moral collision course?

A story in today's Inquirer illustrates a strange and disturbing irony, and it's the second one of it's kind to make the local news. I speculated about the line between animal hoarding and animal rescue in an earlier post about a Philadelphia school teacher/author/animal "rescuer" whose house had been rendered uninhabitable by a huge number of cats.

This time, Pennsylvania's animal control bureaucracy stands accused of ignoring a much larger, ongoing problem at a professional animal rescue outfit called "Faithful but Forgotten Friends":


HARRISBURG - Several members of the state dog law advisory board are calling for an investigation into why it took so long for the state to raid a kennel in southwestern Pennsylvania and seize 215 dogs, many of which were emaciated and diseased.

Board members say the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, charged with inspecting the state's 2,700 licensed kennels, ignored poor conditions in the kennel and pleas from rescue groups that began almost a year before the raid was ordered on Faithful but Forgotten Friends and Best Buddies kennel.

By the time animal cruelty officers arrived at the Fayette County kennel late last week, it was too late for 50 dogs that had to be destroyed because of severe mange - an irritating skin disease that if caught early is treatable.

Board member Doug Newbold of Malvern, who saw dozens of the surviving dogs - and several that had to be destroyed - at the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia said she found it hard to believe that the wardens could have missed the signs of a progressive disease and did not take action after earlier inspections.

Others said the bureau's delay was evidence that the welfare of dogs in kennels was still at risk a year after Gov. Rendell began overhauling bureau operations.

Rendell, a dog-lover, has sought to improve conditions for thousands of dogs in large commercial kennels in Pennsylvania, which has been called the "puppy mill" capital of the East.

The irony here is that the conditions at the animal "rescue" operation are so appalling that had they been found at a puppy mill, the story would have been on the front page. But these people are in the animal rescue business, and they're well-known to the animal enforcement authorities. Moreover, they've filed lawsuits against the latter:
"This was a major enforcement action" against someone who has filed lawsuits against the bureau and tied it up in court for years, said Smith. "It doesn't mean there's a major breakdown here."

But Howard Nelson, director of the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania SPCA, which conducted the raid and took in 35 of the seized dogs, believed a review of the bureau's inspection procedures was in order.

"It sounds healthy to have a review to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Nelson, whose shelter had to euthanize nine of the sickest dogs.

Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, said the governor was "distressed" to hear that animals were being kept under bad conditions, but had yet to determine what steps he would take.

"We'll review the facts of the case and make a decision on how best to proceed," said Ardo.

Faithful but Forgotten Friends kennel, located 300 miles west of Philadelphia, billed itself as a "rescue," picking up dogs from overcrowded shelters, including 76 dogs from Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA).

The kennel license for operator Paula Lappe Barber had been refused in April 2006, after a failing inspection, but a new license was issued to her daughter, Rachel Lappe Biler, at the same location four months later.

The kennel got unsatisfactory inspections twice this fall before the raid was ordered.

"On a cruelty scale of 1 to 10, this is a 10," said PSPCA humane officer Reba McDonald, who led the raid. "The kennels were in poor condition. In some cases, there were 10 to 12 dogs in one pen. The dogs were very thin, and some were suffering from mange or dermatitis."

Quite incidentally (and this is not said in defense of puppy mills), no kennel breeding dogs for money would last long if it kept dogs that way, because even if the adult dogs didn't die, the puppies with their fragile immune systems would. So, even a cruel and callused breeder interested only in making money would have to provide a basic minimum standard of care for his animals, regardless of any laws or enforcement.

Interestingly, the Faithful but Forgotten Friends operation has been in the news before

Normal people looking for a dog would have to go to a considerable amount of trouble to "adopt" a dog from this outfit. From the group's website:

....We have an adoption contract for you to complete. If you want to adopt one of our friends, the adoption fee will generally be $150.00 to $300.00 for a spayed/neutered adult dog and $250.00 to $400.00 for a puppy. At times we do charge a higher adoption fee and such pet is labled as a fundraiser pet. Fundraiser pets are trypically chosen as fundraiser pets because they are in high demand and their adoption can generate revenue needed to care for other animals in the rescue's network.
They also refuse to place dogs in households in which the couples are not married.
Cohabitating couples who have not married or joined to each other via a civil union need not apply to adopt our pets. Please do not argue with us; there are many other rescues who will adopt to unmarried couples so we suggest that you contact them.
One thing is consistent with all of these animal rescue operations. They believe they are saving the animals from euthanasia. This particular outfit is so against animal killing that they oppose dog abortion:
We do not knowingly abort pregnant dogs or cats. Some rescues do abort pregnancies in their animals. We do not abort for two reasons: first, the babies are living creatures and the abortion is virtually the same things as simply killing them after birth and we do not involve ourselves in the killing of good tempered pets. The second reason that we do not abort is the risk that the abortion will harm or kill the mother. We are always interested in hearing from people who are willing and able to foster pregnant pets and their babies. We provide food and medical care for all moms and their babies in our network.
Naturally, they resolutely oppose the breeding of dogs (and insist on spaying and neutering). Somehow, it escapes me how neutered dogs crammed together in unhealthy and crowded conditions are "happier" than puppy mill dogs which are allowed to breed.

It's not as if the dogs know that they are being "saved" -- much less from what.

There are a lot of articles about this organization's ongoing struggle. They have previously complained about harrassment by the authorities, and in 2005 it appeared that they were almost closed, but they engaged in a lengthy dispute. Now that they're closed, the neighbors are relieved.

The whole thing is quite sad. I don't like seeing animals mistreated, whether by unscrupulous breeders or animal hoarders who imagine they're doing unwanted animals a favor when their conditions are as bad or worse than puppy mills.

I suspect there will be more of these stories, because there is a war between dog breeders and self styled animal rescuers. It's a war over two competing views of morality -- one which considers animals property, and another which considers them like death row inmates, or like slaves.

It's an emergent form of morality, and it strikes me as analogous to the culture war (although I think the distinction between man and animal involves more than just a culture or lifestyle clash).

In any event, feminist blogger Jessica Valenti ran smack into it recently, because she committed an immoral act. What did she do that was so immoral?

Jessica Valenti bought a dog.

No big deal. Certainly it's nothing that I consider immoral in the least. (Far from it; it's something I support, and I have repeatedly warned people about the consequences of non ownership of animals, most recently in the Ellen DeGeneres context.)

I think the Salon article exposes a dirty little secret which is not receiving the discussion it should. There are a growing number of people who consider Jessica Valenti's act of buying a dog (a normal and legal act repeated by millions of Americans) to be inherently evil, as literally akin to human slavery. There is a huge and growing cultural disconnect. By admitting to a dog purchase, Valenti generated an uncomfortable moral debate. As Salon puts it,

people were confronting a difference at the very core of their morals and the great lengths people went to show how deeply irrational the other side was being.
The Jessica Valenti dog-buying incident generated an articulate and widely quoted post in her defense at the Feministe blog. Unfortunately (but probably understandably), it has been pulled from Feministe but it was cross-posted here. However, the Feministe cache remains here for the time being (scroll down to the entry titled "holy crap"), and I'll quote it in its entirety, because I agree with it and I don't like coverups.
BEGIN EXTENDED QUOTE HEREI can’t believe I just read this. From a thread on Feministing responding to a cute video of Jessica’s puppy Monty, in which several people excoriated Jessica for getting Monty from a breeder, and demanded she justify her decision because she’s a feminist and dog breeding is somehow a core feminist issue:

There is absolutely no need to breed animals for profit, be them for pets or meat. It’s slavery and it’s wrong.

I just — that’s offensive to me on so many levels; I simply can’t imagine how that feels to someone whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage only to be sold at auction and kept in bondage for the rest of their lives; someone whose relatives in living memory were denied civil rights, equal access to education, and subject to lynching for nothing more than looking at a white person funny.

That's just so willfully blindly privileged, and tin-eared, and utterly cruel, and racist all at the same time. But I suppose, given PETA’s history of racist and anti-Semitic ads, where images of black slaves and Jewish inmates at extermination camps were set alongside images of cattle going down a chute or chickens in battery cages, that this is not so uncommon an attitude among the animal-rights set. From Steve's* post about Ingrid Newkirk's dismissive response to the objection of James Cameron, the director of America's Black Holocaust Museum to PETA’s “Slavery” campaign: (my emphasis)

Remember, [Dr.] Cameron almost died at the hands of a lynch mob. They were screaming “get the nigger” and had yanked him out of his cell. Only the lone voice of a woman saying “leave that boy alone” saved his life. But this harrowing experience means nothing to Newkirk, his pain is irrelevant to her. I thought I had seen cruel responses to Mrs. Sheehan. But this tops them. By a mile.It's the same kind of ignorant cruelty Cindy Sheehan is facing. Newkirk is simply incapable, like most fanatics, of seeing any side but her own. And she is blind to the outrage this will cause. She has no idea of how her response is not going to go over with black people. Even her explaination is as tone deaf as George Bush. That may go over well with her donors and allies when she makes a mistake, but it will fall on deaf ears with black people. I dare her to defend this on any black radio show, or even Air America.

Now, not only is PETA refusing to apologize, as they did with the Holocaust ad, they intend to continue the tour, well until they're denounced on Tom Joyner and from church pulpits. To compare black people to animals is the gravest insult a white person can do, and no matter how “liberal” PETA says it is, this will dog it until their tour is cancelled. Because she is fucking with something she does not understand in any way, shape or form. Angry isn't the word. I'd be surprised if Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't outside PETA HQ at the end of the week.

So, given that this is the mentality of PETA's leadership, do you think it's fair to call them racist, now?

Somehow, it's even crueler when the animal in question is not a steer being led to the slaughterhouse, but a well-loved puppy from a responsible breeder.

I'm just gobsmacked.

And after I originally wrote this, the commenter explained herself:

Regarding Zuzu's comments about slavery: Only people who think their lives are more important than non-human animals' lives can be offended by the comparison of human slavery to animal slavery. The definition of slavery is to treat another as property. Property is the essential concept of slavery. Property. The only way you can be offended is if you think it's OK to treat non-human animals as property. I've had this discussion on my blog before: http://www.elainevigneault.com/politics-of-power-and-peta.html

so you can read more if you're truly interested in understanding my perspective. Or you can just ignore my criticisms and right me off as a loon, like you normally do.
I just really don't know how to respond to that.

You?

(cross-posted here)

* God, I miss Steve.

END EXTENDED QUOTE.

I don't know who "Steve" is, but judging from the tone, I don't blame the writer for missing him.

This blogger quoted it, and the issue was interesting enough for Salon.

But it's an issue with which few are comfortable (and I suspect that's why the post was pulled.)

I'm fascinated by the slavery analogy though. Wrong as it is, I think it raises some fascinating points about the morality of reproduction. If animals and people are equal, what gives humans the right to possess intact genitalia, but not animals? If dogs are like slaves, but should not be allowed to breed, does that mean slaves should not have been allowed to breed? Or does it mean that the dogs should be freed from captivity entirely and only then allowed to breed?

Or should humans not be allowed to breed? I mean, aren't there too many unwanted humans?

Frankly, I think the animal rights people are out of touch with reality. If humans are like animals are like humans, then why should there be different standards?

It is not immoral to buy a dog, because dogs are property. What is immoral (IMO) is to create a new morality based on the premise that dogs are like humans and should have the same rights.

This new morality degrades humanity, because ultimately it means that there's no reason that humans shouldn't be treated like dogs. (Licensed, controlled, impounded, sterilized....)

So why isn't it being condemned more resolutely?

UPDATE: Zuzu, the author of the post I quoted above, left a helpful comment below:

The post wasn't pulled from Feministe, but the link in that post isn't working now because Feministe migrated to a new host briefly, then back when it didn't work out as planned; as a consequence, links from that period aren't working. Here's the post: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/09/05/holy-crap/
The link works fine, and the post was not pulled as I stated above.

I'm glad to see that I was in error in making that assumption.

posted by Eric on 10.30.07 at 11:00 AM










Comments

Hi --

The post wasn't pulled from Feministe, but the link in that post isn't working now because Feministe migrated to a new host briefly, then back when it didn't work out as planned; as a consequence, links from that period aren't working. Here's the post: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2007/09/05/holy-crap/

zuzu   ·  October 30, 2007 8:25 PM

Oh, and Steve = Steve Gilliard, who wrote the post on PETA and their slavery campaign that I linked to.

zuzu   ·  October 30, 2007 8:26 PM

babies are living creatures and the abortion is virtually the same things as simply killing them after birth

I wonder where they stand on aborting human babies.

class factotum   ·  October 31, 2007 8:56 AM

Gilliard was wrong about many things, but credit where it's due on this one.

Plus, the thought of PETA idiots and race hustlers like Jackson and Sharpton getting in one another's way warms my heart.

RDub   ·  November 2, 2007 1:56 PM

The "rescue" organization described above is not the only type of extremism exhibited by animal rights actists. Some in the "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" camp have a romantic belief in the ultimate importance of freedom from human interference for all animals. This leads them to do such things as releasing white laboratory mice into the Arizona desert to die or dumping snails being raised in a barn in the woods so that they can be eaten by wildlife and deal with other natural risks.

Some are so extreme as to suggest that if we get a disease we should be good sports and die, rather than to take unfair advantage and artificially prolong our lives, especially using medical developments which may have involved animal experimentation. And remember, Staphylococci have a right to live, too. Don't fight that staph infection. There are too many people on earth, anyway.

KarenT   ·  November 2, 2007 10:22 PM

Concerning Faithful but Forgotten Friends... Does anyone know if charges will be filed against the owners of the animal rescue?

poodle   ·  November 28, 2007 6:53 PM

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