I was asked in a comment on my last entry whether I support animal rights, or animal welfare. In my blog, I wrote about the plight of Tony the truck stop tiger, who is inhumanely housed in a small cage, with a cement floor, for the amusement of people who pass through the truck stop, and for the economic benefit of the truck stop's owner. The conditions Tony lives in are horrendous, and he has spent his entire life in this sad situation. I don't think that the distinction of animal rights vs animal welfare is particularly relevent in this instance.
Fur Commission USA defines the animal welfare philosophy as one that "endorses the responsible use of animals to satisfy certain human needs. These range from companionship and sport, to uses which involve the taking of life, such as for food, clothing and medical research. Animal welfare means ensuring that all animals used by humans have their basic needs fulfilled in terms of food, shelter and health, and that they experience no unnecessary suffering in providing for human needs." Assuming this is an acceptable definition of the philosophy, I would say that Tony's situation should be offensive to anyone who claims to embrace that philosophy, and the distinction is therefore irrelevent to the argument.
Since you asked, (as most of you could guess) I am ardently in favor of animal rights. We ARE animals. We have no more of a right to exist, to enjoy life, or to prosper than any other living creature. Moreover, we do not need to commodify or destroy animals in order to live, enjoy life, or prosper. The injury and exploitation of animals is practiced by our society as a matter of preference, and convenience – not out of ANY necessity. Given the state of our society, I fight for what is currently possible, but if we're talking about preferences, yes, I would prefer that animals be both respected, and protected, from the self-serving whims of mankind. While I would prefer that any animal bound for slaughter be treated humanely during the course of its life, I would much rather that animal not be slaughtered. Nonetheless, I would still argue that the distinction between my position, and that of those who embrace the animal welfare philosophy, is irrelevent when evaluating the causes I've discussed here in my blog.
Consider, for example, the plight of captive orcas. I would prefer that any orca kept at Sea World be provided an appropriately sized tank, ect, but I would much rather that animal not be exploited for commercial purposes. My reasoning should be just as valid to anyone who embraces the principles of animal welfare. Orcas live half as long in captivity as they do in the wild (an average of 15 years vs 30-50), and usually die of stress related illnesses as a result of their captivity. Do I believe that orca has a right to a better life, where it can range over the miles of oceans that it is meant to, and enjoy the company of other social and intelligent creatures of its own kind? Absolutely. Is this belief particularly relevent to a discussion of the orca's situation? I would argue that it is not, given that anyone who truly embraces a pro-animal welfare philosophy should be just as appaulled at the unnecessary suffering of this animal as I am. The orca's living situation is not in keeping with a philosophy that advocates the fulfilling the "basic needs" of the animal "in terms of food, shelter and health," such that the animal experiences "no unnecessary suffering in providing for human needs." We have no need for an orca in a tank. Likewise, we have no need for a tiger at a truck stop.
The point is, pragmatically, it doesn't matter if I think they have rights, or if you think we should simply be mindful of their welfare. In the given climate, and with limited possibilities, all roads lead to Rome.
I hope you will all take a moment to click the "take action" button, and sign this petition. Regardless of our differences, I think we can all agree that tigers do not belong in truck stops, and that Tony deserves better.