Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in Ravalli County is known for its stunning mountain scenery and its oft-stunning conservatism. Deep-canyoned east-west drainages rising toward the Idaho divide serve as a gateway to the 1,340,587-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. The valley’s politics often serve as a gateway to extremism. Guns? Lordy. Militia? In the works. A hunters’ group, hoping to encourage more dead wolves (the only good kind), offered prize money for photos of wolves killed in districts where hunting quotas hadn’t been met. The county planning board (subdivisions and all that –yawn- stuff) hosted an expert on Agenda 21, a U.N. plan to steal our freedom and our property, destroy the Constitution, use environmentalism to create a one-world government, and relocate most Montanans to urban areas like Seattle. In a recent Bitterroot Memorial Day parade–Memorial Day, mind you–a pickup towed an outhouse labeled “Obama Presidential Library.” You get the picture.
And so it was, driven by curiosity, that a public seminar titled “The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement” caused me to give up half of a recent Saturday and head up the valley. A couple months earlier, a newspaper blurb announced the same program at a meeting of the Missoula Tea Party Patriots, so I generally knew what to expect. The organizer, a professional horse breeder cum Christian horse rescue director cum horse slaughter proponent, had this to say to a Ravalli Republic reporter in the run-up to the seminar: “The animal rights people want to give animals equal rights to human beings. …They also don’t want us eating animals. They are vegans. They’re getting more and more creative about finding ways to come in the back door” (article).
As a vegan animal rights activist, I thought maybe I could learn a thing or two about what I believe. Or more accurately, what others believe I believe. I was also curious about that back door approach. Upon arriving, we received hand-outs on which a large heading exhorted us to know the difference between animal welfare (good) and animal rights (bad):
Other websites listed included the usual exploiters and front groups for exploiters (list available here)(website removed). Two presenters, both scheduled to address the “wolf issue,” failed to appear. The first one cancelled in a snit over sharing the stage with the second one, we were told, and the second one simply didn’t show. What he might have said can be presumed from the brief trailer to his film, “Crying Wolf: Exposing the Wolf Reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park.”
I heard everything I expected to hear and then some. The premise: Animals are property, and the animal rights (henceforth AR) movement is a threat to property ownership and subsequently to animal agriculture and all uses of animals. Horse slaughter (“harvesting”) is a necessity to save the horse, the horse industry, and our way of life. PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) are enemies to be vanquished. Wolves are a threat to life, livelihood, and property. Christianity and patriotism are on our side.
The morning commenced with roughly 18-20 (ultimately 24-25) people in the audience, two security guards, and a handful of helpers. Items from my notes follow in the order they were presented by the organizer and director of Willing Servants, the horse rescue group (italicized parentheticals are my clarifications):
- There’s a huge difference between animal rights and animal welfare–it’s warfare right below the surface of our society and the AR people want you to be confused.
- AR is totally atheistic, it’s against God’s plan and this is worth fighting for. People of agriculture can no longer be on the defensive—we have to go on the offensive. It’s about far more than the horse—we have to see the big picture. I believe in human exceptionalism and we have dominion over animals.
- No horse should suffer, but we also can’t worship them and the AR movement is leading us down this path. Surely we can see the mistakes made by people in India who worship a calf while the people starve.
- Word choices matter. ‘Humane horse harvesting’ is more pleasing to the ears, more appropriate. Slaughter is indiscriminate killing–although ‘slaughter’ is used in the Bible. Harvest: to take something and turn it into a usable product.
- PETA & HSUS are unethical, they’re willing to go to any degree to get what they want. Ethics matter.
- The further removed from Biblical and agrarian society we become, the more problem we’ll have with AR. It’s not about taking better care of animals, it’s about ending animal ownership.
- (While showing a slide of the PETA comic book, “Your Mommy Kills Animals”) They’ve run Jesus out of schools, but this is tolerable.
- (After reading naturalist Henry Beston’s beautiful quote about animals as “other nations”–at my website) I read that and about fell off my unicorn! Other nations! Last time I checked, we are ONE nation under GOD!
- The AR movement is about everything else but protecting humans.
- (Speaking of Romans 14) I almost peed my pants I was so happy to find this: ‘One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.’ (The larger text goes on to instruct against judging others.)
- (Regarding the Willing Servants program “CowKids for Christ”) I teach them horsemanship skills, give them Bible verses, and let God do his wondrous work. If we’re Christians, then none of this AR stuff is OK.
Horse processing done right
After a breather, a Wyoming state legislator and horse slaughter entrepreneur assured us that the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act applies to every species of animal. (Actually, the nine billion or so chickens killed in the U.S. each year are exempt.) “People can be vegans,” she allowed; “I hope you’re not bringing kids up to be vegan because they’ll probably be brain damaged—but I’m not going to tell anyone how to eat.” She showed a menu from a Harvard dining hall—1980s era—that had horse steak on the menu.
While her primary remarks were geared toward making sure that horse “processing” happens in the U.S. and happens right, she also addressed what she considers over-regulation of other animals: “In the U.S. Department of Agriculture today, seven vets are charged with nothing but regulating elephants, only 70–maybe it’s 170–elephants in the entire country.” And puppy mills: “USDA is overregulating dog breeding to an incredible degree and it’s bleeding over: Well, we inspect dogs, why can’t we inspect sheep?”
As the seminar wound down, we learned about the Cavalry Group, a legal defense network for those persecuted by the government-AR cabal:
Finally, as talk returned to the mechanics of the captive bolt gun and horses, a politician in the audience commented that he had once worked in a slaughter house. “In six months,” he said, “a captive bolt gun never once misfired.” (It doesn’t always go so well.) “Slaughterhouse owners want the process to go smoothly because the more you kill, the more money you make.” At this, an enthusiastic voice from the audience called out, “And there’s nothing wrong with American capitalism!”
Digesting the day’s meaty fare
larger image – click
Personally, I find PETA’s comic book “Your Mommy Kills Animals” misguided and deleterious and suspect that it was originally created as much for media attention as for “converting” children. But how convenient it is to brandish it nine years later and act as if the entire, multi-faceted AR community–if indeed community is even the right word–is a cohesive whole that believes and supports the same thing.
“They don’t want you to have pets.” Is it that easy? I thought about my four-legged companions waiting at home–shelter rescues all three, two of them virtually unadoptable. If I were offered the choice of “no pets” as the means to eliminate the squandering of four million individual cat and dog lives every year–true, I would choose “no pets.” But my hypothetical choice is too nuanced, well-reasoned, and complex to work as her easy blanket condemnation.
“AR people don’t care about humans.” Maybe that’s true for some…I wouldn’t presume to know. As for me? I spent many years working for a social service agency that assisted rape survivors and economically-disadvantaged youth. I was a Girl Scout council professional, served as co-leader for a troop of developmentally-disabled high school girls, and ran a program introducing inner-city kids to nature. I went back to college at 40 to become an educator, teaching on an Indian reservation and other schools where I was paid poorly in economic wealth but richly in other values. Those are a few of my contributions to my own species, and they are not negligible. How dare any animal exploiter tell me that I’m “about everything else but protecting humans.”
I think of the animal activists I know. We rescue everything from moths drowning in birdbaths to turtles and mice; from cats, rabbits, and dogs to goats and llamas. One runs a sanctuary for formerly farmed animals. A couple sell their own plasma to support horses purchased at auction and saved from kill buyers. Others are willing to stand up in hostile territory and advocate for wolves, for circus animals.
And yes, some are vegan; many are not. Some are church-goers, and many aren’t. Some are spiritual; others, agnostic. Maybe there’s an atheist or two in our ranks. As a rule, we don’t care. As a rule, we aren’t hung up on “animal welfare vs. animal rights”; we’re hung up on compassion and justice. We want to transform a world of cruelty and greed into a just place for animals to live their lives. It’s that simple.
So when I hear that “the animal rights movement is a beast that needs to be slain,” as I did at this seminar, and that the animal rights movement and the people who compose it are godless and don’t worship the correct deity but do worship animals, that their extreme beliefs are unAmerican and anti-human, I wonder: Just whose views are extreme? I recall the words of Robert F. Kennedy, who said,
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”
This post also appears at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.