Many readers have likely heard the story of Elizabeth Carlisle, a 20-year-old employee of Petland in Akron, Ohio. Elizabeth recently became the latest target of the anger of animal advocates, after she posted a gruesome picture of herself on her Facebook page. The picture, taken by the store manager, shows Elizabeth grinning as she holds up the limp bodies of two rabbits she had just drowned.
In Elizabeth’s own words, supposedly from her Facebook profile, “The manager took the pic for me. She reminded me that there were people outside as I was swearing at them (the rabbits) to just hurry up and die but then she was so kind as to take this picture.”
There has been quite a bit of commentary about this incident. Elizabeth is facing charges, and animal advocates are imploring the concerned public to demand that she be punished to the full extent of the law. Petland has closed the store, and has issued a predictable statement:
“This is an isolated incident that is horrific and inexcusable and will not be tolerated. Petland will take any and all action necessary as this does not, in any way, represent the culture and dedication to animal care of the thousands of caring Petland employees working across the country every day… Petland will in no way, shape or form tolerate any abuse of animals in its care… We are outraged at this gross violation of Petland’s animal care standards.”
Let’s take a quick look at Petland’s animal care standards, shall we? According to one website dedicated to exposing the unpleasant realities of this mega-chain of animal exploitation:
“People who take jobs at Petland because they love animals sooner or later find out, as one told us, ‘It’s all about time and money.’ This employee saw a lot of deaths among the small animals at the Fairfax City store, particularly birds and hamsters, and saw that many of the puppies arrived with respiratory problems. The puppies also had sores from lying on the hard mesh cage floors. Another Fairfax City Petland employee tried to nurture the puppies and was told something along the lines of, ‘They don’t need petting; they’re just money. If you want to do that, go to the shelter.’ An employee from another Petland told us that puppies are taken from their mothers at 5 weeks old and go through so much stress and handling that Petland recommends that once the puppy arrives at the store, he or she be left alone for 48 hours. Our local Petland puts puppies on display immediately, and they are available for sale about 24 hours later.”
In Petland stores, puppies are housed in rows of mesh-floored cages and, “if they’re lucky, a hard floor tile, about 1 foot by 1 foot, which is supposed to serve as their bed.” A number of stores have been found in violation of the law that forbids floors made of mesh wide enough to allow the animals’ feet to fall through, which often causes injuries. Kittens, rabbits, parakeets, parrots, chinchillas, ferrets, hamsters, fishes, and a variety of other animals are also housed in cramped cages or aquariums and are sold with a minimum of instruction on how to properly care for them.
In 2008, an investigation linked Petlands all over the U.S. to puppy mills. No surprise there. Puppy mills are animal factories, where dogs are treated as breeding machines. Laws provide little meaningful protection for animals being used for profit, so gross welfare violations are common in these facilities. Tens of thousands of baby animals every year, many of them seriously sick or even dying, are sold at Petland stores, frequently after being shipped over several hundred miles.
It’s outrageous to think that this business remains legal, while every year, millions of animals in shelters – many of them abandoned after being purchased from places like Petland – are ‘put to sleep’. Put to sleep – how’s that for the ultimate euphemism? Let’s tell it like it is. These homeless animals are not put to sleep. They are killed, slaughtered, murdered.
It sure is hard to believe, sometimes, what the human species is capable of justifying.
But as for Petland, was this display of callousness toward the living merchandise really an isolated incident?
Petland is a huge chain of pet stores that treats animals like merchandise, complete with a price tag and a warranty. These animals are economic commodities – mass-produced, warehoused and transported like any other merchandise, and bought and sold like inanimate objects. Baby animals, only barely separated from their mothers, are sold to anyone who walks in off the street, ending up with a 70% chance of being abandoned two years down the line.
It is all so grotesquely absurd… With all our cold-heartedness toward animals – we eat them, we wear them, we kill them for sport, and pay money to watch them be abused – somehow, we still long to be near them, to share our lives with them, and to take joy in their beauty and innocence. And so, in some horrible confusion, we buy them, sell them, and thereby enslave them.
And now Elizabeth Carlisle appears on the stage, unwittingly stumbling into her fifteen minutes of fame as the latest animal abuser toward whom we can channel our collective and individual guilt-turned-anger. Carlisle’s actions, of course, were contemptible, but it seems to me that she offers us an opportunity to address a more significant issue.
When a person takes pleasure in inflicting suffering, it indicates something deeply disturbing within the individual, but it also indicates something deeply disturbing about the culture which produces such individuals. I’m not talking about Elizabeth’s family, or her upbringing, or her circumstances. I’m talking about something much more universal – the cultural paradigm we are all born into, which teaches us that animals are not entitled to the most basic of all rights: the right to life, the right to freedom, and the right to live on their own terms, without being the property of another. This is true for all animals, from dogs and cats, to cows and pigs, to whales, dolphins, tigers and elephants. They have no real protection under the law. As long as there is profit to be made from using them, they will be used. And as long as they are used, they will be abused.
Every day, all over the world, pets, entertainment animals, victims of vivisection, and animals used for food, clothing and other human pleasures suffer horrific abuses, and all over the world, people go on as if there is nothing wrong with this. Some of the same people who are rightly horrified at the behavior of Elizabeth Carlisle and her manager are not willing to acknowledge their own participation in the legal torture endured by other animals.
When we cast stones at Elizabeth Carlisle and Co, we should remember that these abuses exist as a result of something much bigger than one person taking delight in cruelty. Petland, puppy mills, slaughterhouses and other animal abuse factories exist because regular people believe they have a right to buy and own an animal’s life. As long as people maintain such a belief, our society will continue to manufacture cold-hearted killers, like Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman, Michael Vick, Sarah Palin, and most recently, Elizabeth Carlisle.