Battle for protection
February 9, 2008
The growing influence of animal rights activists increasingly is affecting daily life, touching everything from the foods Americans eat to what they study in law school, where they buy their puppies and even whether they should enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride in New York's Central Park.
Animal activist groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say they are seeing a spike in membership as their campaigns spread.
"There's been an explosion of interest" in animal welfare issues, says David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor and animal law specialist. "Groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA have brought to our social awareness their concerns about animals and all matter of creatures."
"Animals are made of flesh and blood and bone just like humans," says Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vice president for campaigns. "They feel pain just like we do. Recognition of that grows year by year. The animal rights movement is a social justice movement (similar to) suffrage and civil rights."
Among other initiatives, PETA supports a measure introduced last month by a New York city councilman that would ban carriage horses that haul tourists around Manhattan.
"I think it's clear that animal issues are part of the public domain like never before," says Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society, the largest animal welfare organization.
Food producers say the activists aren't just concerned about animal welfare but are trying to win them the same rights as human beings.
"Ultimately, their goal is to eliminate animals being used as food," says Kay Johnson-Smith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry-supported organization that seeks to educate the public about agriculture. "There's a real danger when we allow a very small minority of activists to dictate procedures that should be used to raise animals for food."
Animal rights campaigns are moving on several fronts:
•The Humane Society says it expects 28 state legislatures, including Idaho, this year to consider strengthening existing bans on dogfighting and cockfighting; Washington is among 13 states considering bills regulating "puppy mills," mass dog-breeding operations that keep puppies in small crates.
•Massachusetts activists are collecting signatures to get a statewide initiative on the November ballot that would ban commercial greyhound racing by 2010. The Committee to Protect Dogs says state records show that since 2002, 728 greyhounds have been injured racing at the state's two tracks. Live greyhound racing is already banned in Idaho and Washington.
•Over the past three years, 330 colleges have stopped or dramatically reduced the use of eggs from hens in cramped wire crates called battery cages; retailers including Burger King, Hardee's, Carl's Jr. and Ben & Jerry's now use eggs produced by cage-free hens, Markarian says.
In Washington, lawmakers are considering several bills aimed at curtailing "puppy mills" that sell sick or genetically flawed dogs.
The bills require that a veterinarian examine an animal four weeks or less before it's sold, and that pet dealers disclose the dog's history and medical information. Someone who unknowingly buys a sick animal could get a refund, replacement animal, or reimbursement of veterinary costs.
The bills include Senate bills 6408 and 6735, and House Bill 2511.
Other pet-related bills in Washington's statehouse this year include one allowing owners to sue over the wrongful death of a companion animal (HB 2945) and allowing pets to be included in domestic-violence protection orders (HB 2836).
Idaho has legislation pending to make dogfighting a felony. The bill already has overwhelmingly passed the Senate, and is awaiting a House committee hearing.
Idaho is currently one of just two states (Wyoming is the other) that doesn't make dog fighting a felony. The bill also makes it a misdemeanor to attend a dogfight as a spectator – which now is legal in Idaho. The bill is expected to pass and Gov. Butch Otter already has expressed his support.
– Richard Roesler and Betsy Z. Russell