Guide to Animal Rights



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The term animal rights is often used loosely and widely, the meaning constantly altering with context and whoever is wielding it. The technical definition of animal rights is built on certain principles:

  • The difference between animals and humans is not morally relevant
  • There is a moral obligation to ensure animals are not exploited and are given the same right to a pain-free, safe existence as afforded to human beings. An animal's ability to feel pain should not be taken any less seriously because they are not human.
  • The argument that an animal is intellectually or cognitively inferior and hence should not be accorded the same moral principles does not justify causing an animal pain as the capacity to feel pain is not relevant to intellectual limitations. Simply put, a human being with a low IQ or mental disadvantage feels the same amount of pain as a high functioning human being; hence this argument for discrimination cannot be used.
  • A similar rationale is used against 'might is right'. There is no moral justification for the stronger being to overpower the weaker one just because they can: in the human or animal world.
  • Research reveals that animals have similar complex life systems as human beings, physiologically and psychologically. They feel varying levels of pain, they have a drive to reproduce; their body develops and declines like human beings and they possess similar nervous systems.
  • Similarly, they form functional social units. Animals have the intellectual capability to learn things, they have an inherent need for safety - for themselves, their younger ones and their social units - animals form bonds with their own and other beings, they have a need for companionship, they possess the ability to feel psychological pain and the ability to form emotional connections.

Applying these Principles...
Based on these principles and common sense derivations, acting in support of animal rights means accepting:

  • No animal experimentation
  • No use of animals for strenuous or laborious activities
  • No breeding or killing of animals for reasons such as eating them or making medicine or clothing out of them, or for pedigree purposes
  • No animal sports like hunting, dog or bird fighting
  • No using animals in performances such as circuses or competitive shows

Animal Welfare or Animal Rights
There are paramount differences between the terms animal rights and animal welfare. Animal welfare refers to the humane treatment of animals. It advocates ending animal cruelty and suffering through various means. Treating livestock better; ensuring that they are bred and raised in a healthy and happy environment that nurtures their natural instincts and growth. Animal welfare also means working towards ensuring that all animals are cared for; whether in the wild, in a shelter or by a pet caregiver.
Even though animal rights activists and animal welfare activists both argue that animals are not to be treated like commodities, those supporting animal welfare do not advocate against using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation or medicine. As long as the animal is treated humanely, animal welfare demands abatement of unnecessary cruelty or ill treatment.
Both animal rights and animal welfare extend to livestock, domestic animals, household companions and wildlife.

The Law...
USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have animal laws in place that are meant to protect both animal companions and livestock from being treated cruelly and unfairly. Punishment ranges from imprisonment to fines, to confiscation of the animal(s) by the authorities.
There are however, many countries where there is no legislature regarding animal welfare nor is it implemented in the slightest. China, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, the Middle East and other parts of Asia are reported to have little or no laws in place that protect animals. In certain provinces in China, officers can shoot an unaccompanied dog on sight.
Animal rights activists are trying to implement a Declaration of Animal Rights to be endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Also, wild life preservation laws fall into a separate ambit of most legal systems.

What the Law Says
Simply put, there are mostly two types of offences in most countries: by omission and by commission. Crimes against animals that are by omission usually refer to neglect, where inaction causes harm or results in cruelty. This could mean inadequate shelter, starvation, dehydration, not keeping the animal clean and free of parasites, not knowing the animal has an injury or is sick and not giving the animal veterinary care. Many work animals suffer from passive harm, in countries where the law is implemented the punishment for such an offense could mean confiscation of the animal, or license (if it is needed to work with animals), a fine, or imprisonment.
A crime against animals, actively or by commission, means intent to cause the animal harm. This may be in a commercial or domestic situation. Farm animals fall under a separate legislature and causing an animal harm to make it work more is illegal and against animal welfare. Animals are often dragged into domestic disputes and threats to their wellbeing are used to psychologically abuse their owners. Such animal harm often goes unpunished and unchecked as the abuse of the domestic partner is seen as the major punishable crime.
Useful links to better understand the laws for animal welfare and their implementation:
The ASPCA provides background information about companion animal laws and issues.
Animal laws in Australia: an overview of legislation regarding animal rights and welfare.
Animal laws in Canada: an educational website that provides current laws, issues, news and organizations in Canada.
Animal Welfare Laws in the UK: a BBC guide to animal welfare law and legislation in UK and Europe.

How to Help
There are many agencies that will help you report crimes against animals or simply help you help animals. This ranges from volunteering at animal shelters, training volunteers to administer first aid, campaigning against using animals for food, clothing and medicine or as experimental subjects and lobbying political agendas that are pro-animal welfare or animal rights. Some agencies have radical approaches, whilst others allow people to passively participate via donations.
Animal Organizations:
Please be advised that many animal rights or welfare websites will contain videos, images, or information that is graphic and disturbing.

Vegetarian, Vegan or Simply for Animal Welfare
After reading all the material that is out there regarding animal cruelty and the different paths to helping our fellow companions live a better life, it is up to you to decide how to contribute. Whether you choose to respect all mother earth and honour that by becoming a vegetarian or a vegan or you decide to contribute by shunning all animal skin products, being aware is the first step. Then you can decide how to participate in making tomorrow safe for all non-humans.

A Few Articles and Facts on Animal Cruelty
Animals in War: casualties that go unnoticed.
Circus Animals: cruelty that performance animals go through and public safety issues highlighted by PETA.
Can Fish Feel Pain: busting the myth through scientific research.
Renouncing derogatory terms: academics replace commonly used terms with kinder more ethical alternatives.
Fighting Virtual Animal Cruelty: animal rights activists demand Google ban a virtual dog fighting phone app.
Animal Cops: Netherlands trains police officers to enforce animal laws.
Fur For Fashion: German catwalks showcase real fur in the face of animal activist.

Related links on StartLocal

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