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animal rights vs animal welfare vs ?

On March 12, William Rhoden wrote a remarkable piece on the Michael Vick dogs in the sports section of the New York Times (he is a sportswriter). Best Friends Animal Society reprinted it here:


Rhoden took the time to sort out the issues in this case by talking with the person responsible for placing the dogs as well as the heads of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Best Friends. At heart of the issue was the difference between the positions of PETA and Best Friends.

PETA advocated killing the dogs. Their position is that dogs that have been trained to fight cannot find homes. Newkirk (head of PETA) felt the money Vick had to pay for these animals' care should have gone to spay and neuter other animals and to help those who can more easily be helped. She argued that the Vick animals are "celebrity animals" that will draw a lot of attention away from other animals with equal or greater need.

Best Friends took in 22 of the dogs. Best Friends has come to believe that no animal is truly unadoptable. Through the years this sanctuary has been in existence they have seen amazing cases of animal-people connection. But beyond that, Best Friends simply takes in the animals others have given up on. If homes cannot be found for them they have a home at Best Friends. Newkirk refers to Best Friends as a kind of animal "Camelot".

Newkirk accuses Best Friends and other humane organizations of using the Vick animals as attention grabbers - and of course taking the money. That may be the case for some of these organizations. Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? And is it necessarily a bad thing to discover that in fact some pit bulls can indeed be retrained and become good companions?

To me it is an odd situation. To me animal rights means all animals have rights apart from their relationship with humans. They aren't alive simply to serve us. Yet Newkirk's attitude suggests that they are, in spite of the fact that her organization is truly an animal rights organization.

I suspect that one of the main differences between the groups is one of attitude, approach. While Best Friends seeks to find a positive outlook on every situation, PETA prefers to throw the cold hard facts in our faces. I understand that compulsion. We shouldn't look away from animal cruelty. We shouldn't distract ourselves from the horrors of dogfighting by looking only at one case and how well it has turned out. We shouldn't look at Best Friends and decide all is well. Because it isn't.

There is room for both points of view, both approaches to public education. Different people respond differently to the tone of messages. Nevertheless, on the particular point of whether to kill animals or not I have to side with Best Friends. We should not be making decisions based on what it costs in money but rather in what it costs the animal.


Judith Lautner
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