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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Are horses out of the danger zone?

One would not normally think of horses as animals in particular danger. They are used for drawing carriages and racing. One would assume that in our modern world there is ample expertise to put into the practice when using horses for whatever purpose.

Not quite so. Horses die in incidents occurring while drawing carriages and those incidents are far from being sporadic. The practice of forcing horses to draw oversized loads, sometimes in extreme weather conditions, is not the kind of news that reaches the headlines, but it is a fact of life. Horses pulling carriages in busy city streets are vulnerable to loud and unexpected noises, not to mention respiratory ailments caused by exhaust fumes. The safeguards provided by anti-cruelty laws are inadequate and cannot ensure that horses are not being overworked.

At the same time, there is an alarmingly high number of race horses dying in all forms of racing, although the majority of fatalities are known to occur in jump racing. Some courses are particularly dangerous and horses are forced to confront dozens of  challenging jumps (in the case of the Grand National this number is 30).
The use of whip is also problematic. There are guidelines on how to use the whip but who is to decide whether the whip was used appropriately or abusively in a particular situation during a race? Some horses were seen being whipped 30 or more times during a race. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

What is wrong with a circus trick?

In order for a circus act to be performed, animals are held in captivity. Take the largest mammal on the planet. In the wild, an elephant is capable of traveling a distance of 80 kilometers a day and has a lifespan of around 70 years. In captivity, their average lifespan is reduced to one third of that. Because no animal including elephants will perform a circus act naturally, the learning experience they are exposed to is anything but a process of sophisticated persuasion.

The elephant hook (ankus), is a heavy, clublike instrument with a sharp tip used for the handling of an elephant. Elephants are jabbed with that sharp hook to make them obey. If in the wrong hands, such an instrument can inflict nasty wounds on the upper ear, forehead or trunk. The idea of breaking the natural instinct of an animal is in itself unnatural and cruel. Standing on their hind legs is a position that grown up elephants, particularly female ones, do not seem to be comfortable in.

The naïve spectator of a circus act will be excluded from the circumstances surrounding the training of circus animals. Even some animal-lovers mistakenly believe that animals in circuses enjoy the atmosphere and the attention given to them and that they are loved, properly looked after and respected by their trainers. A glossy picture masking a sinister reality.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

One cat’s meat is another dog’s poison

Cats and dogs are, in many ways, worlds apart. The former are associated with more charisma and independence, the latter are known for their affection for their master. Some generalizations formulated in this respect are appropriate, others completely miss the point.

Although cats, just like dogs, are domesticated animals, they are still capable of surviving in the wild. The reason behind this is that they have not been affected by major changes during the domestication process. At the same time, they can adapt smoothly to the conditions characteristic of a modern household. A cat will always find itself a place or a recess in a house that will look as though it had been designed specifically for that cat. A dog will never be able to fit in perfectly with the surroundings.

The paradoxical nature of the whole issue of domestication lies in the fact that cats have remained resilient, while dogs have become more vulnerable to their living conditions. This does not affect the responsibility that pet owners have, be it dogs or cats. Although cats also appreciate human company, they can be perfectly happy alone, while dogs are much more dependent on their owners. Sadly, not everyone is aware of this. Well-meaning pet owners may not be aware of the shortcomings of their attitude. Social interaction is an essential part of a dog’s life. Those pet owners who cannot provide it have done nothing or very little to contribute to the well-being of their pet.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Do we really love our dogs?

Tigers and lions have around 18,000 times less space in zoos than they would in the wild. The high death rate of whales in captivity is a well-known fact. Herpetoculturists often make the mistake of creatively converting old furniture into reptile habitats without taking into account the fact that reptiles often rapidly outgrow them. Within a year or two what was thought to be a roomy structure might become an undersized enclosure.

Dogs, particularly bigger ones, are sometimes faced with a different kind of problem. Some people ask themselves whether their house is big enough for a particular breed. True, there are minimum requirements, depending on a number of factors. But providing adequate spatial conditions is a far cry from what dogs really need. Simply put, it is not a huge house or a big yard that will make your dog happy. What you do need is a big heart and commitment.

And this is what some people just do not have. What do you make of the situation when people who tend to think of themselves as dog-lovers leave their dog unattended in the house every day (never mind the size and other conditions) for as long as ten hours? Next door neighbors who have heard the desperate whining of lonely dogs left alone in a big house ask themselves this question: what is the point of having a dog in the house when the poor creature spends most of the time alone, no interaction, no attention, no nothing? 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A long road ahead to get rid of cruelty to animals

In modern democracies, some forms of cruelty to animals are now considered illegal and there is an increasing awareness worldwide that animal protection has wider implications both for the future of our planet and for the welfare of its inhabitants.
Dogfights and cock fighting have become illegal in most countries, while certain forms of hunting are now banned. Some segments of the entertainment industry take the issue of animal rights very seriously.

In the American film industry, animal protection goes as far back as 1925, the silent film era, when the American Humane Association’s Film Unit was set up to investigate abuses of animal actors.

Animals, especially pets, are getting recognized by humans not only as our companions. Apart from providing companionship to elderly people without adequate social interaction, pet therapy utilizes these animals (dogs in particular) to achieve specific social, cognitive and emotional goals with patients. Pets are also well-known for their ability to relieve stress.

But the fight against animal neglect is far from over. Even the concept of animal rights is contested by certain schools of thought. Speciesism opposes moral value on the basis of species membership.
Also, the Hunting Act 2004, which bans the hunting of all wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, might still be repealed by the UK Parliament.

Factory farming, a special form of industrial animal agriculture, is a contentious issue in Australia. Although it is wrapped in professional jargon such as concentrated animal feeding operations, confined animal feeding operations or intensive livestock operations, these terms cannot hide the fact that animals are often under stress from being kept in confined spaces. As a result, they will attack each other.

As for space available for animals in man-made environments, can we say that zoos or even aquaria are always ideal or at least livable places for an animal?

Nor can we turn a blind eye to the fact that behind the hilarious, idyllic atmosphere of a circus act looms the harsh and often cruel treatment of circus animals – all this under the auspices of entertainment.

Even goodwill can lead to questionable results. Internet hunting, now banned in 40 U.S. states, is the practice of hunting via remotely controlled firearms that can be aimed and shot using online webcams. Paradoxically, it was not invented for the entertainment of the wealthy but to provide an authentic hunting experience for the disabled.
Our attitude to animals is at best ambivalent. Besides the issue of morality versus necessity, another important question mark remains to be removed: where does necessary suffering or a legitimate sacrifice of interests end and where does cruelty begin?