New Zealand is a veritable picnic of animal abuse – so why do we only cry when puppies die? End Animal Slaughter contributor Lynley Tulloch asks the question.
A recent case in the Waikato region of New Zealand resulted in a public outcry when three puppies were drowned in a weighted-down bag. The black and white puppies had their mouths taped shut and their feet also bound together. They are reported to be male Pitbull Staffordshire crosses.
The young family who found the puppies called the SPCA. The find has generated a cash reward for anyone who can identify the culprit. The deaths of these innocents is hard to stomach.
It raises important issues around our treatment of animals and the public’s tolerance of such acts of cruelty.
It is notable that drowning of unwanted litters of puppies and kittens used to happen frequently in New Zealand, particularly in rural areas. A quick trip to the pond with a sack full of puppies or kittens and a brick to weigh them down took care of unwanted population explosions.
The SPCA says that drowning is a painful death, made even worse in young mammals who have a dive reflex, prolonging the agony. We now know (even if we didn’t in the past) that drowning is not a nice way to go.
Yet it seems some people have not got the memo. The SPCA is still busy dealing with animal welfare concerns. So what is going on? Why is animal cruelty such a problem in New Zealand, when we are said to be a country of animal lovers?
If we regarded (animals) as sentient beings with rights to life and to agency over their life, it would help to ensure that they are treated with respect.
In my view, the problem lies in the way we see animals as ‘lesser beings’, categorizing them according to their use for humans. If we regarded them as sentient beings with rights to life and to agency over their life, it would help to ensure that they are treated with respect.
Any violence toward animals could then be consistent across the species. Their capacity to suffer, is what we need to be focusing on. It should be a crime to maim or kill them for our own perceived needs, or to enslave them for our own ends. They are an end in themselves – not a means to an end. They have intrinsic worth.
In addition, we need to regard violence as a continuum instead of an isolated act. Violence against animals is committed day in and day out in animal farming. Yet few people bat an eye – let alone offer a reward to bring the perpetrators to justice as happened with the puppies.
Animal farmers have a broadly utilitarian view of animals, valuing them mainly for the money that can be made from them. This is not to say that farmers do not care for their animals, or even grow fond of them. But frankly, if animal farmers thought of cows in the same way as many city people think of dogs then they would never get sent to slaughter.
For rural people it is often regarded as admirable to be able to accept the fate of the animals in your care, even to take pride in it.
But farm animals do suffer – it is an inevitable outcome of being raised for death. Think about the hens crammed into cages their entire short lives before being killed when they go off the lay temporarily. Chickens bred for meat often go lame and have heart attacks because they grow faster than their legs and hearts can support.
And their death is often not humane either. In fact, layer hens and meat chickens in New Zealand get killed by electrical stunning before having their throats slit by an automated knife and then plunged into scalding water to have their feathers removed. Some hens don’t get stunned first and endure the whole process while conscious. So really, if you eat eggs and chicken and support those industries you are saying that you are happy with that.
If we are ok with that, why are we not ok with drowning puppies? It seems a bit hypocritical. Is it because hens are seen to have a use value that trumps any consideration of their sentience? We all like to believe in the mythology of humane slaughter. We think that animals bred for their meat or milk or eggs have a purpose. But it is not so – all animals are sentient and feel negative emotions like pain and fear, as well as positive ones like joy. Any farmer will tell you that.
We think that animals bred for their meat or milk or eggs have a purpose. But it is not so – all animals are sentient and feel negative emotions like pain and fear, as well as positive ones like joy. Any farmer will tell you that.
Many dogs on farms are considered ‘working dogs’ in the same way that hens are considered to have a job to do – laying eggs. If a dog has become old and unproductive on the farm they are often disposed of with a bullet to the head. Just like the hens at the end of their working life.
What is the lesser evil? Drowning unwanted litters, electrifying and slitting the throats of chickens or shooting a dog in the head? They are all violent acts, and yet we accept some and not others.
As a teenager I had the horrifying experience of being shown through a hatchery for laying chickens. Right in the middle of the room was a giant blender with blades glinting in the bright lights. One day old male chicks are macerated in this contraption while fully conscious.
Could you put the puppies in the blender?
What about bobby calves? They get taken from their mothers, transported for up to 12 hours in a truck (legally) and go for up to 24 hours without milk before having a bolt driven through their brains and their throats slit. Sounds pretty violent to me. Yet, may people in New Zealand who speak out against the drowning of puppies will also use dairy products with wild abandon. I see it all the time – a slice of Camembert here, a white coffee there, lashings of chocolate and smoothies. It’s a veritable picnic of animal cruelty.
I am not in any way justifying the horrendous drowning of the puppies. It is a disgusting and despicable act. But before we make any real inroads into addressing animal cruelty we have to take a more complete look at the picture. We need to be consistent in our attitude and treatment of all animals.
Violence begets violence, and in terms of suffering, a puppy is a chick is a calf.
Dr Lynley Tulloch is an animal advocate, and Lecturer in Education