Apr 082014

animalwelfareOne day last year I met Melanie for Vietnamese. The weather was pleasant, and I needed steps, so I parked at the opposite end of the shopping center and walked the 100 yards or so. On the way I happened to notice a moth on an eave, sitting perfectly still.

And then I noticed that same moth on the way back through, more than an hour later. I began reflecting on how far beyond the meager intellect of an insect the concept of boredom is. Do they think anything but “eat, don’t get eaten, have sex”? Do they even think any of that, or is it all instinctually hard-wired?

An animal’s mental capabilities are a major input into how I feel about how we treat them. I actually first started thinking about our keeping whales and dolphins several years ago, when a captive orca killed trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World in Orlando. Blogged a bit about it then. What I wrote then describes most of why I have a problem with keeping cetaceans, so I’m going to quote a lot of the post here:

It’s highly likely that orcas have considerable intellect.  It’s pretty clear that their play is complex.  Their communication may rise to the level of language, and there is even evidence for reasoning skills.  Moreover, they form tight and stable family units.  I suppose that could be argued away as instinct, but I could as easily argue for a basis for real emotion.

Now I’m not much on a lot of the “animal rights” prattle.  I believe the human race has many legitimate uses for many different animals, and I don’t give them a second thought.  But does that extend to an orca (literally) jumping through hoops?

I’m terribly hazy on that.

I don’t find it far-fetched to consider that a captive orca could be aware of his situation to a much larger degree than nearly any other animal would be.  What if he can remember what it is to swim freely, and realize day after day that he’s still denied it?  What if he can remember friends and family, and contemplate the futility of hoping he’ll see them again?

Couldn’t it be an intelligent creature who accommodates confinement as best it can (and mathematically, that must be pretty well), but is still capable of “snapping”?  This article quotes a marine biologist who says it may well be the end result of chronic neurosis, and honestly, I find that a persuasive notion.

Just last week it was made public in court that Sea World gives its orcas antidepressants and psychoactive drugs. Consider that for a moment. Presumably the animals respond to the drugs, else they wouldn’t be prescribed. If an antidepressant is efficacious for an orca, then doesn’t that strongly suggest significant intellect?

I put the same question to you about the orca that I asked about the elephant last week. If the orca is capable of understanding what’s happening to him, and I believe he is, then how can I look in his eyes and tell him I want him to suffer every day for the rest of his life so I can liberate tourist cash at $30 a head?

To be charitable, perhaps we really didn’t know any better when orca and dolphin shows became a thing. How much knowledge have we built in the past few decades? If we reliably observe destructive and otherwise detrimental behavior in whales and dolphins exclusively in captivity, what should we take away from that?

Do we really need to continue keeping cetaceans for our amusement?

 Posted by at 7:00 am
Mar 182014

animalwelfareI read a remarkable opinion piece several months ago that has since had me thinking every day about relationships between human beings and animals. I encourage you to read it at the link in the previous sentence. (Be warned that it will likely make you uncomfortable.)

Regular readers may remember the first or second time I blogged about it. I’ve mentioned a time or two since then that I’d like to do my next post series on how we treat animals. I think I’m finally ready to do that. This is the introduction to that series, intended to give you the lay of the land and let you know what to expect. I will begin the series proper next Tuesday. I think there are eight installments following. There may be as many as ten.

You need to know where I’m coming from. I have identified as right of center on a great many things for most of my adult life, and animal welfare is one of them. I believe that human beings have dominion over animals. I believe it is right and proper for animals to serve our needs (and to some degree, our wants).

What are those needs and wants? I can identify three broad areas:

  • We consume animals. Well, most of us do. We eat them. We also use products made from them.
  • We work with animals. From the battlefield to the laboratory, animals help us get things done.
  • We play with animals. Animals entertain us in many ways.

Large majorities of us are just fine with each of these bullets. I am fine with each of these bullets.

But the devil is in the details. (-5.)

Reading and reflecting on the above essay rammed a couple of things home for me:

  • You don’t have to be an extreme leftist nut case to have strong, yet reasonable, convictions on animal welfare.
  • There are several entities actively working to keep you as ignorant as possible on what really happens to animals in their purview, because it is in said entities’ respective financial interests to do so.

Of all species on Earth, only human beings have any deep understanding of ethics or morals. There are a few intriguing cases in the animal kingdom that hint otherwise, but for the most part, nature is neither kind nor cruel. Nature merely is. Kindness and cruelty are mentally significant for us and us alone.

It is for precisely that reason that we have a responsibility to maximize the quality of the lives of the animals serving our needs and wants. We are capable of contemplating and acting upon the concept. So we should.

I hope you’re intrigued enough to come with me on this exploration. Part I lands a week from today.

 Posted by at 6:54 pm
Mar 012014

We played our last Upward basketball games of the season today. We have an awards ceremony on Monday and Aaron’s team party next weekend, and then 2013-14 Upward will be in the books. Basketball is only part of the point in Upward. It’s also about learning sportsmanship and character in a nurturing, Christ-centered environment. Kids [...]

 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Nov 082013

I don’t remember how we got so tickled, but I remember very well this being the most glorious laughter I ever heard. I wish I had it recorded, but absent that, I’m thankful I can access the memory with such fidelity. Nathan is 4; Aaron is 19 months. (Wow, it feels like they’re little for [...]

 Posted by at 8:12 am
Aug 122013

Tomorrow I will begin a weekly post series called BoWilliams.com On Marriage.  It will run for each of the next ten Tuesdays. What qualifies me to talk about marriage?  Well, for one thing, mine is 16 years old as I type and still a happy one, and I think I understand a lot of the [...]

 Posted by at 8:35 pm

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