25 May 2007

Animal Rights -vs- Animal Welfare

I have been looking at animal rights issues for quite a few years now, and I have come to the conclusion that people who want to give animals rights are either very naive or do not have much real contact with animals.

Animals have been an interest of mine all of my life and I have an obsession with horses. I have spent over seven years with the mare I currently have and I spent four years with her son from choosing his sire and going through the pregnancy with the mare and his birth. I have had numerous cats and a few dogs. We currently have a koala living in a tree above our house. We do not interact very much with the koala. I do not consider myself an expert by any means, rather a student of animals. They have such a wonderful and varied life that I find them endlessly fascinating.

I have read much about other animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins and other "intelligent" species. I have looked up information on the internet and read articles from various journals as well. I feel I am fairly well informed about other animals than the ones in my life.

No matter what any "scientist" says, I truly believe animals form "bonds" with the people they live with. My horses were born in domestication and accept humans as being part of their herd. My mare watches over my grandsons as though she was an aunt to them. She worries when they play roughly and I have seen her attempt to interfer in their games when they have become violent with each other. She can come and go as she pleases, and her first preference is to stand at our back door with her head in the house watching what we are doing and looking around. Part of it is curiousity at human activity, part of it is a desire for company, but there is something more to it, because if the door is closed, she will attempt to open it.

She likes it when we brush her and fuss over her mane as much as we fuss over our own hair. The way I can tell she enjoys it is that her bottom lip drops down, very similarly to when her son used to groom her with his teeth. She makes what we have learnt are "friendly" noises at us and very much tries to interact with us. She gets no other reward than these interactions.
She has other body language that she knows we react to that she uses to "communicate" with us.

As I said, she is free to come and go as she pleases. She could quite easilyt "go bush" as we live next door to a large tract of bushland. There is water there in a creek, and plenty of foodstuff that horses like, so it is not as though she is "forced" to live with us. She chooses to do this. She knows it is all there. She is actually quite concerned about going there. Admittedly there are native animals there that she is not sure about.

But once, when I tried to put my hand near her udder, she kicked me. It hurt and I was quite upset by this, but I never hit her or did anything else to repay her for doing this. I walked away. I knew that she did not want me to touch her in that area of her body. I did not read other body language I know now she would have been giving off before she resorted to kick me. She did not see what she had done was "wrong". The only perception that I had of it being "wrong" was that she kicked me. But she is a horse and that is what horses do when another horse does something to them that they don't want to happen to them. That is her understanding. She is a horse and always will be. I relate to her as an animal, not as a furry fourlegged human. She is an entity in her own right, I believe she has a level of self awareness from various interactions I have had with her. But she is a horse and always will be.

If I was interacting with any other animal, I would also learn to read its body language and the other noises that those animals make to interact with me. It is just what a considerate interactor does. But no matter what animal I interact with, I am aware that it can not be anything else than what it is. It can only act within the ways that it is born to act in. It is not a behaviour or instinct, per se, because human interaction always seems to bring changes to an animal.

For example, I have noticed that horses that are bonded to humans as little foals, are usually smarter than horses that have not bonded with humans, and much smarter than horses that have had any sort of human interaction. There is something that occurs that makes these horses smarter than their other counterparts. Maybe because they are less fearful and more curious. My mare's family has been recorded as domesticated for over 20 generations. That is how far her pedigree traces back. There would be no way of knowing how long the family was domesticated before that.

The people who advocate animal rights really do not understand the concept of what an animal really is. But the first thing is that it is NOT a furry, four legged human of some sort. They are individual entities, but not human. They do not have a concept of "right" or "wrong", they can have a concept of not doing what they are not supposed to do. But that is a human boundary put onto them. If an animal kills another animal it is what the animal is supposed to do. Whether the other animal is a human is not a consideration to the animal at the time of the killing. The animal has no concept of differential of species as we do. It is just a difference from them. I.e. to a horse another creature is just a non horse. They don't even think in terms of words or labels as we do. To assign them "rights" as humans understand "rights" is not realistic. The animal/s concerned just would not understand. To be able to have a "right" the animal must understand the concepts of "right" and "wrong" and they just do not have this concept. Even higher primates really do not understand this concept, although I believe they could probably be taught the concept. However, that would entail training ALL that species or it would be lost on the ones that are not taught. That is not realistic either. It is changing the animals from what they are to what we want them to be. That makes the concept artificial and not really worth considering them as animals. But as what would they then be considered?
Furthermore, there are then the consequences to be considered if a so trained animal does "wrong". How do you explain this to an animal? It is not an animal's way of doing things and interacting with other members of its group, it is an artificial imposition, imposed by humans. It isn't something animals would even choose for themselves, were they capable of understanding.

My mare would not want to go away from us because to her, we are members of her herd. I could not even sell this mare, even though because she is a Thoroughbred and one of her foals won races and has made her valuable. In consideration of her, I would not do this. She would not understand, she would be upset and very distressed. She had bonded with her son so that even though he no longer drank milk from her, they were companions. She was very upset and distressed when he died. Where would she go? This has been her home for so long.

Domesticated animals would not be able to fend for themselves in the wild. It is because interaction with people, even from a distance changes them. They get fed, they get water, they get treatment if they are sick or hurt. Or they get euthanased. They are not left to suffer as they would in the wild. It isn't so much that they "expect" this, it just is.

There are those who object to eating animals. That is their choice. But what else would those animals do? In a few years a good many of them would be extinct. Is that what is really wanted? Mass extinctions.

It sure bears thinking about. It sure bears talking about.

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