Understand the animal rights/welfare movement’s “half-a-loaf” problem (Part II)

i December 15, 2014



By understanding the animal rights/welfare movement’s “half-a-loaf” problem (Part II)

In Part I of this article we highlighted the dilemma faced by serious animal rights/welfare activists, especially those who recall Voltaire’s famous observation that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” — meaning that while awaiting the “perfect” in human affairs, “the good” often doesn’t get done. Castration without anesthesia remains in Switzerland. Greyhound racing continues in Massachusetts [please note: this blog originally posted in 2008 when greyhound racing did exist in Massachusetts, but as of January 1, 2010, it no longer exists.] Farm animals can still be caged 24/7 in California.

While activists work toward “perfect” solutions, in Switzerland, Massachusetts, California, and elsewhere, “good” benefits that could have accrued for animals risk being lost because of opposition to proposed legislation.

ISAR was reminded of the “half-a-loaf” problem when we were 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 have not supported the ameliorative proposed new legislation because in doing so we would be accepting the continued existence of certain still-allowed aspects 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, should we have sought “the perfect” at the expense of the “good” while closing our eyes to the brutal reality that remained?

Or should ISAR and other organizations have supported the proposed legislation precisely because of the amelioration, ceasing to obtain “the perfect” in order to gain “the good”? In other words, should we have accepted the reality that “the good” meant reducing suffering, at the expense of “the perfect,” which in a utopian world would be an outright prohibition of tethering in all of its torturous aspects?

Recall the concluding question in this article’s Part I: “Better a half loaf than no bread?”

Well, if you’re a dog chained to a stationary object whose entire universe consists of several square feet, primitive shelter, little human contact, and infrequent interaction with your own kind, the answer is easy. Ameliorate the suffering, now, today, and keep working to end it entirely.

This said, however, at every opportunity ISAR made it unmistakably clear that both as a moral and humane imperative we unequivocally oppose the practice of tethering, and that our support of the then-pending Pennsylvania legislation was not intended, nor should it have been construed as, ISAR’s sanction, approval, or any other kind of endorsement of that cruel practice.

If ISAR had its way, Pennsylvania and every other state would immediately enact statutes making tethering of dogs illegal, with severe penalties for violation of the law.

To be continued