Humane Trends: Measuring the Status of Animal Protection in the U.S.

 

Humane Trends:   Measuring the Status of Animal Protection in the U.S.
Humane Research Council (P. O. Box 6476  *  Olympia, WA 98507), 2011.  Download from <www.HumaneResearch.org>.

 

Humane Trends,  compiled by the Humane Research Council, “is a barometer of the status of animal protection in the U.S.,” begins the introduction.  “This study brings together a collection of 25 diverse indicators to assess the status and progress of animal well-being,  providing a comprehensive view of animal use and abuse in the United States.”

HRC founder Che Green anticipates that this will be the first edition of many updates,  to be produced “at least bi-annually,  as new data become available,”  published on the HumaneTrends.com web site.

The HRC approach is to first produce numeric scores on a scale of from zero to 100 for progress in each of five areas of concern,  within five broad topic headings:  companion animals, animals used in science,  wildlife/exotics,  farmed animals,  and general indicators.  Meeting all animal advocacy goals,  as recognized by HRC,  is defined as 100%.  The scores are then averaged to produce the conclusions.

Some of the scores are simply percentages of Americans who practice certain activities or lifestyle choices,  or respond to opinion surveys with answers within a certain range:  proportion of new companion animals who are purchased,  proportion of U.S. states regulating companion animal breeders,  and proportion of adults who say the welfare and protection of companion animals is important.

How some of the other scores are derived is explained,  but often not very clearly.  Within the companion animals category,  for instance,  HRC assigns values for “Number of animals killed in the shelter system” and “Number of animals entering shelters.”  ANIMAL PEOPLE is credited as the original source of much of the input data, and was also the original source of data that HRC acquired elsewhere. Though I personally compiled the data,  how it translates into Humane Trends scores of 15 and 19,  respectively,  eludes me.

As with any attempt to reduce broad and complex topics to single numeric values, the methodology may in some areas obscure as much as illuminate longterm trends.

In the companion animal category,  despite some occasional short-term upward blips,  the numbers of animals admitted to shelters and killed in shelters have declined for about 40 years.  Public recognition of the need to sterilize pets became ubiquitous more than a generation ago.

Because the numbers are so much lower now than then,  and because there is no further change in public attitudes or behavior than can accomplish as proportionately great a reduction as sterilizing 70%-plus of the pet population already did,  progress today seems relatively slight,   especially when measured over just a few years.

A second example involves hunting.  Because total U.S. hunting license sales blipped upward in 2008,  HRC awards a score of zero for progress in this area.  But the blip was because of the reopening of dove hunting in Iowa and the sale of wolf-hunting licenses for the first time in Idaho and Montana.  The longterm trends are that hunting license sales have declined by about a third over the past 30 years,   while the number of hunting seasons for which licenses are sold has nearly doubled,  along with the number of men of age to hunt.

The Humane Trends methodology assigns equal weight to indicators as diverse as “Proportion of U.S. universities with human-animal studies courses or animal law programs,”  “Proportion of states with laws that limit owning or keeping exotic animals,”  “per capita consumption of animal products,”  and “Number of Animal Welfare Act covered animals used in animal experiments.”

One especially problematic indicator,  “Acreage of protected land,  oceans,  and reservoirs,”  presupposes that approximately tripling the amount of protected habitat in the U.S. to about 10% of the whole of the U.S. is–or should be–an animal protection goal.

Ironically,  though,  more “protected” habitat is open to hunting in the U.S. than private property.  Indeed,  more than half of the National Park system has been opened to hunting during the past 20 years,  in response to hunter complaints about diminished access to privately owned land.

More accurate indicators of public attitudes toward wildlife would pertain to participation in watching animals and to tolerance and encouragement of wild animals on people’s own land.  Watching wildlife is now part of the recreational activity of about a third of Americans,  up from about 25% circa 1990,  while soaring sales of bird feeders and squirrel feeders attest to increasing tolerance of wildlife in yards.

The Humane Trends use of a broad range of indicators helps to iron out some of the inherent problems of equivalency,  and of course it is possible that what is taught in universities may in the long run affect animals as much as what is going on today in slaughterhouses and laboratories.  Yet it is inescapable that HRC is having to compare apples,  oranges,  and watermelons to assess the condition of the fruit basket.

HRC assigns progress scores of 47 and 44,  respectively,  to companion animal and wildlife issues,  but farmed animal issues score just four.

The most encouraging numbers are that 91% of adults “say the welfare and protection of companion animals is important,”  and that 69% of adults “agree with overarching animal protection goals.”   But scores based on actual behavior fall far behind those based on attitude.  A somewhat surprising number offered by Humane Trends is that the average “Humane Scorecard” rating for members of the U.S. Congress is a relatively robust 47.

“The average of all indicators was 34 out of 100,”  Humane Trends concludes.  “One way to think about this number is to say that the animal protection movement is about one third of the way to meeting its goals,  as they are defined by this report.”

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