Editor’s Note from Erica Settino, ATH Editor of Animals & Pets: Humane Society of The United States President, Wayne Pacelle investigates why so many Americans love their pets, yet participate in acts of cruelty against countless animals everyday.
The United States is a nation of pet-lovers — an estimated two-thirds of our households include pets, many of them treated as cherished family members.
But according to Wayne Pacelle, we’re also guilty of widespread animal cruelty — cruelty, for example, in the way we raise animals for food or breed dogs.
“We’re in a moment of contradiction with respect to our relationship with animals,” says Pacelle, author of the recent book “The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them” and president of the Humane Society of the United States, the country’s largest animal welfare advocacy organization.
“We’ve got to do better when it comes to how we treat animals,” says Pacelle. Workers in U.S. animal shelters euthanize somewhere between 3.5 million and 4 million dogs and cats annually, most of them healthy and potentially adoptable, he says — a huge overpopulation problem fueled in part by puppy mills that produce millions of purebred dogs each year.
The puppy mills themselves are cruel, a kind of factory farming where females are kept in lifelong confinement. “They are treated as production units rather than pets,” Pacelle continues. The proliferation of purebred dog-breeders is a big reason for the pet overpopulation that underlies the millions of cats and dogs euthanized every year.
If more Americans would get their dogs from shelters rather than breeders, the pet overpopulation problem would soon be eliminated. Breeders and dog owners have also gone too far in breeding dogs to have a certain kind of appearance, according to Pacelle.
They’re often breeding health problems into dogs, including the English bulldog breed that is the mascot for UGA’s athletic teams, he says. Because of their smashed-in snout, folds of flesh and shortened legs, the bulldogs are prey to respiratory problems and skin ailments, and can’t reproduce without human help.
“UGA is so symbolic of the breeding problems of purebreds,” Pacelle says. “The English bulldog is perhaps the most extreme example of how breeding for conformation, or exterior attributes, is undermining the health and well-being of the animals.”
So-called factory farms, or “confined animal feeding operations,” are another kind of animal cruelty, he says.
Fortunately, some in the meat industry are beginning to listen to complaints about animal welfare. The Georgia-based United Egg Producers group has now agreed to ask for new federal standards that would make life more tolerable for egg-laying hens.
Under the new rules, hens would have actual nesting boxes and cages twice as big as the ones they now have, with room to perch and scratch. The companies that mass-produce meat are also under fire from environmentalists, public health advocates and even rural economic developers concerned that the business practices of huge meat companies are driving small and medium farmers into poverty or out of business.
“There’s a real coalescing of concerns about factory farming,” saya Pacelle.
In the past two and a half years, Pacelle and the Humane Society of the United States have found an unlikely ally in another of the group’s animal welfare campaigns — Philadelphia Eagles and former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
Convicted and imprisoned four years ago on charges stemming from his involvement in dogfighting, Vick now campaigns with the Humane Society of the United States against the practice — even though the organization successfully pushed to have Vick prosecuted and temporarily banned from professional football.
Vick’s change of heart seems genuine, Pacelle said.
“We’re now trying to use his story as a cautionary tale to steer kids away from this terrible practice,” he said.