but many other essential things for a dignified life. This reality is more difficult to accept when we see that all such problems originate in a nation as rich as the United States from a general lack of decent political leadership at almost all levels. Politics, therefore, is a dimension of work that serious ecoanimal activists cannot afford to neglect. Why does politics matter, some may ask? Because politics is, in reality, not the buffoonery that we see on television every day, nor the idiocies the media would like us to believe, but the far more serious business of acquiring, holding and using social power to change the shape and priorities of society. What can be more important than that?
Indeed, in addition to all the systemic suffering we inflict on animals we also inflict indirect wounds. Death by ecosystem denial and destruction, as is the case with repeated oil spills, the further embedding of oil in our culture, forest devastation in pursuit of grazing pastures or monoculture crops, or the granddaddy of all, climate change—all of these evils stem from political decisions made by others, people with little or no regard for animals, humans or nature.
Obviously, speciesism and it myriad evils is not about to be cured overnight. Furthermore, it is also clear that the existing political leadership—of their own accord— is not likely to provide any real solutions. If anything, given the current pervasive corruption and pathetic quality of most professional politicians, the situation is quite likely to get worse, especially in the realm of “indirect wounds.”
That means the ball is in our court, has been for a very long time, and we need to come up with creative and savvy solutions, as well as a whole array of new tactics and strategies, if anything is to change in a substantive way. It also means we must get serious about mastering mass communications, or, to be more precise, propaganda for our side. We are facing an ideological challenge of huge proportions but our efforts are for the most part amateurish and uneven.
Climate change alone, and a global regime of constant (manufactured) wars, not to mention what some reasonably define as the collapse of civilization, threaten the destiny of animals more than ever before: droughts, floods, storms, civil wars, a shrinking of our civil liberties, even nuclear wars, are now credible events in our near future. Each of these cataclysmic factors, the product of bankrupt politics, will make the work of animal defenders, especially animal liberationists, immensely more difficult. For if people are not listening now, when, as far as they know, things are not yet as bad as they soon might be, imagine what the situation will be when pandemonium reigns, humanity is in a panic mode and naked survival of the fittest begins to take hold. In colossal crises like that, it is always the weakest who suffer the most, and all of you know who they are.
Patrice Greanville serves as publisher for the Animal People Forum. Opinions expressed in this article remain those solely of the author and do not represent the editorial position of this publication or organization.