A Matter of Right
"Animal rights is the idea that some or all nonhuman animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives, and that their most basic interests – such as an interest in not suffering – should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings" - Wikipedia
"Animal Rights - Rights (as to fair and humane treatment) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all animals" - Merriam Webster Dictionary
The Animal Rights movement gathered much impetus in the 1970s when Oxford psychologist Richard Ryder derived his theory of "speciesism". Speciesism assigns different values to different species. Since then Animal Rights have been championed by a number of activists including Betty White, Bob Barker, Howard Lyman, Jane Goodall, Mariana Tosca, Rachael Ray, Ric O’Barry, Tippi Hedren, and Willie Nelson.
As Pets – While adopting animals as pets may seem great since the pets get a loving home, care, and food, many pets across the world suffer from neglect from their owners. Caging or chaining pets is a common practice which is questioned. Pet owners prefer to put down pets which are terminal or have passed their prime. In terms of animal rights, the debate of taking an animal away from its natural environment is always a concern. In the US, over 57% households have a dog or a cat for a pet. Over 64.1 million cats and 63.8 million dogs in the US are kept as pets.
As Food – Consumption of animals always raises a human interests Vs animal interests debate. With more people in the world turning vegetarian if not vegan, the ethics and animal rights debates involved have gained much impetus. Is it wrong to raise animals for human consumption? Is it acceptable if the animals are slaughtered in a humane painless fashion? Apart from animal farming for food animals are raised for dairy and poultry and for slavery on farms and fields. In 2011 alone, the US consumed 25.6 billion pounds of beef.
As Prey – Hunting for game has been a favorite leisure activity for many decades now. While a number of animals are preserved and protected by laws as they near extinction, animal rights activists rake up a debate about hunting as a violation of the animals’ natural right to exist. According to the most recent US Fish & Wildlife Service report over 12.5 million people in the US hunt each year. Together they hunt for over 220 million days. Annually, over 350,000 baby seals are killed by clubbing during the annual Canadian seal hunt and most of them are skinned alive.
As Entertainment – Bull fights, bird fights and other forms of entertainment are considered part of acceptable culture in many parts of the world and circuses and zoos are omnipresent. Animal rights activists protest these on the grounds that they violate the animals’ right of freedom and condemn them to slavery for the sake of entertainment. Animals featured in movies were routinely subject to cruelty but the intervention of most celebrities ended this. According to APNM statistics, since 1990 over 82 big cats, 26 bears and 450 primates were killed in US circuses as the animals were exploited till they turned violent.
As Experiment Subjects – Animal testing is possibly the most controversial topic when it comes to animal rights. Animals are routinely used as subjects in testing new drugs, cosmetics, and skin products. Rats, guinea pigs, baboons, and animals closely resembling human beings in various respects are used for tests. The animals are often subject to cruelty including introduction of carcinogens into their system. Statistics say, over 15 million warm-blooded animals are tortured in laboratories every year.
Animals Rights & Religion
Animal rights have largely been ignored through history. Animal sacrifice has been an acceptable part of many religious rituals and has often been deemed mandatory. Here is a broad perspective of animals and their rights in different religions.
Christianity – Though the Bible upholds that animals are as much God’s creation as human beings and that kindness to animals is essential, animal rights had never been part of early Christian thought. Christianity does not restrict consumption of animal meat. Modern Christianity and pro-animal thoughts have evolved over the past few decades.
Hinduism – Hinduism has no clear doctrine or regulation with regard to the treatment of animals. In general, animals are treated with kindness but sacrifice of animals is not unheard of. Most Gods and Goddesses have animal totems or familiars. The cow is especially revered and eating beef is strictly prohibited. Some Hindus are strictly vegan or vegetarian.
Islam – Islam advocates kindness to animals as part of God’s creation. Ritual slaughter is permitted and only the meat of animals slaughtered in the ritualistic fashion (halal) is fit for consumption. While Islam is criticized severely for its slaughter practices which are considered barbaric by many, Muslims defend ritual slaughter as they are designed to reduce the suffering of the animals. Animal testing is also permitted by Islam.
Sikhism - While Sikhism preaches kindness to all living creatures, the religion prohibits the worship of one or other animal. Animal sacrifices are deemed unnecessary and futile. Animals, as part of creation are just about as necessary as any other life-form. Consumption of animal- meat is not prohibited.
Jainism – Jainism stresses on the principles of Ahimsa and explicitly prohibits harming animals. Jains believe that killing or sacrificing animals is a sin and most Jain monks mask their nose and mouth to avoid inhaling tiny organisms. Jains follow a strict vegan diet and desist from wearing leather and other animal products.
Buddhism – Buddhists see the Buddha (universal soul) in all living things – human and animal. Buddhists advocate abstinence from sacrificing animals, and consumption of meat. Wearing of leather and products for the manufacture of which animals have been slaughtered are frowned upon. In Buddhist stories, the Buddha was born in animal form in many previous births.
PeTA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) is a famous American animal rights organization. PeTA has its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, and is headed by Ingrid Newkirk. Newkirk and another animal rights activist Alex Pacheco founded the group in 1980. PeTA is registered as a non-profit corporation. It is currently the largest animal rights group in the world with over 300 employees and two million members supporting the cause. PeTA’s motto elucidates it cause “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment”. The organization has been instrumental in the materialization of many animal welfare laws including the 1985 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act.
The mainstay of PeTA’s activism is focused at opposing fur and leather farming and the use of animals in entertainment and as experimental subjects. The organization is infamous for its anti-fur campaigns and has drawn severe criticism by feminist groups for showcasing scantily clad women. PeTA focuses on fighting against the killing of domesticated animals or keeping them chained, in fishing and the use of animals in circuses and for entertainment.
PeTA has been a tremendous success in terms of celebrity involvement. The organization’s website lists over 3000 celebrities who are involved in Animal Rights activism and have aligned with PeTA in various capacities. Some celebrities who are PeTA supporters are –
In the US, apart from PeTA, a number of organizations such as the American Humane Association (AHA), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and Animal Rights Party work to defend the rights of animals and to protect them from cruelty.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, the World Wildlife Fund in Canada and the United States) is an international non-governmental organization working towards the conservation of animals and their natural habitats. WWF is the world's largest independent conservation organization and has over 5 million supporters in 100 countries.
Case Against Animal Rights
Critics of the Animal Rights movements believe that neither do animals have rights, nor do they need these rights. While the critics believe that human beings have an obligation to treat animals well and abstain from cruelty, animals are incapable of holding rights. This is primarily because they are guided by instinct not rational thought. As such they are unable to enter into social contracts and cannot hold rights. Animals lack the ability to critically judge and evaluate. Peter Singer, in his book Animal Liberation points out that the same may be said of mentally retarded and psychologically afflicted people. Hunting such people would still be considered a crime.
Others believe that animals so not need to be protected. Another group suggests that animals do not have a soul. Most researchers now believe that animals are capable of highly logical thinking and some are ideal candidates for personhood.
Animals With Legacies
According to the Washington University School of Law about 12% to 27% pet owners make provisions for their pets in their wills. 39 US states have statutes detailing pet statutes. Here are some of the richest pets in the world -
Tobey - American heiress Ella Wendel left her pet poodle, Tobey a $30 million inheritance when she died in 1931. The inheritance has been passed down to the descendants of Tobey — all of them named Tobey Rimes. The fortune has now grown to be worth many millions.
Tommaso - Maria Assunta was a millionaire widow who died in 2011 at the age of 94, leaving a $13 million estate to a 4 year-old stray cat that she had rescued and raised. Tommaso's inheritance included properties in Milan, Rome & Calabria.
Trouble - When hotelier heiress Leona Helmsley died in 2007, she left a $12 million trust fund for her Maltese pooch. A judge later reduced the dog’s inheritance to $2 million when the Helmsley family appealed. Trouble lived in Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel in Sarasota, Florida. The rich little pet died at the age of 12 and the remaining legacy passed on to the Helmsley Charitable Trust.
Flossie - In 2001, Flossie, Drew Barrymore’s Labrador mix, Flossie is believed to have saved the lives off Barrymore and her husband Tom Green by barking and banging the door to alert them of a house fire. In 2002, Barrymore placed her $1.3 million Beverly Hills home in trust with the pet as a token of gratitude.
Tinker - Margaret Layne, a wealthy London widow, adopted a stray cat, Tinker and left the cat her $800,000 home and a $226,000 trust fund. She left her neighbors a sizable fortune to look after the cat. The inheritance came with a condition — if Tinker returns to his straying ways, he loses ownership of the house & money.
Callum, Juice, and Minter - Before committing suicide in 2010, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen bequeathed his three English bull terriers a $81,000 fortune. McQueen had left most of his remaining legacy to animal charities as well. He also left the same amount to his housekeepers who looked after the dogs.
April Marie, Conchita, and Lucia - Heiress Gail Posner left her three Chihuahua pups a $3 million fund, diamond accessories, and her $8 million Miami mansion. She also bequeathed the dogs’ caretaker millions in her will.
Red - In Canada, when David Harper died in 2005 it came to be known that he’d left his $1.3 million estate to the United Church of Canada. Harper’s legacy was on the condition that the church would look after his 3-year-old cat Red. Red was the last of a number of orange tabby cats that Harper raised.
Gunther IV – In 1991, German countess, Carlotta Liebenstein, died leaving her fortune to her dog Gunther III. The dog died within a month and his legacy passed on to his son, Gunther IV. Gunther IV’s estimated worth is $372 million – the richest pet in this world.
Blackie - British antiques dealer Ben Rea bequeathed a $12.5-million fortune to his only surviving cat Blackie. Rea left his fortune to three major cat charities ensuring his pet’s welfare.
Ten Tips To Go Vegan
Try Vegetarianism First – As a first step to going vegan turn vegetarian instead. Initially you get to keep the cheese, butter, milk, and other milk products while you learn to find the right proteins and mineral substitutes for meat and fish.
Get The Labels Right – Read the labels on your food while shopping. Products with egg or casein or other animal extracts may go unnoticed unless you choose to read the labels on them.
Stay Inspired – Staying inspired and sticking to the diet is very important in making your vegan resolution sustainable. Join a vegan group for inspiration.
Enlist Help – Consult your physician, talk to a nutritionist, work to gain your family’s support, and make friends with vegans. Find out vegan food joints and restaurants in your city.
Substitute Right – Find effective alternatives to milk, eggs, and other commonly used food. Bananas and silken tofu are great binding agents; sweetened almond milk is a good milk substitute.
Focus On Supplements – By going vegan you shall also be giving up on fishes. Check with your physician about the use of Omega 3 Fatty Acid and other supplements you may require.
Experiment – Try a variety of recipes, experiment with vegan versions by substituting ingredients. Swap recipes and browse the Internet for vegan cuisine.
Learn – Learn the choices that veganism entails before starting. Most wines and beers will be out of bounds as they use albumen, gelatin, isinglass, or casein. Choose vegan wines and beers instead.
Reward Yourself – A month or so into veganism reward yourself with a new wardrobe, a new gadget, or just about anything. Plan your next achievement and reward.
Share – Share the joys of a vegan lifestyle with family and friends - the more, the merrier.