This Memorial Day, while we’re celebrating our freedom—and paying tribute to the men and women who died while fighting for our freedom—let’s also take a moment to think about all the animals who are not free, and consider what we can do to help them. From factory farms to zoos, aquariums, and circuses to puppy mills and pet stores, countless animals are confined in deplorable conditions; exploited, abused, and even killed to satisfy many American’s way of life.
Many people barbecue beef, pork, and poultry on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the cookout season. To me, it seems more fitting to hold a vegetarian cookout in commemoration of all the animals who suffer and die in slaughterhouses. Each year in the U.S., about 10 billion cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals are raised and killed for food. They are made of flesh, bone, and blood, just as you and I are. They yearn to be with their loved ones, feel the warmth of the sun, breathe fresh air, and feel grass beneath their feet. Yet, before they are killed, they’re packed in filthy, dark cages, crates, warehouses, or sheds. They are debeaked, castrated, branded, or tortured in a variety of other ways. All to satisfy people’s taste for flesh.
And for our amusement, animals are kept in circuses, aquariums, and zoos. Not only are they ripped from their natural habitats—or continuously bred in captivity to attract new visitors—they are kept in woefully substandard conditions, and sometimes they’re even beaten.
For example, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), which claims to be “the leader in establishing and maintaining high standards for zoos and aquariums,” only requires zoos to provide elephants with outdoor enclosures that measure a meager 1,800 square feet, about the size of a 3-car garage. The AZA does not prohibit zoos from chaining elephants overnight—every night—and does not even prohibit zoos from using sharp metal bullhooks to “discipline” elephants. In fact, the AZA actually provides guidelines for striking elephants.
Even though studies have shown that large, roving predators, such as big cats, show stereotypical symptoms of stress when kept in captivity, the AZA has made no move to start phasing these animals out of zoos. These animals often spend more than half their waking hours pacing because they are unable to satisfy their instinct to hunt and roam.
Pitiful roadside zoos and animal attractions, including bear exhibits like the Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park, and Santa’s Land, and theme parks like Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Wild Safari, have a history of animal deaths and Animal Welfare Act violations. A PETA undercover investigator found dead, dying, and injured animals at G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Oklahoma.
In puppy mills, dogs are confined to small crates or wire cages; they’re deprived of exercise, adequate food and water, veterinary care and attention. Many are emaciated and sickly with crusty, oozing eyes, ear infections, swollen teats, gangrenous skin and/or abscessed feet. Female dogs are typically bred every time they go into heat and killed when they can no longer produce puppies.
So the fight for freedom must continue. The good news, I suppose, is that we don’t have to die to help win freedom for animals. It can be as simple as choosing a veggie burger over a hamburger; attending an animal-free circus instead of one that forces animals to perform; and adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue group rather than buying one from a pet store or breeder. Of course, encouraging others to do the same will help even more animals.
For more ways to help animals in captivity, please click on the links below:
Mohandas Gandhi once said that, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Let’s help make America a great nation by fighting for animals’ freedom—on Memorial Day and every other day of the year.