Half A Loaf, Revisited

i November 3, 2009

One year ago we published the blog that appears below.

The animal rights/welfare movement here and abroad is awash in proposed legislation (see ISAR’s Model Mandatory Spay/Neuter statute), much of which will never be enacted or, if enacted, never enforced.So the question is whether it is cause for rejoicing when pro-animal legislation actually becomes law.

We have seen three examples in as many months.

The Swiss have enacted a sweeping animal protection law. It includes handling guidelines for cats, dogs, sheep, goats and horses. There is a six-hour time limit for the transportation of livestock. Piglets cannot be castrated without anesthesia.

Massachusetts has banned greyhound racing throughout the Commonwealth.

A California ballot initiative has just been approved that seeks to provide more living space to animals raised for human food: “Certain farm animals [shall] be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around.”

However, the Swiss law allows dairy farmers to keep their cattle tied up in stalls for 240 days of the year. Tie-stalls for horses are to be phased out over five years. Zoo animals, like rhinos, can be confined in small winter quarters. Wild animals in circuses are still permitted (though banned in neighboring Austria).

The Massachusetts greyhound ban does not become effective until 2010.

California’s “living space” initiative gives farmers until 2015 to shift to more humane animal production systems. Yet, for some in the animal rights/welfare movement these measures are not only not enough (and they aren’t!), but the laws are to be disdained because they don’t go far enough.

These folks believe that when laws like this are proposed they should be fought, because passage of these useful but wholly inadequate enactments give opponents the ability to argue that “enough is enough”–that the movement clamored for these laws, they were enacted, and that’s all the affected animals are entitled to, at least for years to come.

This absolutist position is defensible, making for a hard choice: wait for perfection, while countless animals continue to suffer, or take what can be had when possible, but continue fighting for perfection?

In other words, is half-a-loaf better than none?

Much better—particularly, if you’re a veal calf spending your entire life in a crate.

The blog highlighted the dilemma faced by serious people in the animal protection movement, especially those who recall Voltaire’s famous observation that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”—meaning that while one seeks utopia in human affairs, “the perfect,” much else, “the good,” doesn’t get done.

As to animal protection, while we wait (and work toward) much better Swiss, Massachusetts California and other laws (“the perfect”), the benefits that could have accrued (“the good), are lost.

We were reminded of this problem recently when asked to support anti-tethering legislation pending in Pennsylvania. (Tethering is the cruel practice of chaining a dog to a stationary object, thus severely restricting its freedom of movement.)

Should we not support the proposed new legislation because in approving it we would be accepting the existence of that cruel, indefensible practice, even though the law would ameliorate some of the more egregious conditions under which tethered dogs live? In other words, do we seek “the perfect,” with not even a nod to reality?

Or do we support the proposed new legislation precisely because of the amelioration, abjuring “the perfect” to gain “the good”? In other words, do we accept the reality that “the good” means reducing suffering, at the expense of “the perfect,” which in a utopian world would be an outright prohibition of tethering?

After much soul-searching, we recalled the concluding two sentences of our earlier blog:
“In other words, is half-a-loaf better than none? Much better—particularly, if you’re a veal calf spending your entire life in a crate.”

To paraphrase, as to tethering: Is “half-a-loaf better than none”? Much better–if you’re a dog chained to a stationary object and whose entire universe consists of several square feet (at best), primitive shelter (at best), almost no human contact (at best), and little interaction with your own kind (at best).

This said, however, ISAR insists on making unmistakably clear that we unequivocally oppose the practice of tethering both as a moral and humane imperative the practice of tethering, and that our support of the pending Pennsylvania legislation is not intended, nor should it be construed as, our sanction, approval, or any other kind of endorsement of the cruel practice of tethering.

If ISAR had its way, Pennsylvania and every other state would immediately enact laws making tethering of dogs illegal, with severe penalties. Let there be no mistake about ISAR’s position!