Time to End the Abuse and Exploitation of Animals

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Law, Opinion

Tagged: , ,

Published on October 02, 2014 with 2 Comments

Tommy, a chimpanzee, the subject of the NonHuman Rights Project lawsuit. Photo via crypticphilosopher.com.

Tommy is the subject of a NonHuman Rights Project lawsuit. Photo via crypticphilosopher.com.

By Ralph E. Stone

October 2, 2014

An article in The New York Times Magazine (July 6) “Zoo Animals And Their Discontents” by Alex Halberstadt, raised this question: do animals think and feel?  A number of scientific studies clearly demonstrate that animals are far closer to humans than recently believed.  In fact, the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals, signed by a group of leading animal researchers, asserts that mammals, birds and other creatures, posses consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness.

If we accept that animals are self-aware beings and have emotions, then this raises the question of whether we should keep animals in captivity (zoos), whether we should allow the cruel confinement and treatment of farm animals, and whether we should use animals for experimentation and research.

What’s wrong with zoos?  Zoos evolved at a time when travel for most people was impractical and few people had a chance to see wild animals up close. Today, we can take a plane to Africa, Australia, or Costa Rica for photo safaris or even watch nature documentaries on television, or view live Internet videos, which can show animals’ natural behavior that in many cases cannot be seen in zoos.  There is no excuse for keeping intelligent social animals in cages for our amusement. In short, we shouldn’t be confining animals to cramped conditions thereby depriving them of everything that is natural and important to them.

Farm animals are often the victims of cruelty.  For example, ten or more egg-laying hens housed in a wire cage the size of a file drawer stacked several levels high.  Or branding cattle with an extremely hot or cold iron stamp without anesthesia. Or castrating pigs and cows — a painful procedure. Or debeaking, the process of cutting with a hot blade the beaks of chickens, turkeys, and ducks without anesthesia to reduce pecking, fighting, and cannibalism of overstressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms.  Or using cattle prods that deliver an electric shock to get cattle moving.

Animal experiments are widely used to develop new drugs and to test the safety of cosmetics and other personal care products.  But many of these experiments cause pain to the animals involved or reduce their quality of life in other ways. Typically, a new drug or cosmetic is used on an animal to test its effectiveness and toxicity. If it is found to be effective and safe, it is then tested on humans.  However, the research may show that the tested drug or cosmetic may be harmful or ineffective and never tested on humans.

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the only federal law that covers animals in NIH-funded research but is recommended policy only, not a mandatory requirement.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with enforcing the AWA.  Under the AWA, research institutions are required to establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), “to oversee and evaluate all aspects of the institution’s animal care and use program.”  While the USDA and the AWA and IACUC systems supposedly ensure “humane” treatment of animals in labs, the system is plagued with loopholes that leave animals with little or no protection.

Each state has enacted laws to punish those who engage in cruelty to animals.  And cruelty does not only mean physical abuse but also neglect. Although in some states animal cruelty is only a misdemeanor, not a felony.

But this begs the question as to why sentient beings are used for experimentation at all.

Many studies show that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty.

In addition, many states have farm animal confinement laws, animal slaughter lawslaws covering euthanasia, and laws concerning the sale of pets at retail pet stores.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is using an interesting approach to freeing sentient beings by seeking writs of habeas corpus (literally to produce the body) on behalf of members of the great ape family (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas).  But in order to do so, the NhRP must convince a court to recognize their right to bodily liberty or personhood.

The first case brought by NhRP was on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, a former member of performing circus chimps, now confined to “a small dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed.”  The NhRP produced numerous affidavits showing the cognitive capabilities of Tommy and how such confinement adversely effected his physical and psychological well-being. The lower court refused to grant the writ of habeas corpus, but later the appellate court did grant a preliminary injunction barring Tommy’s owner from removing him from the state.  This indicates the appellate court may be open to hearing the case on its merits.

In addition to the lawsuit on behalf of Tommy, the NhRP brought similar lawsuits on behalf of Kiko, Hercules, and Leo, male chimps held in captivity in various parts of New York.  The NhRP were seeking to move the chimps to a sanctuary with an environment as close as possible to the wild.  Three New York courts refused to grant these captive chimpanzees the same rights as a legal person.

The NhRP plans to file similar suits for beings with higher cognitive abilities such as dolphins, orcas, belugas, elephants and African gray parrots.  The progress of these NhRP lawsuits is worth watching.

As a long-time member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) with two indoor and three outdoor cats in our family, I invite everyone to read ASPCA’s “Top 10 Ways to Prevent Animal Cruelty.” The goal is to crack down on animal cruelty by enacting and enforcing laws for their protection, thus making our communities safer places for our evolutionary cousins.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

More Posts


Comments for Time to End the Abuse and Exploitation of Animals are now closed.

  1. Do you eat meat?

  2. I agree- there is no need for animals in human research. Use of animals in research reflects the uncaring ways of medical researchers.