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December 21, 2011

Changing the World for Animals in 2012

A moral concern for animals is not a far-off, abstract, or ethereal concern. It’s as tangible as it gets—intersecting with so many aspects of our daily lives. We may see stray or homeless animals in our community, or learn of a case of malicious cruelty that causes us to cringe or to get our heart racing with anger or righteousness. But as significant as those problems are, they’re just the most obvious expressions of the deeper problems that animals face in contemporary society.

Young chimpanzee at New Iberia Research Center
The HSUS

There are billions of animals in crisis today, but so many people just don’t recognize this fact as a problem. The use of animals is enmeshed in so many parts of our economy—in food production, fashion, animal testing, wildlife management, the pet trade, sport, and in so many other contexts—that these uses are normalized and, at some level, morally invisible. Many people assume or hope that some government agency is watching over the situation and acting to restrain excesses that would cause cruelty. Others listen to the assurances of industry and put their faith in the notion of adequate self-policing.

But there are big gaps in the law when it comes to the treatment of animals, and there are too many people who view them as objects, or commodities, or resources in the waiting. Animals are used in fashion—for fur, ivory trinkets, exotic leathers, or other purposes in the wildlife trade. Many household products, cosmetics, or chemicals are tested on animals before they go to market. Gamblers go to the track to watch horses or greyhounds race. They take to the field to hunt for trophies, and a small group even sets up trap lines in an activity that blends recreation and commerce in fur pelts. Americans eat more than 10 billion animals a year, most of them raised on factory farms. And even if we are physically removed from abusive or exploitative behavior, we are still connected to it up or down the supply chain. In short, there are moral problems all around us—but that means that there are also moral opportunities all around us, too.

We live in an incredible moment of contradiction, when it comes to our relationship with animals—with so many expressions of love and appreciation, yet so many varieties of cruelty and harm. And The HSUS is working to remind people that cruelty is wrong, and that we must logically apply these principles in the real world. They don’t just kick in with some animals, or in some settings. It’s a broader ethic that must be applied logically and consistently. We cannot simply subvert animal welfare to short-term economic and cultural concerns. Values related to mercy and compassion ground any civil society.

We must see society move past certain abuses and find a new way forward:

  •  Increasing adoptions of homeless pets as a means of dropping euthanasia rates across the country, and seeing that puppy mills stop abusing dogs. In developing countries, it means humanely managing street dog populations.
  • Phasing out the use of extreme confinement practices on factory farms; transitioning to more humane farming practices; and exhibiting consciousness about the food we eat. Eating is a moral act.
  • Passing federal legislation to phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments, reducing pain and distress in the laboratory, and choosing alternatives when it comes to the use of animals for research and testing
  • Cracking down on the trade in dangerous exotics for pets, and passing laws to forbid this trade and associated auctions
  • Putting an end to the commercial hunt of seals in Canada and Namibia and convincing Japan and Norway to end their commercial slaughter of whales

In the last few years, there’s been great progress. We are on a clear trajectory—more awareness, more action, and more progress for animals. But we cannot relent, we cannot hesitate.  We must call cruelty by its name, and demand the change that we want to see in society.

Léalo en español (Read this blog entry in Spanish).

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