Our society is rife with ironies when it comes to animal welfare. We routinely slaughter livestock for food, but only behind closed doors, out of the public eye. In some Asian cultures, it’s common to go to a wet market and pick out, say, the chicken you want and have the stall-keeper pull it out of the cage, chop its head off, bag it up and hand it to you. Most in the West would find that revolting, but in Asia, it’s seen as one way you can be sure the meat you’re eating is fresh.
Some people will only buy poultry if they know the bird spends most of its life outdoors and is fed by hand. Excuse this writer, but by the time it reaches your wok or frying pan, a “happy chicken” is just as dead as a factory-raised one, is it not?
The slaughter of 56 sled dogs near Whistler in 2010 is another case in point. It was, without question, a brutal act to be perpetrated on any species, especially when previously the animals served as one of the ways the dogs’ owners made their livelihoods. But really, isn’t a big part of the outrage many of us feel over that incident motivated by the fact that dogs are among our most beloved pets?
When it comes to entertainment, though, there’s not much ambiguity. In the past few years many have begun to oppose the keeping of large animals such as dolphins and tigers at all — leaving aside anything to do with the reasons for their captivity. To this writer’s way of thinking, zoos and aquariums that place the (pun intended) lion’s share of their emphasis on conservation — i.e. captive breeding programs and educating the public about the pressures facing threatened and endangered species — while keeping the animals in the most humane spaces possible, have value to both human society and the animal kingdom.
What’s not OK is people who keep exotic pets just for the thrill of having something unique, and those who use inhumane animal husbandry or training practices with the sole purpose of making money off “animal entertainers.” Yes, it’s likely that Circus Gatti — which was set to perform two shows in Squamish this week — no longer trains its animals the way it once did. But would-be circus-goers are well within their rights to vote with their feet and stay away to show disapproval of the fact that the company still uses exotic animals large and small in its pursuit of the almighty buck.
— David Burke