Animal welfare too often dismissed

Peter Fricker
Vancouver Sun
September 9, 2013


Online comments on news stories are probably not the best source of wisdom but they do provide some insight into current public perceptions. One common sentiment, expressed whenever an animal welfare issue dominates the news, goes something like this: “Why all the fuss about animals? When did they become more important than humans?”

Here are a few facts about the importance we place on animals:

Wild animals are disappearing, thanks to human domination of the planet. We are in the middle of a mass extinction crisis, with at least 1219 of the 5487 mammal species on Earth threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN estimates that almost 50 per cent of the world’s non-human primate species, our closest relatives, are at risk of disappearing forever. Globally, 21 per cent of evaluated reptiles are deemed endangered or vulnerable to extinction, as are 12 per cent of bird species and a third of all amphibian species.

And, according to biologists, human beings are to blame. The Center for Biological Diversity, for example, says: “Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans. In fact, 99 per cent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming.”

Meanwhile, down on the farm, humans slaughter about 70 billion animals for food each year. Two out of three animals are raised on factory farms, where most, like caged hens or crated pigs, cannot even turn around or see the light of day. Another 50 million caged animals on fur farms are killed annually for fashion. Ten million more die in traps.

And what about our pampered pets? The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters each year. According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, shelters across Canada in 2010 took in more than 140,000 homeless animals. Of those, nearly 52,000 had to be euthanized, most because they were physically or behaviourally unhealthy. Despite decades of educational campaigns by animal welfare groups, many people still fail to spay and neuter their animals or ensure they are well cared for. Here in British Columbia, the BC SPCA carried out more than 6000 cruelty investigations in 2012 alone and rescued nearly 29,000 injured, homeless, neglected and abused animals.

The animals we use to entertain ourselves aren’t doing too well either. Some languish in zoos, where they are denied the ability to engage in natural behaviours. Others are compelled to perform tricks in circuses, rodeos and marine parks. Bullfighting and bull runs continue to attract thousands of tourists in Spain and other countries.

In the horse racing industry, thousands of healthy horses are slaughtered because they are surplus to requirements. More than 10,000 U.S. thoroughbred horses are shipped annually to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Most of these are young, healthy horses — their racing careers can end at three years old but they can live to 30.

What happens to animals in North America, Europe and a handful of developed countries is bad enough, but many states have much weaker animal welfare legislation. China, the world’s most populous country and second largest economy, has no animal welfare laws at all.

Public reaction to all this, at least in Canada, is mostly one big collective yawn. Charitable giving to animal causes is less than two per cent of total giving. (Religious groups receive 40 per cent.) Government spending on animal welfare is negligible. Animal welfare has never been an election issue.

Yet some people still complain that too much attention is paid to animals. They say they are appalled that time and money are spent on animals when there are humans suffering around the world from famine, disease and war.

Do they have a case? Well, before we stop lavishing those appallingly generous resources on animals and end our shameful pandering to their selfish whims, perhaps we might consider some other things we could cut back on. Some statistics might help:

Canadians spend about $21 billion a year at beer and liquor stores.
Canadians spent more than $35 billion on foreign travel in 2012.
On average, Canadians spend $310 a month on items they want but do not need

It’s funny how famine, disease and war rarely enter our thoughts when we’re having a drink by the pool in Maui, admiring the cool sunglasses we just bought. No, those thoughts only emerge when someone dares to say we should do more for animals.