Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
In trying to bridge the profound schism between human animals and other beings, we face the linguistic obstacle of human animal/non-human animal terminology, itself a reflection of our deep emotional and cultural separation from the natural world. I hesitate to define non-human animals as such, as it maintains the dominance/centrality/superiority of humans. Other suggestions are welcome.
Carol Adams, a pioneer of this phase of the animal rights movement, wrote eloquently on the use of language to disguise our violence towards non-human animals when she spoke of ‘the absent referent’: the means by which the butchering of animals is rendered invisible when they become ‘meat’. A parallel linguistic and social dishonesty, akin to Orwellian ‘double-speak’, is apparent in our expendable attitudes towards ‘pets’ [mostly cats and dogs] with the existence of ‘shelters’, which in reality in Australia with few exceptions act as killing centres for the majority of non-human animals who have the misfortune to be brought within their control. The Graduate English Dictionary defines ‘shelter’ [noun] as ‘A protection; asylum; refuge; security’. To continue to call these killing centres ‘shelters’ is an obfuscation I refuse to perpetuate. Unless there is evidence that ‘shelters’ are legitimately that – genuine places of refuge until all of the animals brought to them are re/homed, or given permanent and proper sanctuary within their walls, I will refer to them for what they are.
While acknowledging that staff within animal killing centres bear the brunt of carrying out the brutal attitudes of the wider society towards abandoned or homeless companion animals, their socialisation to this reality necessarily entails a diminishment of the value and uniqueness of each animal killed. It is only with a deep disconnectedness that we deny the profound tragedy and violence of killing these trusting and vulnerable beings, most frequently the victims of human indifference and cruelty. I have been regularly distressed at the numbers of people within the animal rights and welfare movements who accept the inevitability of the daily mass killing of unwanted animals in killing centres across the country. To highlight the violence of this policy, I politely pose the question, ‘would you accept the regular mass murder of unwanted children’ ? This usually provokes a stunned silence; we rightly feel horror at this possibility. Why are there still human advocates for non-human animals who accept this practice? With respect, I would suggest that this a manifestation of residual speciesism, a psycho-emotional framework illustrating how deeply we have internalised an hierarchicalisation of life. People will argue that it is impossible to rehome all of the animals abandoned to killing centres. A society that equally valued the lives of all beings would institute policies that would render mass killing unnecessary – compulsory sterilisation legislation, the development of genuine ‘no-kill’ shelters, trap, neuter, return [TNR] programs for homeless cats and dogs living on the streets, mandatory microchipping, the banning of the sale of non-human animals from ‘pet’ shops, and the cessation of their use for medical torture [‘research’] in laboratories. This is not an exhaustive list of changes that would follow from the broad social rejection of speciesist practices.
Using honest language for our current practices is one step towards acknowledging that unwanted companion animals too frequently face an equally traumatic fate to those animals raised for food and the manufacture of ‘products’ made from their body parts. Every person surrendering their companions to these places ought to be presented with the stark statistics of the small percentage of animals rehomed from killing centres. We need a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude towards killing, coinciding with the provision of sufficient resources to implement the necessary policies and community education to bring this about. In the interim, those of us with the commitment and resources would do well to offer and find homes for as many of these refugees from human cruelty as possible, while simultaneously working to bring an end to such daily tragedies.
June 14, 2005 Polluting the English Language to Justify Slaughter