Editorial: Peace may begin with petting the same dog or cat
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1999:
One possible casualty of the fighting underway for more than a month now in
Kosovo may be the International Companion Animal Conference scheduled for October 21-22
in Sophia, Bulgaria. Though Bulgaria is a nation long at peace, it borders on both Serbia and
Macedonia, and Sophia is just 50 miles from either border.
Eager to assist the young humane movement in eastern Europe, the sponsoring
National Canine Defense League and North Shore Animal League are reluctant to accept postponement
if the conference can go ahead, the second of an intended annual series of teachingand-sharing
opportunities growing out of more than five years of outreach.
Except for our conversations with International Companion Animal Conference
planners, we have heard little or nothing about the war in Kosovo from animal protection
organizations. Under the chaotic circumstances, with hundreds of thousands of hungry, often
injured, penniless, shellshocked, and bereaved human refugees on the move, it is understandable
that no one is able to mount any sort of relief mission on behalf of the millions of
animals going unfed. Still, there are words to be said and points to be made.
Chicago activist Steve Hindi observed to us on the very first day of conflict, for
example, that he already knew exactly how U.S. President Bill Clinton would fight, when he
remembered how Clinton in late 1993 shot a single cage-reared duck. Clinton has never been
a particularly active hunter, but throughout his political career has played the role––safely,
making sure he bags the symbolic bird in front of the cameras.
This may be less bloody than the wholesale wildlife massacres practiced by Russian
prime minister Boris Yeltzin, who to enhance his image has reputedly shot bear cubs just
wakened from hibernation. In either instance, however, posturing kills the innocent.
Lacking the political courage to take a firm stand against atrocity, Clinton let the
Kosovo situation slip into more of the tribal mayhem that already consumed Bosnia, Rwanda,
and continues to engulf much of Sudan, also on his watch. When obliged at last to do something
about Kosovo, he tried in effect to get away with shooting just the symbolic duck.
We are more concerned, however, with a much larger aspect of the Kosovo conflict.
Like the school massacre in Littleton, Colorado, and many previous school massacres,
the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia reflects the association of violence against
animals with violence toward humans––and on a huge scale. The contrast between the crudeness
of the abuse on the ground and the detachment of the NATO air war is a reflection of the
difference between life in villages where people still kill and butcher their own pigs and chickens,
and life in North America and western Europe, where most meat-eaters rarely see and
never touch a live farm animal, let alone actively participate in murdering one.
Earlier in the long series of Balkan wars, ANIMAL PEOPLE quoted an alleged
Serbian war criminal who described how he was trained to become a soldier by being shown
how to cut the throat of a pig. Thereafter, his job was to cut the throats of mostly civilian
prisoners. He had inhibitions about killing his first pig. After that, killing came easy.
Much and perhaps all of what war is about is finding ways, means, and excuses to
overcome inhibitions about killing. Both individuals and nations seek pretexts in old grudges,
inflame pointless hatreds based on misinformation or sheer ignorance, and honor those who
are best able to perform deeds, in war, that in peacetime would be recognized as atrocity.
This is also what hunting, meat-eating, bullfighting, cockfighting, rodeo, and
most other socially sanctioned animal abuse is about: rationalizing the unspeakable by perpetuating
the myths that might seem to condone it, from the purported filthiness of pigs to the
alleged stupidity of chickens, and most pervasive of all, the argument that one must eat meat,
participate in killing, and enjoy exploiting other beings to be strong, to maintain one’s culture,
and––if male––to earn female admiration.
Sometimes, inevitably and unfortunately, one must dispatch an exceptionally
aggressive and dangerous animal, to prevent terrible harm to both humans and nonhumans.
When such is the case, one should use the tools necessary to do the job as swiftly and––one
hopes––as painlessly as possible. One should plan and be prepared for the contingencies, to
avoid allowing the aggressive and dangerous animal to injure bystanders and perhaps even his
own pack-mates, who in their allegiance to pack discipline may not recognize their own peril.
What works to spare neighbors and communities from dangerous animals should be
applied internationally, to save us from warfare, the worst consequence of which is not even
the killing, maiming, fear, pain, hunger, and despair, but rather the incomprehension of
children that they should be exposed to such, hardening as the years pass into bitter hatred of
those they are taught to blame.
Yet for those who may despair at the continuing stream of evidence on the nightly
TV news that even after 200 years of an organized and ever-expanded humane movement, we
have not done away with even the cruelest forms of governmentally directed human abuse,
there is this element of hope: just 50 miles from two of the nations most involved in the fight-
ing, just a few months ago, enough people were committed to extending the circle of compassion
that the International Companion Animal Conference was scheduled there.
It may yet happen. There are those, always, who tell us that we cannot hope to educate
humanity into being more kind to animals until we are more kind to one another. But
again, it may be that if more children learn to love animals––who know and care nothing of
international boundaries, cultures, or ethnicity, yet respond to kindness in any language––it
will be easier for them, as adults, to find commonality with other adults, who may superficially
seem as different as a poodle and a St. Bernard, but are also just as much kin.
As the Walt Disney fable 101 Dalmatians dramatizes, healthy friendships and even
marriages often begin with two strangers petting the same dog or cat. Maybe that is also one
step toward a world at peace.
San Jose Mercury-News reporter Paul Rogers recently surveyed 35 fellow active
members of the Society of Environmental Journalists, including the Editor of A N I M A L
PEOPLE, about our views on the credibility and effectiveness of 15 major national environmental
advocacy groups––all of them involved, to considerable extent, in animal issues.
“With some exceptions,” Rogers found, “reporters from major urban newspapers
espoused opinions similar to those of reporters from smaller newspapers and broadcast outlets.
Asked, for example, what annoys them the most, reporters answered: ‘Inaccuracy and exaggeration’;
‘Willingness to act without data, based on emotion’; ‘Incessant self-righteousness’;
‘Overblown rhetoric’; ‘Holier-than-thou attitude, inability to see more than one side of
an issue, stunts to get attention, and hysterical screaming about an issue’; ‘The tendency to
characterize some journalists as biased becase the journalists don’t completely embrace their
viewpoint (which really isn’t our job)’; ‘A general unwillingness to face the larger ethical and
philosophical implications of their issues and positions’; and ‘They are always willing to
believe anything that supports their beliefs and ready to discount what contradicts them.’”
Three groups scoring high in both credibility and effectiveness were The Nature
Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
EDF is well regarded among environmentalists right now for brokering a deal with
the Chemical Manufacturers Association to safety-test 2,800 high production volume chemicals
which were initially approved decades ago, before anyone knew how to look for some
possible longterm effects of exposure. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is boycotting
EDF because the testing will inevitably use animals––as described on page 10 of our
March edition. ANIMAL PEOPLE, like PETA, is opposed to testing these chemicals on
animals. But, asking EDF to respond to the PETA allegations, ANIMAL PEOPLE found
that PETA had cited outdated and incomplete information in calling the boycott; that EDF had
made efforts to minimize animal use; and that EDF always responded promptly, courteously,
and thoroughly to our inquiries.
That’s what builds credibility.
TNC and NRDC help lead the charge to kill feral animals by any means, no matter
how cruel and no matter how pointless the effort. They tend to hide that part of their agenda
from public notice. Thus, as regards credibility, ANIMAL PEOPLE strongly dissented
from the perspectives of the other 34 participants in Rogers’ survey, many of whom may have
been as unaware as the public of the TNC and NRDC anti-feral positions. The TNC and
NRDC success in making their anti-feral putsch the official policy of the Bill Clinton/Albert
Gore White House is, however, incontrovertible testimony to their effectiveness.
Ranking lowest in Rogers’ survey were the pro-hunting group Ducks Unlimited,
Greenpeace, and Earth First!
“Reporters seem to respect groups that back up claims with significant amounts of
scientific research, and those striving to build coalitions with business, government, and
academia,” Rogers concluded. “Those groups that are the most confrontational, the most theatrical,
and the most militant seem to be held in lower regard.”
But ANIMAL PEOPLE would draw a slightly different conclusion: Ducks
Unlimited, Greenpeace, and Earth First! have all given the appearance, at least, of engaging
in significant hypocrisy. Ducks Unlimited filled a wetland to build a new Canadian office;
Greenpeace does not oppose whaling and sealing “in principle”; and Earth First! has never
shaken an early apparent endorsement of tree-spiking, a tactic it has now disavowed for at
least eight years.
Rogers did not ask about reporters’ views of animal advocacy groups, but if he had,
we suspect he’d have found similar disdain for those dealing most in hyperbole.
Especially annoying to reporters is the practice of some of the most flamboyant organizations
of, in effect, ringing in false fire alarms, by distributing media releases declaring a
crisis, while withholding information which might reveal the “crisis” to be nothing out of the
ordinary. The normal state of affairs, especially as pertains to animals, is often well deserving
of much greater public concern. Yet it is not “Stop the presses!” stuff, and the more often
advocacy groups scream that it is, the less likely they are to be taken seriously when there
really is a “Stop the presses!” crisis at hand.
Changing an entrenched status quo, meanwhile, requires building credible and
coherant opposition over time, presenting plausible alternatives and responding promptly and
reasonably to any questions––even if the answer, for the moment, must be “We don’t know.”
Animal advocacy groups tend to argue that all is fair in love and war, and that for
the love of animals it is necessary to conduct public policy debate––and associated fundraising––as
if it were war. They know that if they can dupe reporters into spending time investigating
an allegation, they will get some coverage, because even if the reporters conclude that
their time was wasted, they still have to fill the paper and there won’t be time left before deadline
to cover something else.
What they don’t understand is that the residue of such incidents is a profound and
growing newsroom mistrust of flamboyant advocacy groups and their claims.
In the long run, that reduces coverage, and does not help the cause.