Dominion Is a Funny Thing

And now, we’re officially into the Year of the Aurochs. My mind keeps wandering back to the day when, courtesy of Theresa Sarzynski in New Jersey, I met Herbie, a bovine refugee at a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.

It’s odd how we have this sort of meme image of the happy cow, instilled in us from childhood. Herbie and friends were as happy as cows can be, but they were some of the scant few to receive protection from what nearly always happens to cows. So, what’s up with the whole happy-cow concept? 

We take their milk. Notoriously, after farmers pull their infants away, they bellow for days. They mourn as their offspring are prepared to become the veal special on a diner’s menu. Ultimately, all the dairy cows, like the beef cattle before them, wind up in slotted trucks, bound for slaughter. These are not secrets. It takes very little effort to put two and two together. Why don’t we?

Dairy production is marketed as hilarious. (That’s a leather sofa, too, right? Such wit!)

And oh! The irony: “I poured myself into this commercial!”

Why do we play this collective game?  

How would we feel if the laugh were on us?

I keep talking about the aurochs because… 

Most people have no idea about that part. They never knew cows came from animals, now extinct, called aurochs, who lived on their terms until humans hunted them down to the very last one. They didn’t learn about the selective breeding that deprived cows of their freedom, one generation at a time, so that dependence on the human environment is now etched into their DNA.

In fact, many vegans don’t know.  I’ve been told by a number of vegans that the ideal “vegan world” includes happy cows, and looks like a sanctuary. We’d learn to pet cows and not eat them.

When I was preparing The Year of the Aurochs for publication at CounterPunch, Harold Brown pointed out that dairy cows are the most docile. They were bred to be as gentle as pets, so they could be walked and milked. The ones who chase people across fields are the beef cattle. They don’t need to be completely docile, Harold said. They only need to be driven. 

Purpose-breeding gradually transformed the aurochs into sources of edible substances which humans could have just as well done without. We can make burgers from beetroot and ice cream from oats. Why didn’t we simply do that all along? Why did we cultivate a taste for blood and for the liquid produced by other animals’ mammary glands? And how could we laugh?

I think we must answer these questions.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

The Year of the Aurochs

Groups of aurochs could trample us. Cows still can. This, I found out on a walk across a pasture with friends.

Suddenly, as though alerted by some silent signal, a group of cows stampeded in our direction. We panicked, but managed to slip through a fence. That day we glimpsed an ancient law of nature…

Read the full piece at CounterPunch.

Photo by Helena Lopes, via Unsplash.

Straight Talk: Why Horse Slaughter Continues

Late December, for some people, is the perfect time for a carriage horse ride, or even for giving children Christmas ponies

Meanwhile, the unthinkable continues.

Whenever the U.S. agriculture department drops its horse slaughter oversight role, live horses are shipped off to die in Mexico or Canada. Charities suggest that enough donations and clicks and letters could eventually be effective. As though the practice really could be turned off like a faucet by humane and enlightened laws.

The op-ed or donation request frames the argument against horse slaughter as an affront to our equine companions. Horses, the campaigner says, deserve better treatment, given their service to humankind. We’re so used to being served, that the question of whether horses could consent to carrying us isn’t asked. 

I Rode. I Regret It.

As a young person, I rode horses. I even helped to train horses for events. For the most part, I enjoyed these activities. My mother thought I might become a jockey. “See, there’s a reason you’re short!”

I had twinges. I saw horses maltreated. It troubled me deeply; but my own, more caring handling of horses seemed OK. Surely, mine was the norm.

I did witness horses being broken, and it scared me, but I only saw one person do it, and I thought that one person was an aberration, too. Breaking didn’t have to mean bullying, I thought. 

The Week I Became Vegan, I Reassessed Horseback Riding. 

It was a long week. I understood myself in a whole new light. By the week’s end, I’d resolved to never, ever handle horses again.

The transformation of horses into vehicles of war, objects of commerce and sport, playthings and police tools, has made them available for slaughter. A bettor’s excitement leads hundreds of horses to death on the tracks each year. And the racing industry funds research on horses in order to investigate potential speeds…and injury recovery. 

The plight of ex-racing horses, and any owned horses who pass their primes (or the primes of their owners’ attention spans), is all too often a chain of sale, resale or donation, neglect, and the ultimate handover to the killer buyer.

But no one campaigns against riders and trainers. No humane charity wants to trouble the conscience of the donor on horseback. It took a vegan epiphany for me to trouble my own.

What Ever Happened to Those Horses I Rode? 

I doubt any died of old age under the gentle care of a sanctuary. Out of the 9-million-plus horses in the United States, how many do? So, was my conduct any less “barbaric” than that of an Italian diner who orders horseflesh from the menu? 

The young Charles Darwin observed: “Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”* One way we justify enslavement is through the “humane” perspective. Caring and rescue keep us in control.

Don’t get me wrong; I support rescue groups. I appreciate anyone who helps animals with nowhere else to turn. But can we kindly acknowledge the dependent state that we put them in? Only a few, by luck, are scooped up by a decent, sympathetic human who has the means and the will to look after them. 

The point of advocacy can’t be to slather euphemistic language over human dominance. Nor to exclaim how much we love specific animals, ignoring the overall unfairness in training animals to live in our buildings and paddocks — for just as long as we say they may.

Once They Were Free.

Human beings selectively bred horses from free-living communities who lived in their own spaces. The banner image above shows Takh horses (Equus ferus przewalskii). Human hunting, farming, and war wiped the Takh out.

But one small group has been re-established in Mongolia’s Hustai National Park, an area where their ancestors co-evolved with wolves of the steppe. To defend themselves and to thrive, the Takh horses developed complex social patterns, which they have followed and perfected since the dawn of their being, and long before the dawn of ours.

*CHARLES DARWIN, METAPHYSICS, MATERIALISM, AND THE EVOLUTION OF MIND: EARLY WRITINGS OF CHARLES DARWIN 187 (1974, University of Chicago Press; from notes kept in and about 1838, transcribed and annotated by Paul H. Barrett; with a commentary by Howard E. Gruber).

BANNER ART CREDIT: Przewalski-Pferd, c.1920 (public domain), from The Wonderful Paleo Art of Heinrich Harder

On the Claws of a Dilemma

Vegans and Cat Rescue

For a vegan, caring for a cat is no easy feat. Dogs have broader diets, so the case seems easier. Many vegans buy or make vegetarian dog food.

But how do we feed our cats? Products have been created and called vegan cat food, but are they safe?

Christina M. Gray, et al. published “Nutritional Adequacy of Two Vegan Diets for Cats” in 2004 in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. The study tested two products, which proved nutritionally inadequate. The study also discussed in biological terms why cats are strict carnivores.

(The makers of the tested cat foods later vowed to improve quality control.)

Thousands of cats may be fed plant-based foods (although the product makers run into complications applying the nutritional rules), but comprehensive nutritional data attesting to safety continues to be lacking. And there’s an ethical problem in trying to make that data sufficient. Frankly, it’s testing on cats, which itself is not vegan.

We Can Apply the Vegan Principle to Our Diets, and Cats Can’t

Imagine we’re feeding a child. When asked if the vegan meals we serve are safe and nutritious, we confidently quote the Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”

Now, what about the animals in our homes? Shouldn’t we be able to confirm we’re ensuring appropriate nourishment for them as well?

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, issued by the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences.

The most current and comprehensive study of the daily dietary needs of dogs and cats is Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, National Research Council (2006), published by the National Academies Press. Here are two excerpts, from page 313:

  • Dogs differ from cats in that they are not strict carnivores but fall more into the omnivorous category. This fact allows a great deal more latitude in ingredient selection and formulation. It is entirely feasible to formulate an adequate dog diet using no animal tissue-based ingredients.
  • Generally speaking, strict vegetarian diets, when fed alone, are not nutritionally adequate for cats, even though such diets can be made sufficiently palatable to be readily consumed.

What’s in Your Cat Food? Maybe That’s Not the Real Vegan Issue

Cats and dogs have been changed from wildcats and wolves. Selective breeding separated them from their potential to evolve in nature. It also made them dependent on human care. These are the unpleasant facts.

The vegan principle—and honest love—calls on us to end the selective breeding of other animals. Not to assume wildcats and wolves should be ours to have and hold, or that they must participate in a vegan ideal.

We go to great lengths for the animals we know and love, yet many people will not or cannot. That’s why dogs, cats, and other animals raised as pets are steered to shelters by the millions annually—and many don’t come out.

Furthermore, no dog or cat is vegan, as veganism is an anti-domination principle—not simply a list of allowed ingredients.

Social justice is elusive in human relations; but we strive for it. We need to also strive to be fair members of the community of life on Earth.

Selective breeding and forced dependence aren’t fair, nor can they be.

What Can We Do, Then?

Let’s understand pet breeding for what it really is. Until the 1800s, keeping animals as pets was an aristocrat’s hobby. Relatively recently, it exploded into a multi-billion-dollar industry. How can vegans deal with this situation? Rather than try to make cats eat plants, we can consider:

  • Talking about pets. Calling out the custom. Defending the life and freedom of undomesticated cats and dogs, including the wildcats and bobcats, the wolves and coyotes. They are the ones being erased as selective breeding becomes the norm.
  • Speaking out against pet breeding—whether done through high-volume companies, local businesses, or someone’s home.
  • Supporting local trap-neuter-return (TNR) groups that care for, while gradually phasing out, groups of cats outdoors.

Some will say this challenge could ultimately lead to a society without “companion” animals.

Is that so bad? I’m not asking a glib question.

Can’t we care about other animals, and derive joy from their presence on this Earth, without controlling, having and holding them? Doesn’t the feeling that we could do that make us empathetic—and vegan—in the deepest sense?


Banner image by A.R.T.Paola, available here.

The New Year’s Day Dog Show

In just an hour, the New Year’s Day AKC Dog Show will air on Animal Planet.

You know, many vegans fault people for consuming some animals even though these same people love their dogs.

If you love your dog, the vegan asks, why do you eat a pig?

But that question has its own problem. It generally presumes dogs are well off in their lofty, loved perch in society. And that presumption is unfair. 

Dogs have long been considered offshoots of agricultural production by breeders, and by the agencies that have arisen to regulate them. Let me explain.  

Behind the Scenes: Mars Inc.’s Stake in the Pet Industry

Mars Petcare US—purveyor of pet products including Whiskas®, Greenies™, Sheba®, Cesar®, and Iams™—is a division of the $35 billion Mars (M&Ms) chocolate empire.

Mars Veterinary (Wisdom Health™) is active in genetic research on dogs on behalf of breeders. Mars also owns several vet chains, including Banfield Pet Hospitals. In 2017, Mars paid $9 billion to acquire VCA Inc., which has about 800 vet businesses throughout North America.

Now, this company is putting pro-petkeeping messages into children’s education, and even funding city infrastructure designed, ultimately, to boost the pet products industry.

Read more at CounterPunch.

Eating Flesh: How Do We Frame The Question?

A debate is running about what humans will eat when we stop eating meat.

Why? Our most sustainable protein on Earth is the bean. Beans, lentils, and peas grow in harsh climates with little water, in financially poor regions. They self-fertilize, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil, so they don’t need the synthetic fertilizers that are running off the land and killing the ocean.

Yet some vegans, of all people, are promoting “clean meat” that is actual flesh, made in the lab from real animal cells. No doubt most readers will have heard some self-identified vegans touting this new future of food.

Do they have a point? This is a matter of question framing. And I think we need to lay out what the questions are.

Read on…


Banner photo credit: Niklas Rhöse, via Unsplash.

A Job to Do

The laws of New York City permit renters to have guide dogs or service dogs despite no-pet clauses in their leases. And New York City renters with chronic mental illnesses may have emotional assistance animals. (NY Civil Rights Law § 47-b.)

What does this say about our failure to find ways, even in the densest of human communities, to look after each other?

And what does it say about our regard for animals we claim to breed as “a member of the family”?

Ellie Moffat of the Vegan Justice League says:

I have told another vegan, about dogs used as K-9 or seeing-eye dogs, that I think it’s wrong. He said that a dog is happiest who has a job to do. But it must be awful for dogs who sit around all day inside the house in the suburbs waiting for their owner to get home.

Step back and regard the pattern here. We human beings have every sort of justification for breeding domestic animals onto this planet in ever greater numbers. Animals not just to eat, but also to herd the animals we eat, or clear our lawns of geese, or guard us, or amuse us, or lend us emotional assistance. These animals who perform “assistance” roles for us embody the hijacked genetic lineage of the free-living animal communities. The cats and the wolves who once walked over deserts and tundras on their terms.

We’d never personally hunt wolves or undomesticated cats. Shall we, though, agree to the trapping of their wild hearts, trophy-like, into living beings whose purpose is to amuse, guard, or console us?

Ellie continues:

I feel like a service pet has a sad life. I’ve seen service dogs with signs on them that say Do not pet me or Ignore me. I’ve also seen service dogs whose owners couldn’t possibly ever play with them. I live by the Family Court building. When I walk by the K-9 unit cop car, the dog in there is always alone in the parked car viciously barking. Happy dogs don’t act like that.

They don’t.

To the deeper point, animals were not put on this planet to come to our physical or emotional rescue—whether we classify it as crime prevention, services for disabilities, or a broader, often more “happy” companionship role that pets typically serve.

Veganism is offended by support for the concept of service pets. This is clear, given the vegan principle’s opposition to human dominion, of which domestication of the wolves and the forest cats are harrowing examples.

If we’re asked what we think of dogs who perform any specific services, vegans need to offer cogent answers.

And we probably need to think a lot more thinking about how we ourselves can create safety, companionship, and emotional assistance in our human communities.


Banner image: Gabriel Forsberg via Unsplash.

What to Do on Kentucky Derby Day

We humans excel at making use of other animals, extracting wealth through that use, exhausting them, disposing of them. This week, the 145th Kentucky Derby will showcase these habits.

Frivolous, frenzied pressure surrounds the horse called Omaha Beach, who is dubbed most likely to win. Because the racing industry is all about ROI, this horse and the others will run so hard their lungs bleed. Racetracks use a diuretic called Lasix to stop the horses from bleeding through their noses.

UPDATE: Just three days before the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach was removed from the race, having come down with breathing problems associated with a trapped epiglottis. Inflammation of airway structures can cause a horse’s epiglottis to get stuck in folds of tissue, according to Equus Magazine.

Trainer Richard Mandella calls Omaha Beach “a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.” Evidently we are just sensitive enough to perceive kindness in the other animals—even as we amuse ourselves at their expense. Even as horses continue to die in professional racing. Fatalities include Kentucky Derby horses Barbaro (April 29, 2003 – January 29, 2007) and Eight Belles (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008)…

And as long as the horse breeding business exists, so will the auctions and the killer buyers. Tens of thousands of horses, including racehorses, go to slaughter each year. With horse slaughter disallowed in the United States (it stopped in 2006), the unwanted animals just get a longer, more excruciating journey over the Canadian and Mexican borders for a slaughter. Don’t kid yourself about this. That $3 million purse isn’t buying sanctuaries for four-year old horses, either.

The racetrack industry is under scrutiny for drugging horses in the Triple Crown events. HR 1754, the Horse Racing Integrity Act, would create a nationwide standard for testing in racing horses, implemented by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Churchill Downs, Inc. opposes the Horse Racing Integrity Act. The major animal-advocacy groups back the bill.

Given the temptation to push boundaries to win, the racing industry will keep tormenting horses—drugs or no drugs. If we’d ask serious questions, we’d find no integrity exists in horse racing.

And this Saturday’s Derby would be the last.

This Saturday, let’s all refuse to don bonnets. Let’s decline to stick mint leaves in glasses. Let’s stop making light of this event, making bets on this event, and allowing its realities to go unmentioned. Let’s act upon a baseline of decency, speak up in our social circles, and start treating horse racing as the blood sport it is.