Animal Ethics and Morality

Euthanasia

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The Dilemma

As an ethical vegan, I spend my life trying to avoid the death of animals. Every day I have to ensure as much as possible that the things I do, eat, and wear do not adversely affect the voiceless in my care or beyond. I exercise my dogs, make sure the chickens get fed, and spend a silly amount of time relocating wild baby frogs from my basement to the garden.

So what do I do when an animal in my care falls ill with no hope of recovery? Is it possible that a caring, nurturing vegan like me can be responsible for ending the life of an animal before his or her natural lifespan is done? Can it be right to choose death for an animal in my care?

A Dignified End?

Many years ago I accidentally fell into a job in a nursing home. My family, knowing my squeamishness, gave it a week, which was about four days longer than I thought I’d last.

In the end I stayed there two years, surprising myself more than anybody else. I believe this was one of the most important jobs I’ve ever held: It taught me the value in age and wisdom, and that people in their 80’s have incredible tales of love, passion, and war. The men and women for whom I cared are some of the most interesting people I have ever met, and I will be forever grateful for having been able to spend time with them.

But along with the colorful language and tales from the battlefields, I learnt something much less appealing: Dying is rarely painless and dignified. I do not recall many going ‘gently into that good night.’

Not Much Of A Choice

Many of us have experienced the sadness and pain of watching an animal we love start to go downhill. For some it may happen very quickly—within hours, perhaps—and for others it could be an illness spanning months, maybe years. Whatever the time lapse, there may well come a point where we have to make one of the most difficult decisions of our lives: whether to euthanize an animal, or let nature take its course and hope that the end comes quickly and without prolonged suffering.

It’s not much of a choice, is it? The decision to let your animal die, or to let him or her live and suffer, is a heavy burden to bear, but one I believe we all accept when we agree to care for an animal. For those of us who spend our lives trying to keep animals alive, we enter a moral maze when faced with the dilemma to end a life.

The Guilt That Follows

We are lucky that we have animals in our lives. I never take for granted that I share my life with dogs, and I am always in awe of them and happy to share what I have with them. I believe that we make a pact with an animal the moment we decide to care for him or her. We agree to offer food and water, provide appropriate living conditions, and care for them in sickness and in health. We have a duty to prevent suffering in its many forms, and that includes, to the greatest extent possible, painful and terminal illness or injury.

Anybody who has had to make the decision may be familiar with the emotions that follow euthanasia, the most common one being guilt. Regardless of whether you live a vegan lifestyle, to choose to end a life can leave many feeling that they have betrayed their companion. Guilt is a normal and common part of this type of grieving, and it is always difficult to reconcile one’s love for the animal with the decision to end his or her life.

The Deal We Make

Part of loving someone is the obligation to help when things get hard. You will understand your need to take action when the other life no longer can. For many humans, this is a right that is being fought for in every court in the land. For animals, it is probably the one right they have that we humans do not. Whether that is right or wrong is an article for another time, in another publication, but for the voiceless animals who do have this right, you will still need to act on their behalf.

If and when you have to make this difficult decision, as someone who supports the health and wellbeing of all animals and understands your animal better than anyone else, take comfort in knowing that whatever you decide, you will always do what is best for your friend, no matter how difficult that makes life for you.

For support following the death or loss of a companion animal please follow this link. There is a telephone service for UK residents and an email service for those both in the UK and the rest of the world.

http://www.bluecross.org.uk/web/site/AboutUs/PetBereavement/PBSSIntro.asp

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Sally-Anne Ryan is an artist and writer living in the UK. She shares her home with one rooster, two guinea pigs, three horses, four pigs, five dogs and ten chickens. She also volunteers with The Blue Cross, supporting people following the death of a companion animal.

The Price of Bacon

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Money First

Life is cheap. At least it is if you are an animal, particularly a farmed animal. These animals are bred for profit, not love. Their lives, which in theory should belong to no one, are at the mercy of a human being—a human being’s financial interests, that is—, and the remains of their lives are eventually on show for all to buy in your nearby butcher shop.

A healthy cow, sheep or pig isn’t lucky; in the main, they are destined for a miserable and short life on a factory farm. But a sick animal has an even more desperate and forsaken time. As he or she becomes a drain on the farmer’s purse, whatever natural human instinct to care and nurture this farmer may have gets lost. Many of these poor beings are left to suffer and die in fields or stock yards without so much as a painkiller, not to mention any actual medical attention.

This is modern farming. This is the story of the meat on your plate. When we are entrusted with a life, have we not a responsibility to ensure that life is free from pain and suffering? As for the pigs, sheep, cows and chickens that don’t die before they make it to the slaughterhouse, how do we in the 21st century; value their lives?

Pig Love

Recently I had some bad news: a Kune Kune piglet with whom I had fallen in love and who was due to become a part of our home came down with all sorts of unexplained, difficult ailments as her arrival date loomed. The symptoms included breathing problems, joint swelling, and an odd way of weight bearing. The current guardian of “Peppa” (as I had already named her) was very honest and clear with me: Peppa had been born iron-deficient and was much smaller than the rest of the litter, and her current guardian felt there was a distinct possibility that further problems would arise over time. It seemed that by giving her a home, I was heading for heartache at worst and some serious vet bills at best. Her current guardian assured me that, should I decide not to take her, she would be able to stay in her current home for the rest of her life, which was some consolation, but how could I just refuse to take her now, at the moment she needed my care the most?

Weighing the Odds

A number of scenarios flashed through my head: the possibility of dealing with a very sick animal, and one of a species with which I had no experience; a chance she would not see her first birthday; unknown vet bills that may land on my doormat—unnerving, to say the least. Practically speaking, not having her with me wouldn’t make a difference to her health; if she got sick, she would just be sick somewhere else.

But thinking it through was futile. It did not matter that Peppa may not be the perfect pig. There was no way I wasn’t going to be there to care for her if the worst happened. I replied to her current caretaker to this effect, and the plans went ahead for her and another piglet’s arrival. Foolhardy, maybe, naïve, possibly, but this time I was following my instinct, and mine was telling me to go ahead.

A Strange Coincidence

Soon after this bad news about Peppa’s health, while I sat in a café, I couldn’t help but overhear two women discussing their shopping and the price of food. They were talking about bacon and where they could get the cheapest bacon in town. I was transfixed. Here was I, about to take on the possibility of hundreds of dollars worth of vet bills to save a pig, and these people were arguing cents over the corpse of a dead one.

When did life lose its value in this way? When did we stop seeing meat as the dead remains of a once-living-breathing-loving being and start seeing it as something to buy cheaply and devour?

Somehow we have devalued other species lives to the point where we can happily haggle over their dead bodies without a thought for anything but our own finances. Next time you walk past a butcher’s window or a delicatessen in your supermarket check out the prices, and you will soon work out the going rate for a life nowadays. The saddest part of all is that the poor mother of the animal that they were coldly discussing was not part of the economic decision—and was not able to tell anybody her baby was not for sale.

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Why the Pig and Not the Human?

As responsible, loving humans we should be caring for those animals that cannot help themselves. We should not be ignoring them, taking advantage of their weaknesses, or sponsoring their suffering.

One may well ask why I am prepared to support my animals in such a way when so many humans are suffering. I have two responses:

  • I do support humans, too; my compassion is not limited to any one species.
  • I love that you care so much for other humans in need. By the way, how are you involved in helping them?

This last question is usually met with stuttering or silence. I have often found that those that interrogate animal supporters and caretakers rarely do anything practical or financial themselves to help needy humans. If they did, they wouldn’t have to ask these questions. They would understand what it is to care, to give your life to something. They would respect the views of the compassionate because they would understand and share those views, know what is involved in raising money against the odds and helping those who seem to have so little worth to the masses.

Living beings are born, many get sick, and all die. We have a responsibility to all to make sure that when they are at their lowest moments, someone is there to give comfort, love, and, if needed, medical help. And this imperative includes all species, including pigs.

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Who Knows What The Future Holds

It has been six weeks since Peppa and her friend came to live with me. So far, so good (knock-on-wood, fingers-crossed, etc). Other than the fact that she appears to be deaf, Peppa continues to grow, thrive and enjoy living a full life, just as any animal should.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this: should there come a time when things aren’t so good for her, when she needs a vet, special food or round-the-clock care, I’ll be there for her. I know that’s true, because the moment I made the decision to bring her home was the moment I made a promise to her that I would never desert her, no matter what the future brings.

Spending time with Peppa, feeding her, petting her and hearing her grunt when she sees me coming is far more valuable than the entire contents of all the butcher shops in all the world. Sometimes, there are wonderful things that money just can’t buy.

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Sally-Anne Ryan is a British artist and writer who uses her work to highlight the plight of animals all over the world. She happily shares her home with three failed show dogs, two rescued dogs, and ten former battery chickens.

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June 28th, 2009 at 2:26 pm

The Love Menu

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Candlelight for Two

Imagine the scene: candlelight flickers in the softly lit dining room of your favorite romantic restaurant. Seated opposite you, just beyond a bottle of the finest Italian wine, is the person that has propelled your stomach into somersaults for the last two weeks. You feel yourself tumbling into that heady feeling of lust, as every word your dining partner utters seems both amusing and profound. In unison, you both raise a glass, toasting the future and whatever it may bring. . . .

That amazing angel of light sitting across from you flashes you a huge, loving smile when—wait a minute!—you notice something. What the hell is that?! Stuck between the glistening white teeth of that smile you have loved for all of two weeks, you spy evidence you wish you hadn’t: a tiny piece of meat is staring at you as a grim, grinning reminder of the one thing you had chosen to ignore so far.

Your date eats dead animals, and you do not.

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

It’s a cold, hard fact that veggies are in the minority (for the moment!), so before you even start to wonder if a gorgeous, loving veggie is into you, you have to find one. The quest is not so bad if you live in large cosmopolitan city like New York or London, where you may have many veggies with whom to socialize and connect.

But what about folks in smaller town, where tofu may not be on the tip of anyone’s tongue and Seitan is someone clad in red horns, pitchfork and a tail? For something that is clearly the only way to ensure other living beings do not suffer, veganism is still relatively rare. But this reality is slowly changing, and if we are to expand our numbers and ensure that the humane choice also becomes the popular choice, then maybe reaching out to non-veggies isn’t such a sin after all.

Spread the Seed of Thought

I have read that Ingrid Newkirk, founder and president of PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), forbade veggie employees to date one another and requested that they instead go out into the world and date people from the dark side (read, meat-eaters) and bring them to the light.

Whether this story is true or not, I have to say I like the point of it. You love whom you love, and if that’s another veggie, great! You are lucky, indeed. But to dismiss other people on the grounds of their present choices may not be doing the cause or yourself any favors. I have never had a serious relationship with a vegetarian or vegan, but what I have found is that the meat-eaters I have dated have, on the whole, respected my choices and either cut back or completely cut out meat and animal products from their own diet.

It doesn’t take an intelligent person long to discover that an animal-free diet is a healthier one. The benefits of vegan diet are too numerous to cover here, but, just as your cholesterol levels drop, your dating partner’s enthusiasm for the cause may rise.

The More, The Merrier

I believe that a veggie who dates/lives with/marries a meat-eater who then reduces or eliminates animal products from his or her diet is doing double-duty on the animal care front. I have a Viva (Vegetarian International Voice for Animals) T-shirt somewhere that tells me how many animals lives have been saved by me being veggie. I’d like to add to that tally, by proxy, all those animal lives that have been saved because someone listened to what I had to say and took action, too.

Of course, there will always be people who will not agree with you—nor even meet you a quarter of the way. They will take great delight in waving a steak-laden fork in your face and taunt, “I bet you’d love to eat this, really.” Such a partner is undesirable, not just because of his or her eating habits, but because he or she blatantly disrespects you and your beliefs, and that situation spells doom for any relationship.

A Happy Ending

As vegetarians or vegans, we have to hope that those with whom we fall in love will share our views or at least be willing to understand and incorporate them into their lives, too. If they don’t, and we decide to wait for that compassionate veggie who shares our deep love and respect for all species, then all the better. But if we wish to follow this latter path, it may require relocation, a whole lotta online match-making, and perhaps even a hearty, helping hand from that little guy with the bow and arrows.

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Sally-Anne Ryan is a British artist and writer who uses her work to highlight the plight of animals all over the world. She happily shares her home with three failed show dogs, two rescued dogs, and ten former battery chickens.

The Forgotten Victims of Fashion

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Prada and Pretty Shoes

I have a confession to make. A skeleton in my closet. A skeleton that keeps knocking on the door with its bare knuckles, making sure I know it’s there on a daily basis.

About five years ago, while on a shopping trip in New York, I visited the flagship Prada store. You know the one: lots of space, not so many clothes or shoes, as seen on Sex and The City. Passing through this minimalist space, I saw a vision—a beautiful pair of stiletto shoes, ruby red at the heel and faded to salmon pink at the toe. As shoes go, perfection.

I should clarify now that I am not a shoe person in the least. For the most part, shoes are to me merely the things that separate me from the wet sidewalk or make me just tall enough to keep my trousers from dragging on the floor.

But these shoes were different. These were shoes Cinderella wouldn’t dare leave on the staircase, and I wasn’t about to wait for Prince Charming to bring them to me. So I handed over my dollars and took possession of this beautiful pair of leather shoes.

Now, five years later, I think I have worn those shoes about four times in all, and not once in the last four years. They sit in my wardrobe looking at me as if I’m a nut for not taking advantage of their beauty and perfection. Maybe you’d agree.

How It Got this Way

So I guess I’ll explain. When I bought the shoes, I was certainly aware of what leather was. I knew leather was dead animal skin. Had these shoes actually looked like skin, I probably would have been revolted and left the store shoeless.

But they didn’t. Dyed and shaped beyond recognition, leather shoes, purses, belts, and sofas generally don’t look too much like the animal they came from. It’s no surprise that we are not revolted by leather in the same way any decent person would be by, say, a fur coat, a vanity so obviously torn from an animal’s body that it easily provokes all kinds of emotional reactions from those confronted with it. Leather shoes just look like, well, shoes.

The Origins of Leather

Leather is an animal product that slips past our ethical alarm sensors and quietly settles into our closets unrecognized for what it is. At the time I bought my pair of Pradas, I was a vegetarian (I have since become vegan). “Hypocrite!”, I hear you shout, and I have to say I agree.

Another reason leather has so successfully gotten accepted into everyday life is the justification that every vegetarian will recognize and many have used, myself included: “Leather is just a by-product of the meat industry.” I remember hearing one of my vegetarian friends use this when I was a young veggie myself. I remember it didn’t sound quite right then, a cop out, an excuse. It lingered in my head, but I never felt convinced even when I spoke the words myself, although I continued to wear leather for many more years.

The real truth is that the leather industry is a multi-million dollar business in its own right, and it wouldn’t be stopped by a slowdown in the meat industry any more than the fur industry has been hindered by the fact that its victims don’t taste too good. Ever eaten Mink, Ermine, or Fox? Thought not.

A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way Here

You know that joke, “What’s black and white and red all over?” Well, there’s one answer that has nothing to do with nuns or penguins. I know from first hand experience.

About one year post-Prada purchase, I was driving past the local abattoir (that’s a slaughterhouse to you and me). Normally I, like most people, try to look the other way and hope I don’t see the sad faces peering through the bars as they are led to their grim fate.

But this time I failed to turn away in time and was transfixed by a huge van, the contents of which were available for all to see. There in front of me was layer after layer after layer of dead cow skin, freshly torn from the bodies of the animals, so fresh in fact that blood was still running down the empty limp black and white skins. At that exact moment, leather became a very different thing to me. It stopped being “leather”—which is really just a sort of euphemism—and became what it really is: the skin of a dead, but once living, breathing creature. Before being treated with all manner of toxic chemicals to stop it from rotting and to remove the hair and before being dyed all colors of the rainbow, leather is skin.

No More Pretty Shoes?

So have I been shoeless for four years? Do I walk round with all my worldly goods in my pockets–no purse, no wallet? At the end of the day do I rest my weary butt on the stone floor rather than a sofa or chair? Nope, I have found better and more creative alternatives from many companies.

If I want to spend silly money on shoes, I can go to Stella McCartney, who doesn’t use any dead animals in her fashion line, or many other online companies, including Alternative Outfitters (USA), Bourgeois Boheme (UK) and Beyond Skin (UK) to name but a few. Even the designers that use leather may have shoes that are not made from living beings; Christian Louboutin & Prada have both made cruelty-free shoes (request they make more).

Best of all, the cheapest High Street store shoes are often non-leather. So if you don’t want to splurge, you can save and still look great and be ahead of the fashion curve. Whatever your flavor of choice, you do not have to accept cruelty in fashion. You can walk tall knowing you are not only dazzling, dahling, but have also made an ethical choice for animals and the environment.

And, as for the punch line to that famous joke, well, now you know, it isn’t that funny after all.

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RESOURCES:

http://www.stellamccartney.com/
http://www.alternativeoutfitters.com/
http://www.beyondskin.co.uk/html/home.php
http://www.bboheme.com/

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Sally-Anne Ryan is a British artist and writer who uses her work to highlight the plight of animals all over the world. She happily shares her home with three failed show dogs, two rescued dogs, and ten former battery chickens.

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March 30th, 2009 at 11:10 am

For the Love of Dogs

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A New Addition to the Family

I am a dog nut. I study them, write about them, paint them and share life with them. Recently I decided that I was able to add another mutt to the gang. With a deep interest in animal welfare issues, my first thought was getting a rescue dog: it’s what I ask of other people, and it’s what I believe to be the answer to the suffering and outrageous euthanasia rates of unwanted dogs languishing in shelters all over the world.

But, as I searched for the fifth dog to join our household—which is also shared with a toddler—, I was forced to consider whether adoption of a rescued animal was indeed an option to me or whether I would need a puppy that I could train and socialize myself. Where and from whom should I obtain the new addition? Is there ever a circumstance where it is okay to buy a puppy from a breeder, or should we always opt for the rescue dog—or just go without?

Dogs as Lifestyle Choice—and the Consequences of that Approach

Many people have a dog as part of a lifestyle choice rather than because they can offer the dog all that the dog needs. We rarely look at our home circumstances before getting a dog to see if we can actually offer a home that will provide a dog with all that he or she needs. We get the house, get the partnership, have the 2.4 children and then aim to finish the jigsaw puzzle with a puppy; that’s just what people do, right?

With this as a basis for having a dog in the first place, it’s no surprise that shelters are filled with many of the same breeds: Border Collies, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Boxers, Dobermans…. It’s a cliché to say, “a puppy isn’t a puppy for long,” but it’s the truth: inevitably that once-cute, tiny, pliable ball of fluff will very soon grow up with very specific needs, and if you haven’t spent time learning and meeting those needs, you may well have a ticking bomb on your hands and a potential addition to your local shelter. The German Shepherd dog that was sent to the shelter because he is “out of control” is not a bad dog; he just had owners that couldn’t—or wouldn’t—meet his training needs. Puppies take work, and you have to be prepared to put the time in right from the start. You owe them that much.

Due Diligence for Dogs… and People

As part of my research into the process of finding a puppy, I looked at breeders’ websites, either directly or via the UK Kennel Club. There are, of course, many reputable breeders who love and care for their animals. But there are also those out to make a quick buck with little or no concern for the breed or the puppies themselves. How do you know that the person you have never met before is caring for his or her dogs? It makes for very uncomfortable viewing searching through the hundreds of puppies held up to the camera to show them off—some in a home environment, some in barns, all tiny and extremely vulnerable to bad beginnings and even worse endings.

But, from the dog’s perspective, having good luck with a breeder is not enough, for while I have had dogs from good breeders in the past (older show dog rejects), nobody ever came to check me out. Nobody ever verified whether I really own a house or a fenced-in garden in which a dog could play.

And there lies one of the biggest advantages for the shelter dog: he will have his potential home and care-takers checked out. So, somewhat surprisingly, a shelter puppy who is fortunate enough to get placed at all may well have a better chance of a good home than the breeder puppy sold for profit.

Shelter Dog Myths and Realities

There is a common myth that dogs in shelters are there because they are aggressive, that they must have been surrendered for mauling the family cat/child/budgie, but it’s just not true. Human problems—divorce, job changes, work commitments and financial hardship—are at the root of most shelter stories, but it’s the dog who winds up paying the price for these problems.

There are literally thousands of house-trained, leash-trained, loveable dogs just waiting to meet you at the shelter. Shelter dogs all have different experiences, and the shelter typically does all sorts of research and experience tests to see what is the best possible home for the dog (note, for the DOG!). A shelter dog has a support team behind it, looking out for its needs; they will not place a dog in a home where it will be rejected or neglected by other family members. It’s a terrible experience for both the dog and the owner to have to go back to the shelter, so the shelter will do its utmost to get it right first time. As dog lovers, we should all prefer this for our canine friends.

Breed Rescue

If you have a certain breed in mind and know you can give him the life he deserves, then consider “breed rescue”. These are rescue facilities devoted to specific breeds. Almost all breeds have them, and these folks really know their stuff when it comes to the dogs’ needs and your suitability to give them a home. Fancy an exotic crossbreed? Go to your shelter; it is overflowing with lovable, cute crossbreed mutts just waiting for some long-deserved love.

A Success Story for All

As for me and my quest? Well, after several chats with shelters and breed rescues, much swooning over all shapes and sizes and dogs, and a couple of visits across the UK, I found a wonderful rescued Great Dane called “Archie.” He gets along wonderfully with my other dogs and my child, and I again feel incredibly blessed to be able to share my life with another dog.

Sound good to you? If you feel you can offer time and love to a dog, please bear in mind what is best for all dogs: help put an end to to the misery of those sick and lonely puppies in pet shops. Adopt. Trust me: it may well be the best thing your ever do, not only for yourself, but for dogs all over the world.

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Sally-Anne Ryan is a British artist and writer who uses her work to highlight the plight of animals all over the world. She happily shares her home with three failed show dogs, two rescued dogs, and ten former battery chickens.
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March 30th, 2009 at 11:08 am