Voiceless Lecture Series

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture with Antoine Goetschel, an individual described as ‘The World’s Top Animal Lawyer’ and a writer of a number of books.

Antoine travelled the country delivering this lecture, courtesy of Voiceless. Voiceless is an organisation that campaigns for changes in animal welfare legislation based on science. They believe that, while public opinion may catalyst change, science challenges industry and provides evidence for that change.

Antoine was enjoyable to listen to. Below is a summary of his lecture.

 

A horse drawn tram: Who is looking out for this Clydesdale's welfare?

A horse drawn tram: Who is looking out for this Clydesdale’s welfare?

 

Why Does Animal Welfare Matter?

Antoine wants to throw out the idea that “we should protect animals because they can suffer”.  While of course we want to prevent animal suffering, our concern for animal welfare should extend to their inherent value for who they are, and not just the state of what they could be in inappropriate conditions.

How we treat animals is, what Antoine called, a “barometer for human friendliness” and that treating animals well is “making our life more consistent” with the way we treat people.

Basically, Antoine argued that the dignity of creatures should be acknowledged beyond protecting them from suffering and pain, and has links to how people treat one another.

 

Legislation is ‘The Solution’ to Ensuring Animal Welfare

Antoine said that “If you do not know the goal, every path is wrong”.  For ensuring animal welfare, Antoine argues that the goal should be to create legislation that ensures animal welfare.

While we all have personal ethics, these are personal opinion and mean nothing to law makers.  That is, ethics are not binding.  However, laws are binding.  You are either complying with the law, or you’re not, and it doesn’t matter what your opinion on the law is – it doesn’t matter. It’s the law.  Science is key in informing such laws.

Antoine made the audience laugh with the saying, “Dogs bark, cats meow, and farmers complain”.  While farmers  and others will oppose legislation, when it’s based on science and then made law, they don’t have many choices but to comply.

Legislation ‘secures animal interests’, but it is a long term goal that needs to be created in small pieces that slowly ‘chip away’.  For example, our long term goal may be to ban experiments on animals, but first we could put it on a permit system, or require supervision, before increasing degrees of legislation that further restrict and then eventually prohibit the use of animals in experiments.

There are many countries leading the way, like Switerzland and Germany, who have placed animal welfare is in their constitution, thereby obligating laws ensuring that animal welfare is upheld.

Antoine also made a case for uniform animal welfare law.  For example, a national Animal Welfare Act or a national definition for ‘free range eggs’.  These laws should be ‘copy and pasted’, and not redefined overtime. On an aside, Antoine mentioned that it’s the state’s job to police animal welfare – not charity groups like the RSPCA.

Unless we make animal welfare law, we’re just asking, “Please be nice to animals”.

 

Animals Aren’t Objects

Currently, most law recognises animals as objects that can be owned as property. However, clearly, animals are more than merely objects.  Equally clearly, animals aren’t human, either.

Animal law campaigners argue that there should be a third category that recognises that animals are special.

This ‘third category’ is important when thinking about animals as part of the family, in divorce, or lost and found, or renting. For example, landlords cannot evict people from their premises for adding to their family – and this should include animal children. I instantly thought of how the world would look if pounds/shelters didn’t euthanise animals for being ‘lost’ and ‘unclaimed’ or even holding animals under ransom for impound fees, but instead worked like police in returning animals to their homes, or acted like child services to help improve home living conditions for pets.

However, there is no doubt that humans should be protected from animals that are dangerous.  Owners (or their insurance) should be held responsible for dangerous dogs.

 

A Voice for Animals

Antoine argued that because animals have no one ‘standing up to them’, they are abused, neglected, or simply killed.  He argued that there needs to be a voice for animals, an animal advocate, to stand up for the rights of animals.  These animal advocates would have a role in the media, and also in court.

In court, people who abuse animals can defend themselves, but animals cannot. In this way, legal proceedings are already tilted to the benefit of animal abusers.  More people need to be punished for their crimes against animals, and authorities need a greater motivation to press charges.

This animal advocate would give voice, legimitacy, publicity to animal causes. If we have these individuals appear on TV, standing up for animals, animal abuse feels more serious.

Currently, animals do not have ‘rights’, in the eyes of the law, but giving animals a voice is a good first step before animal rights are recognised in legislation.

 

Summary

  • Animals matter
  • We need to move away from ‘anti cruelty’ and into ‘pro dignitiy’
  • Animals are beyond objects, but aren’t human
  • Giving animals a voice in procedures is a good start to animal rights
  • Make society more human and animal friendly
  • “No body is for cruelty! We are all against cruelty.”

 

My Thoughts and Interpretations

Antoine was a powerful speaker, and it was hard not to agree with him.  Significantly, I strongly agree that simply ‘preventing animals from suffering’ is not enough and we should instead require particular forms of animal welfare (such as enrichment).  To me, it’s like comparing the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts’ to that of the ‘Animal Welfare Acts’ – their aims are similar, but their powerful difference in execution is significant. (A further comparison between these pieces of legislation can be seen here.)

In regard to dog welfare, however, particularly dog breeding legislation, I am not sure what the appropriate legislation actually is.  I have criticised dog breeder legislation a lot (see Victorian, NSW, QLD, and SA legislation critiques), and mostly the problem is they try to improve animal welfare by putting restrictions on pen sizes.  As someone who loves and uses crates, I fear that crates (arguably: good for animal welfare) will be effectively criminalised by such legislation.  Furthermore, they try to make generic legislation (e.g. the bitch should be able to escape her puppies at all times) without regard to individual animals or their needs, nor compensation to these needs.

Concerningly, Antoine used the term ‘chip away’ for legislation which makes small improvements over time.  Do those who argue for animal welfare legislation, as applicable to breeders, want to chip breeders away all together?  Some vocal groups, like Animals Australia, have already stated that they reject breeding of companion animals, so there must be others with motives similar.  Indeed, in a recent SA report, politician Susan Close said that she wanted less companion animals to be born. It worries me that legitimate and responsible breeders may find new legislation overwhelming and cease to breed. Responsible and ethical breeding has a place, and we have as much of an obligation to ensure that it continues as we do in ensuring unethical breeding ceases.

Despite thinking about this issue extensively since attending this lecture, I still can’t help but think my post on “What is the answer? (to puppy farms)” really gets at the crux of the issue. Basically, here I propose that breeders should be obligated to care for their puppies for life, especially if they end up in a shelter or pound.  The idea is that breeders would only breed with the ongoing welfare of that puppy in mind.

Regulating dog breeding may be worthwhile in some way, but I am yet to see a proposal that I can get behind.

 

 

More on this lecture series:

Antoine Goestchel – The Animal Voice (video).

Securing animal interests through law (audio).

The Animal Voice: Ensuring Interest Through Law (PDF).

 

Links of interest:

Animal Justice Party

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