First of all, animals do not have rights under the Constitution in the same sense that people do. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence refer to the equality of all men, not the equality of all animals. The Constitution is silent on the subject of animals. Therefore, the welfare of animals is a matter of broad debate.
No reasonable person disputes the fact that there is a massive problem
with unwanted animals in this country today. There are millions of
animals who are euthanized every year because nobody will adopt them. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that animals are a form of property. Even the most hardened animal rights activists agree on this. The disagreement is on what to do with them.
There are two main belligerents in the animal rights community -- the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the No Kill Advocacy Center and its spokesman Nathan Winograd. Both are in agreement on two main things -- that animals are a form of property and that animal cruelty is wrong. But they are in complete disagreement about how to address the problem of unwanted animals. PETA believes in birth control and euthanasia. However, Winograd believes in creating a no-kill nation in which all animals are wanted.
The fight is very acrimonious, with PETA and Winograd getting personal with each other. PETA, in its entry on its website on Winograd, has this to say:
In the other corner, Winograd, in a letter to the Humane Society of the US, points out what he calls PETA's hypocrisy in saying they are against the torture of animals while euthanizing animals themselves and undermining no-kill shelters around the country:
In his crusade to turn all animal shelters "no-kill," Nathan Winograd blames the shelter workers—who have devoted their lives to
caring for homeless animals, giving them a chance at a home, and
providing them with a painless death when no other humane alternative
exists—for the euthanasia of millions of animals every year. This is
akin to blaming hospitals for deadly diseases! This false "logic" lets
the real culprits off the hook: people who breed (or fail to spay or
neuter) their animals and people who buy animals from pet stores or
breeders instead of adopting homeless animals from shelters. No one
wants to see animals euthanized—least of all, those who hold the
syringe—but denying that a crisis exists and blaming those who have
devoted their lives to ending it solves nothing.
It is time for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to stop
legitimizing the deadly actions of People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA). Over the last two decades, PETA has willfully and systematically worked to undermine the welfare and rights of our nation’s companion animals.
In addition to seeking out thousands of animals every year to poison
with an overdose of barbiturates, PETA is one of the most vocal
opponents of efforts to end the neglect, abuse and killing occurring at
animal shelters across the country.
But since animals are a form of property as agreed on by both society and the Constitution, what one does with animals is a matter of conscience. It therefore follows that raising animals for meat, milk, or eggs is also a matter of conscience since animals are a form of property. Therefore, HSUS and other such organizations have no right to tell people what they can or can't do with their pets or livestock as long as they are treated in a sanitary and humane way. In Missouri, the HSUS sought to regulate most dog kennels out of existence. That measure was overwhelmingly defeated in the rural areas and overwhelmingly passed in the urban areas and passed narrowly overall. However, the legislature, with bipartisan support, acted quickly to water it down and the measure was signed by Governor Jay Nixon. There are already laws on the books against animal abuse and the Department of Agriculture has been aggressively enforcing these laws here in this state.
PETA undermines the efforts of animal lovers to reform their local
shelters, even when those local shelters horrifically abuse animals.
They campaign to expand killing, urging shelters not to work with rescue
groups, not to foster animals in need, to ban the adoption of many
animals, and to round up and kill community cats. They defeat
desperately needed shelter reform laws which have been introduced in
states across the nation—laws that have been proven to save hundreds of
thousands of lives in those states which have passed them. And by
continually perpetuating the myth that No Kill animal control shelters
do not and cannot exist, PETA is one of the greatest barriers to
building a kinder, gentler America for our nation’s companion animals.
Hunting is another issue which is a matter of personal conscience. Man has hunted for his food from the beginnings of civilization. Predators have been around ever since the earth was formed and single-celled beings evolved into more advanced forms of life. The role of predators has been to control the population in nature. Without predators, there is overpopulation, suffering, and death -- exactly what the no kill advocates say they are against. That does not mean that we can and must hunt -- far from it. Man has become a sentient being with the ability to think for himself. Some of us are called on not to take a single life. Some of us believe in the need to hunt for food and to control populations. Restrictions on how many animals one can take are reasonable -- there is a compelling public interest in maintaining diversity of species and in leaving enough animals for other hunters.
However, there are always public health issues to consider. If I live in an apartment and my neighbor, who has 30 cats, refuses to do the hard work of cleaning up after them, then I have a right to complain to the authorities. Maintaining animals in unsanitary conditions is a public health issue and governments have every right to determine what is and isn't appropriate.
Then, there is the issue of abuse. I submit that there is a compelling public interest in preventing animal abuse because there is a proven relationship between cruelty to animals and violence against other people. This relationship has been known since at least the 1700's. However, recently, there has been empirical evidence growing in support of this relationship.
The article goes on to cite scientific research documenting the relationship between animal abuse and violence against other people:
In addition to a growing sensitivity to the rights of animals, another
significant reason for the increased attention to animal cruelty is a
mounting body of evidence about the link between such acts and serious
crimes of more narrowly human concern, including illegal firearms
possession, drug trafficking, gambling, spousal and child abuse, rape
and homicide. In the world of law enforcement — and in the larger world
that our laws were designed to shape — animal-cruelty issues were long
considered a peripheral concern and the province of local A.S.P.C.A. and
Humane Society organizations; offenses as removed and distinct from the
work of enforcing the human penal code as we humans have deemed
ourselves to be from animals. But that illusory distinction is rapidly
“With traditional law enforcement,” Sgt. David Hunt, a dog-fighting
expert with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Columbus, Ohio, told
me, “the attitude has been that we have enough stuff on our plate, let
the others worry about Fluffy and Muffy. But I’m starting to see a shift
in that mentality now.” Hunt has traveled to 24 states around the
country in order to teach law-enforcement personnel about the
dog-fighting underworld, often stressing the link between activities
like dog fighting
and domestic violence. “You have to sell it to them in such a way that
it’s not a Fluffy-Muffy issue,” he said of teaching police officers
about animal-abuse issues. “It’s part of a larger nexus of crimes and
the psyche behind them.”
To reiterate -- there is a big difference between people who hunt, fish, and farm and people who show brazen cruelty to animals. Some of the worst cases involve animals and domestic violence. Abusers will threaten to kill favorite pets in order to control the other partner or children. In many cases, animal abuse is about power, especially in patriarchal family structures. And children of domestic violence frequently kill or injure pets because they are acting out what they are witnessing on a regular basis. Then, they go on to engage in antisocial behavior themselves. It is a vicious cycle.
But the intuitions that informed the narrative arc of Tom Nero are now
being borne out by empirical research. A paper published in a psychiatry
journal in 2004, “A Study of Firesetting and Animal Cruelty in
Children: Family Influences and Adolescent Outcomes,” found that over a
10-year period, 6-to-12-year-old children who were described as being
cruel to animals were more than twice as likely as other children in the
study to be reported to juvenile authorities for a violent offense. In
an October 2005 paper published in Journal of Community Health, a team
of researchers conducting a study over seven years in 11 metropolitan
areas determined that pet abuse was one of five factors that predicted
who would begin other abusive behaviors. In a 1995 study, nearly a third
of pet-owning victims of domestic abuse, meanwhile, reported that one
or more of their children had killed or harmed a pet.
This also has a bearing on the gay rights debate. The right argues that the next step from gay rights is bestiality. But since animals do not have the same sort of rights under the Constitution as people do, no reasonable person can argue that same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality.