Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Lee Hall: The question here is: Must animal advocates choose between being rescuers and working for animal rights?
Why would there be a distinction between working to rescue animals and working for animal rights? Well, I don’t think there is. I live with cats. They were all street cats, and I love them. And I don’t mind
saying that; I’m proud of saying that because I’m and animal-rights activist who’s also for animal welfare. What I
don’t say, what I don’t do, is credit industries with doing anything for animal welfare.
The welfare they’re looking out for is the welfare of their shareholders. So if an industry that commodifies animals, sells animals as meat, if somebody who works in animal experimentation says they’re
working for animal welfare -- they don’t. The vocabulary is really important. When you’re looking at an institution of use, you’re looking at animal husbandry. Not animal welfare.
What I do by looking after the cats I live with is truly animal welfare. So this is a taking back of the word
You’ve heard people say, “Oh they’re a welfarist organization; don’t listen to them.” Well, I’m a welfarist. I look after domesticated animals who need a home. But I don’t credit the institutions that use
domesticated animals with being interested in their welfare. So if somebody says something about an animal-welfare law or an animal-welfare rule, and the animal is still within the institution of use, I would
call that a husbandry rule, not a welfare rule -- you see the distinction, that we shouldn’t credit the industries with animal welfare.
This is a really, really big distinction. Because even in the abolitionist movement, you know there is this question of advocates who are working for animal welfare and advocates who are working for animal
rights. How many people have heard about this, welfare and rights? [Several hands are raised.] That there’s this difference, right? So I’m saying that the word welfare being used in the sense of “Let’s
work for modifications within the industry” -- I don’t think that is welfare, so maybe there’s not this hard-line distinction between animal welfare and animal rights if one uses the words properly.
So I’m for animal rights; I am an abolitionist. I would like to see the end of animal use. But for animals who are captive and are dependent on us for the rest of their lives, I agree with animal welfare in their
circumstances. For pets, I agree with animal welfare. That’s the best we can extend to them. They are not going to have animal rights.
What I see as animal rights is the right to live on your own terms, not on the terms of the people who have subjugated you.
It seems a very important distinction here, and I don’t think it’s being talked about very much. And I thought that the reason for writing a second book -- I've written one, and also co-authored a vegan cookbook,
and my next book will be called On Their Own Terms -- is the
view is that animal rights is an ideal, for which we should all strive, that respects animals’ rights to live on their terms and not on the terms of people who have subjugated them.
In the meantime, the animals we have brought into existence -- as pets, as animals used as food -- we have a responsibility to look after. I don’t agree that they should be killed. I think we should look after
them for the rest of their lives and that’s why I live with animals bred as pets.
Should you call animals “pets”? I don’t know; should you call people who are enslaved “slaves”? The truth. Should we call them companion animals? Well, “companion” is a word that means some sort of mutual
decision we’ve reached that we’re going to live together and break bread together, that’s com-pan-ion. The root is to share bread.
Did they decide that they were going to live with me? Is it fair that I call them a companion -- an animal companion or a companion animal? Did they make the decision to share bread with me? They didn’t. They were
on the streets and they got injured and they showed up at my door. And I was a vegan for ten years when I took the first one in. I’d wanted to avoid taking in cats. And once I took one in because I couldn’t find
someone else, then I was already in the situation of looking after a domesticated cat, and felt that this is a person, an individual. And I thought, well, I’ve put this person in this situation of dependency,
because I am in the class; we define ourselves as humans. What does the word mean?
Darwin said human is a species, right? But species is a category of convenience. There’s no actual line between species; it’s a continuum.  It’s constructed; and how do we construct ourselves? We decided that
we’re the species that’s in charge of everybody else, and therefore we can own others. We first decided we are the species in charge of everybody else; in other words, we’re dominating the others. And we
decided this why? Because we wanted to protect ourselves against the wolves and the wildcats. And so now we’ve domesticated them, and made them into dogs and cats. Smaller beings.
How many people have heard of Temple Grandin? About five? Temple Grandin is the person who designs slaughterhouses, right?
Isn’t Temple Grandin in the animal-welfare movement?
Is Temple Grandin for the welfare of animals?
I wouldn’t define slaughter in any circumstance as welfare. It’s not in the welfare of any particular individual to be killed.
Let’s say that Temple Grandin works in the animal-husbandry field. Yes, George--
Isn’t that the lady who claims to be -- to telepath with animals?
Yes, well, that as well.
Yes. Temple Grandin wrote a book called Genetics and Behavior of Domestic Animals,
and said that the genetic studies point to the wolves as the ancestors of domestic dogs. And through a process called neoteny, there’ve been changes in a few genes.
This has happened throughout the centuries of selective breeding -- specifically since the Victorian era. Dogs were domesticated 15,000 years ago, cats less; the modern breeds of cats and dogs we see,
however, have come into existence in about the past 200 years.
And Temple Grandin says that during domestication -- this process that actually started 15,000 years ago with the dogs -- what are selected are infantile behaviours. In other words, when you see dogs they yap,
they bark all their lives, whereas with wolves, they only bark and yap as small babies, cubs. So they’ve retained this babyhood. And the dogs we see today are in this sense permanently babies. So we’re taking them
from their world of the wolves -- and they can’t go back. You can see dogs go out and live with other dogs, street dogs, but they don’t turn back into wolves. And domesticated cats never become wildcats, and that’s where they came from.
In domestic dogs, the social behaviour patterns are fragmented and incomplete, Temple Grandin says. There have been studies done -- which I don’t approve, as I’m a vegan who subscribes to the views of The Vegan
Society, that is, opposing animal testing of any kind -- but I’ll let you know what Temple Grandin said about malamutes: When raised with wolf pups, they failed to read the social cues of wolves; they couldn’t
comprehend what wolves were saying. And their physical development was slower. So malamutes, who are close to wolves in looks and apparently in genetics, still couldn’t keep up with what the wolves were saying.
Yorkshire terriers retain their baby teeth.
[who’s from Yorkshire]: Just make me cringe.
Not to pick on you.
They look like little -- hairy rats --
It’s not the fault of the dog –
No, right, it’s a deformation.
Yeah. I mean, it’s not my idea of what a dog should look like.
From wolves -- I understand the point you’re making, Patricia -- the farther they got from wolves the more deformed, this is true, biologically; the handout we’ve got shows certain kinds of
dogs who are so far removed from wolves that for example the bulldogs have trouble giving birth and need caesarean sections. The BBC recently did an exposé of [the British dog show] Crufts. And it got to the point where the Queen was thinking of separating from the Kennel Club. Because the BBC
was saying, well, there are certain dogs, for example, the cavalier King Charles spaniels are built so that their little heads are so small that their brains are squeezed against the back of their spines, and there’s
this fluid that goes into the spinal cord, and, as they said on the BBC, about half of these spaniels have this condition. It causes excruciating pain, to the point where it’s like hitting someone on the
head with a sharp object repeatedly, and the cavalier King Charles spaniels are given human painkillers for their entire lives because there is no dog’s painkiller for this condition; however, this condition
has happened in humans so they know what kind of drugs to give. Imagine: They live with this their entire lives.
So when Patricia said “there are certain dogs that just make me cringe” the Yorkshire terrier being one of them, there’s a reason Patricia is saying that. And it’s not directed at the individual. There’s a difference between who you are and what you are: As an individual, the dog is a person who deserves love and care; certainly
these spaniels deserve everything we can do-- except now, they’re in a most non-vegan position. I understand Donald Watson lived for 95 years and never took any pharmaceutical drugs, concerned that they were tested
on animals. So here you have the pharmaceutical companies selling drugs with which we alleviate the pain that these spaniels feel all their lives.
One of the breed sites for Yorkshire terriers says: “These dogs must be allowed to live indoors. They cannot tolerate heat or cold. Besides, they are much happier with their family.”
Now think about that. Their family. They were separated from their family. Taken from their mother. Taken from their siblings. And put in certain homes. And now we say that’s our family.
We treat them with love, as we would treat a member of our family; I do. But I know what their family members went through-- what they went through, and they were the ones spared from what others went through;
that’s why they live with me -- because they survived it.
So, are they ever in the position to make the choice? They are put in front of us, for people to select, buy, and take home. Some of them don’t make it that far. They’re vivisected; they watch car parks, behind
barbed wire fences, on oily concrete, every night. They stay alive as long as they live with somebody who cares. And for every one of them, many relatives don’t make it.
I rescued them. But that means, in a sense, I dominate them; because in the act of rescue, one party becomes dominant, and the other party becomes dependent on that rescue. And I have one pair of siblings, and
one of the pair loves being inside. Plays all the time, always asking me to play. They are siblings, born together, and they both came in at approximately the same time. I heard one calling for the other -- didn’t
know what the ruckus was, and then the other one showed up at the door and they looked very much alike (that’s why it first seemed there was only one) and when I brought the second one in, the ruckus stopped. All
the howling, the screaming had gone on non-stop for a month. That’s how much the one cared about having the other one. And when they were together it stopped. W ell, they have two different personalities. The
one who was screaming isn’t particularly happy to be inside. This one, it seems, doesn’t like to be dominated. But the other one is inside and appears to have a different perspective: I like the food; I like to
play; I like the other cats here and I’m enjoying myself. So there are two, with different interests, but I know what they seem to like best of all and that’s to be together. So they’ll have a place for life.
Including the one who didn’t seem to want to be in, and probably would have been the survivor. But I can’t split them up; they love each other.
Here’s the BBC. They’re exposing Crufts, because of the King Charles spaniels, bulldogs and so on. They’re not into animal rights. But
they’re saying at least for some breeds: We think this is an
abomination. Now animal activists haven’t really gone there, so the BBC
is leading the argument.
I know a lot of animal lawyers and speak with them on panels. What do
they think of dogs and cats? Generally, that dogs and cats should be
made beneficiaries of wills. They think these animals should not be
called pets, that they should instead be called companion animals
because it’s more respectful; and they think these animals should have
some sort of rights vis-à-vis their “guardians”; they don’t say owners.
So, what they’re not doing is going to the root and asking: Should these
animals be in these circumstances at all? Because they will always be
needing a home, food. Shelter, roofs over their heads. They are not
going to return to their biocommunity and live on their own terms.
They’re going to live on ours. The animal lawyers aren’t looking at this
The BBC is looking at it only to an extent-- to certain breeds. What
would be interesting? Breed-specific legislation, called, you know,
Yeah, what about not doing it in the first place, breeding.
Yes, I agree with you. We shouldn’t kill them, because they’re individuals--
Oh, no; it’s just that we wouldn’t breed any more.
But because they’ve come in one breed by one,
selectively created. You know there are new breeds of cats just over the
past several years. So if that’s the way they came into existence, one
by one, then this breed-specific legislation, which some people call
speciesist or discriminatory, is it really?
This is a rough issue. But if we are going to stop the breeding of
pets into existence, would that not mean starting with the animals who
can’t even give birth without caesarian sections, or go through massive
headaches-- and headache seems too mild a term for what King Charles
spaniels go through-- should we not say maybe what the BBC is implying
is right? Why are they here?
Haven’t we got to get on the breeders, then? Their specific breeders? I mean, surely they’re only doing it for money.
Well, the problem comes from people who
want to go out and get a dog, a puppy, a specific breed, rather than
going out and rescuing.
It might not be the individual’s fault. People might not be aware of the situation because they’re not a breeder themselves.
But if people can read I should think they would be aware of what those people are doing.
They might not be aware, but they’re still creating a need.
Isn’t it obvious, though? I can’t imagine
anyone not realizing how obvious it is that if you pay five, six, seven
hundred pounds for a pedigreed dog, somebody is actually making money
from you. If you go out and buy something else that’s 700 pounds, you
know someone’s actually making a profit… They do know it. “But we so
desperately want a Yorkshire terrier” or--
It’s just an excuse in this day and age. Everyone knows about abandoned dogs and cats needing homes.
I think it all comes back to
animal-rights being about you have to educate people that, actually,
it’s all wrong, keeping pets. But that’s such a hard thing to do; I
mean, you know, we haven’t turned that many people vegan yet so how are
we ever going to stop them keeping pets? Because pets, they’re the nice
lives-- farm animals, yes, they get slaughtered, but pets are cosy.
Although breeding them into existence means millions are killed every year.
But even with the rescue centres, I
mean, a friend of mine wanted a kitten for their child to grow up with.
You can’t get a kitten from the rescue centre to grow up with your
child, it has to be a cat, and a cat who gets on with children, so they
said, oh, we’re going to go to the pet shop and buy one.
Surely not all the breeds are--
manufactured, if you like, to our specifications, are they? Big heads,
small ears, little legs or whatever you want.
These are the ones that have really very
serious problems, serious health problems. But there are other breeds as
well. There was something I heard recently about Rhodesian ridgebacks,
that they can have a particular spine problem.
The thing about Labradors is that they’re very short-lived dogs. You know, they’re really old if they’re ten.
A dog on a farm, they really have a hard life compared to a home life.
: A cat would be meowing outside
our house for days on end. Eventually we asked the neighbours if we
should let the cat in, to provide a place to sleep, in order to possibly
get away from their new dog, and they said just to ignore it, but the
cat would meow all night. Eventually the cat’s sister came in through
the cat flap that was part of our house. In the end, the cats just
stayed around forever. [Laughter] When we tried to take them next door,
it was evident that they were frightened of the dog. I fed them because I
felt really guilty eating in front of the cats. [Laughter] I really
didn’t want to have an animal, and I was in this predicament, as a vegan
not wanting to buy meat. And I wondered what other people feel. Do you
buy organic, or…
What you bring up is probably in my top five
reasons for challenging the whole idea of animals as pets. Now, there’s
going to be a difference of opinion in this room as to whether we should
be getting vegan cat food or not. But you’re talking about animals
who’ve been bred from carnivores. Even if you were to feed them vegan
cat food, you’d be making them into little vegans who fit your
lifestyle, like the lawyers who try to bring them into wills.
Is the root issue what you’re feeding your cat? Or is the issue all
these cats all over the world and all the people who are beholden to
animal agribusiness -- not just for themselves but for their cats? And
this is the case for vegans as well. I moved from a one-bedroom spot; I
rent a house. Small, one-story, part is an office so it’s functional;
but the point is, I can live in one room. The cats weren’t happy there.
[Laughter] Nine cats and I was doing trap-neuter-return and as much
fostering as possible.
So we’re talking about taking up a bigger space on Earth. Yet what
we’re doing as vegans is reducing the space we take on Earth for a
number of reasons. One, to leave habitat for free-living animals who
could appreciate that space and survive.
So do you feed them tinned food? I mean, that’s a big issue.
I know it’s an issue. And I’m not going to go into that debate. But it’s not the issue. We’ll talk about it privately. [Laughter] I know, every time this comes up people come to blows.
The issue is deeper than that. Even if you decide to give domesticated
animals vegan food there are also people who aren’t. And vegan food
itself takes up space, to grow whatever it is we’re giving to
domesticated animals. There are 6.6 billion of us. We are outnumbered
three-to-one, globally-- four-to-one in affluent countries-- by farm
animals alone. This doesn’t include the animals bred as pets. Look at
the footprint of 6.6 billion of us and multiply it, because we’ve got
this entourage of domesticated animals.
So we take much more space than we need, much more food than we need,
when there are people who are just trying to eat enough every day, and
we’re running into a global food shortage which will be exacerbated by
A few things. We’re the last
speaker in the room today, so I think it’s OK if we go over time. If
everyone’s aware, it’s almost five, if they want to run up to something
else. And also, another comment: We’re talking about domestic animals,
cats and dogs, taking up space in terms of, you have to grow food for
them to eat. I’m interested to see what other people think about what
are known as community dogs in developing nations. I was living in the
Pacific for the past year, and in one house I lived in, we had a pack of
five to ten dogs that would come around every few days to multiple
houses in the area, and they’d eat the leftover food, they would go
through the garbage. People never fed them, like they never went out and
bought tinned food or cooked up anything particular for them. But they
seemed to be quite happy, healthy, independent dogs who hung out with
whoever they chose to associate with.
But were they wandering around the streets
on their own? Yes, well, I’ve seen dogs wandering around the streets in
this country. It’s not as common as it used to be. Where I was brought
up, on a very working-class, big housing estate, people used to let the
dogs run around, and it was not a pretty sight. I’ve seen them in Spain,
where they just run around all over the roads and cause accidents.
Well, OK, it’s not the dogs causing accidents, it’s the drivers, we know
that. And certainly as individuals they can be very aggressive. Now,
again, this is the humans’ fault, because of the way they’re treated;
it’s not the dogs’ fault. It does make it rather difficult to live in
this sort of situation.
In other words, these dogs you refer to,
community dogs, they’re trying to live as wolves, which Lee was saying
they’re not capable of. Living in a pack, going around scavenging, and
probably if there’s the odd rabbit about they might well hunt it.
They’re probably not very efficient as wolves because of being bred.
Exactly; they’re not--
They have all these defects--
And this is the thing with the cats, so they’re around bins.
I was going to mention the cats. You spoke of
animals being free to live on their own terms. Well, to my mind, a cat
living on its own terms is living out in the wild, in the environment,
hunting smaller animals, killing them and eating them, needing a lot of
space and not being very friendly towards other cats except during the
mating season, and if it’s female, raising a pack, a litter of young
every so often. You made a passing reference to feral cats; you said
they only live two years. That’s probably not doing too badly for an
animal living in the wild. A cat living 20 years in captivity would be
exceptional. Most animals living in the wild don’t even reach adulthood.
So any animal that can live for two years is probably surviving quite a
bit longer than a lot of others that die just as kittens or as pups or
whatever. And the fact that the cat can interbreed with the Scottish
wildcat I think shows that by definition they are the same species,
although not the same sub-species. And does it really matter if the
Scottish wildcat becomes a mongrel breed rather than the pure genetic
breed that it was historically?
There’s a campaign against the hunting of the ruddy duck in this
country, and not s’long ago I was at a stall which had a petition
against this. The ruddy duck is a North American species that’s become
naturalized in this country. It’s also spread to Spain where it’s
interbreeding with the native species of white-tailed duck.
It’s the other end. It’s the white-billed duck.
White-billed duck. Anyway, I think it’s the
RSPB being accused of trying to cull the ruddy ducks to prevent them
from interbreeding with the pure-bred European duck. Whereas many
animal-rights or vegan people would say, well, does it really matter if
the European duck becomes a hybridized duck? In fact biologically it’s
probably better to be a mixed breed rather than an in-bred, like all
these highly inbred dogs that you were talking about, or the BBC was
It is a huge dilemma, because the humans
have caused the problem in the first place by bringing the ruddy ducks
from North America. They wouldn’t have got here under their own steam,
or paddle power. And it’s the same with a lot of species that have been
And if they had enough habitat, animals will have their natural biological diversity. The planet allows it.
No matter how much habitat you’ve got, these
species will try to fill the habitat. So if you magically doubled the
habitat available for a particular species, they will rapidly increase
their number to fill it.
There’s also the question of if the predators aren’t here, you’re going to get a different dynamic--
Overpopulation, which is what you get with red deer in the highlands.
Well, not necessarily, because natural
competition from individual animals will drive the population down if
there isn’t enough food for them.
In England, some of the predators are completely gone.
Nearly all the big predators are gone.
It’s a lot to think about, and we haven’t even
started these debates in animal rights, because a lot of animal
activists are very busy talking about changing the rules within
industry, to get better husbandry for animals who are bred as food, and
rights for pets…Even abolitionists have assumed the question as your
child or the dog. Is that the basic question of animal rights?
There’s a lot of talk about apes’ rights-- you know, they’re talking
about making a law in Spain that nonhuman apes can’t be vivisected,
can’t be used for entertainment. And Francione, who’s an abolitionist,
who wants to abolish the use of other animals by humans completely, will
say, basically, while apes know each other and are complex and so forth
yet I can see when I look a dog that they are self-aware; and that they
have an idea of the future; dogs know if I’m coming to the door and
they anticipate pleasure. Which is true. Dogs, animals raised for
farms-- all have moral significance. But when we’re talking about an
animal who will always depend on us for their well-being, that’s an
animal-welfare question. And it has been mixed into the abolitionist
theory, without careful distinctions between [a] the reality of moral
significance and [b] the potential of legal rights. So it’s not
surprising that people throughout the full spectrum of animal advocacy
think that dogs could have rights.
You might hear that a director of a sanctuary is truly serious because
the person really wants true rights for farm animals. But what is a
right for farm animals? A purpose-bred animal is brought into the world
for a human purpose. The hen who goes onto the free range suffers
osteoporosis. These hens are selectively bred to produce so many eggs
that the calcium goes out of the body and into the eggshells. So what
you gain in extra space for the free-range hen you lose when their bones
tend to break. Are you ever going to get rights for such an animal, or
does the idea of purpose-breeding preclude that?
George brings up an interesting point, whether there is a grey area
with certain animals. I saw some feral roosters, or cocks, in Key West.
You’d hear them crow in the morning. They seemed to be living on their
own terms. We need to explore more too about the question of some forms
of domestication that might actually occur naturally. But when we are
talking about dogs and cats who’ve been purpose-bred, and when
petkeeping as we know it with these various breeds began in the
Victorian era, that seems a clear issue. That this is not on their
Jeffrey Masson says cats might be close to that grey area, and yet,
the wildcats will be gone, and they are not the same animals.
Their descendants will still live on. Their descendants will be a kind of mongrel, but they’ll still live on.
Now you have the situation with apes. We talk
about apes’ rights; will there be apes in a few decades? You’ve got a
situation now where Jane Goodall and USAID and the Disney corporation
have gone into Africa saying in order to save the great apes, they’re
going to “habituate” them: bring the eco-tourists in, have them pay to
follow apes around for a few weeks, and get very close to them.
I’m picking on Jane Goodall, but maybe that’s good. Because this is
someone who practically everyone thinks is an expert and an advocate. We
need to know what people are thinking, and who they’ll look to for
expertise when they’re talking about apes’ rights.
Are we saying, first, that these apes have to pay their way to
survive? That we have to convince these countries the apes are worth
their weight in eco-tourist value to keep them alive?
And if so, what are we doing to them? By habituating them, which takes
two years, and a lot of them reportedly don’t make it-- I'd hate to
hear what they go through.
Jane Goodall has also promoted, in the United States, the CHIMP Act:
The chimpanzees are taken from biomedical research and put in what they
call a sanctuary. But it’s a holding area. And it may look pretty, a lot
prettier than some sanctuaries, but the U.S. government holds the
titles to the chimpanzees. And Jane Goodall’s point is that at least the
government is giving something back. But why are we saying that this
kind of model is OK? What statement is being made?
Is this a domestication of nonhuman apes? And they’re the ones closest
to having rights, the ones most advocates-- in fact some countries,
when they’re talking about animal rights, are thinking about the apes.
What apes’ rights looks like will be the model.
But if you look in the Spanish proposal, you’ll see there’s an exception for zoos.
So you think, well, what is Goodall doing with USAID and Disney in
Africa? Habituating apes so they can be looked at, gawked at, stared at?
It sounds very much like the zoo. So my concern, going back to George,
is that will we insist, for them to survive, that they become somewhat
I’m open to arguments, especially now, what with writing a book that
will address this. But shouldn’t I resist that de-wilding, as an
animal-rights advocate? Where does it lead, when our population
continues to grow, and the green connectors are built over, animals such
as moose or caribou live in small pockets--
Same with bears.
And we say the only way they’re going to survive
is under human stewardship, that that will keep them alive? And there’s
an element of domestication there, as that’s probably how wolves became
dogs in the first place.
: Yes; two things. Some people
said that, in this day and age, we’re all aware of what’s going on. But
I’ve just become vegan about two years ago.
: When I try and tell my friends
about it, they just don’t want to know. So everything you’re saying here
is really important, and maybe the way to deal with it is to try and
educate people as to what’s going on. Then when everyone is
aware of what’s going on, if they choose not to follow, there’s your
answer, really. Then we’re left with having to infiltrate these areas
and try and free animals.
But we need a general change of paradigm. It’s
one thing to try and free animals, but then they are depending on
rescue. I know you’re frustrated with the prospect here, but there’s a
book called Wild Law, by Cormac Cullinan, an Irish writer who talks about Thomas Kuhn’s concept of the paradigm shift.
In history, the
paradigmatic paradigm shift was the
Copernican shift. We had thought, for, you know, ever, that we were
central in the universe and everything moved around us, and then
Copernicus came along-- by the Church, there was resistance-- yet in a
relatively small amount of time we revolved around the sun. Suddenly, we
were no longer in the middle of everything.
So-- rather than say, “Well, OK, start with free-range eggs”-- telling
the direct truth to enough people (and we don’t know the tipping point,
it could be a small amount of people who are working on a problem) we’d
change the paradigm. It’s not a continuum. It’s a radical shift. The
idea that we’re not in the middle of the universe is exactly what we’re
talking about today. It could actually happen in a small amount of time.
And it would.
Looking at global warming, scientists are saying we have a few decades
to figure out what to do and do it. Animal-rights advocates have to be
central in this talk, these decisions. So we can’t be mucking with this
free-range egg thing. We must be direct about how animal rights is part
of environmentalism. If people would see the idea of respect, that we
are not in the middle of everything, that we must respect the rest of
the biocommunity and accept risk, that if the bears are around, they’re
around our homes, they may do something and we may live with it, and
we’ll go on…
: Some people don’t see other animals that way. They see them as there to be eaten.
Yeah, they do.
: Animals eat animals; granted
that in this day and age we don't need to eat animals, but how can you
say that you shouldn’t be eating a pig? You can prove that the earth
goes around the sun. You can say a square is not a triangle. But to
prove to many people that other animals have a purpose--
And it’s the vast majority.
Well, there’s a book called Man the Hunted.
They’re not animal-rights activists who wrote it, but the idea, and
it’s well-researched, is that we, for a long period of time, until very
recent times, were the prey animals of lions, leopards; so we’re not at
the top of a food chain. There’s scientific truth here, that’s factual.
We might think we’re superior and that everybody else is naturally
subject to domination, but we can bring up scientific arguments,
biological arguments, and the time is now. We are looking at climate
change, so maybe the time is now, and maybe our message will be heard.
But the ethical message has to be there. Because if humanity had taken
Donald Watson’s message [that the vegan ideal of non-exploitation would
humanity to the first civilization that merits the name], we would not
be in the situation we’re in now. Much is due to animal agribusiness and
the idea that everything is a resource for us, that we’re central in
If we release them now and let them live the way
they want to live or how they should live, or how they want to live-- I
mean, we’re taking over the earth; if there is no need for them then
grazing land will more than probably be used for something else like
growing soya and rapeseed for fuel maybe or even concreted over for more
housing and there would be nowhere for animals to go therefore they
would just die out.
If they’re dependent, we’d look after them.
: You know, there’s a sort of
thought that vegans and vegetarians, we’re the worst thing that could
happen to animals. Because they’d all die off. People would have no need
for animals; if we all turned vegan--
We wouldn’t breed them.
We need less intensive growing because we need more space--
Wow. OK, wait. First, we’ve got to ask about
population. Donald Watson asked that question at the beginning, in the
first newsletter, 1944, November the first.
It said we’re already at a crisis point; it’s
got to stop populating. So that’s a vegan issue. We’re well beyond the
numbers Donald Watson had. The London Zoo a few years ago had an exhibit
with some humans. And you’ve gotta give credit to the director of the
London Zoo, who put a placard in front of the display of humans using
the term plague species. And people all over the world were up in arms
over that; but they saw it, and from a respected zoological person. Now I
don’t like the idea of zoos, and I don’t think Watson would like the
idea, being for complete non-exploitation. But here’s a zoo director who
caught on to our effect on the biosphere of which we are a part.
We’ve got to bring population in. And not in the sense of
should stop, because that’s what stopped it. For a lot of people, it is
about a prejudice. It’s got to be about the global human population,
nobody selected for involuntary sterilization. Otherwise, it becomes a
human rights issue. So it’s got to be resolved in the human community as
You also mentioned whether vegans would be causing problems for
animals’ existence, whereas people who eat them keep them around. But
the opposite is true, when we’re using a third of arable land for
domesticated animals we eat. That land is finite space on Earth. That
land is being taken away from the
free-living animals. We’re
going through the sixth great extinction crisis, and this one is
connected with human causes. So it’s at a much higher rate than during
geological times. Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, has said that
by the year 2100, we’ll lose half the number of species of plants and
animals we now have. But with global warming also in effect, more than
half will be gone.
And what is the greatest threat to free-living communities, and to the
environment? Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, at the University of
Chicago, showed that each person in North America releases the
equivalent of four tons of carbon dioxide every year. But they said if
you’re vegan, it’s 1.5 tons less.
To be easy on the climate, the most important thing we can do is to embrace a vegan diet.
: I shouldn’t have said vegans
would be responsible, but if we convince everyone that we don’t need to
eat animals, so don’t use them, won’t we get into a situation where
people say we don’t have any need for animals?
This is probably a completely different issue
but I think it’s a big one: We have the whole of history on our
shoulders, with our social values and our big consumption that’s growing
and growing, and meat-eating and things like that, the whole of our
growth, values that permeate the whole of our society, everything on our
shoulders from our history.
Yes, we’ve built our civilization on this idea of hierarchy. It’s a huge issue.
Abolitionist animal-rights activists, and specifically Gary Francione,
say animals should have one right and that’s the right not to be a
commodity. And this is not, in any way, meant to diminish the important
work that’s gone into abolitionism so far-- I agree animals should have
the right not to be property; otherwise, no right’s really going to
matter-- but I’d like to go one further and you just touched it. Animals
should have a positive right. It’s not just the right to be
non-property, to be not-something; we need to start talking about what
animals should have the right to
be. They could be non-property
and be gone, and at the rate we’re going-- and you could say that every
extinct animal community is not property.
More than just the right of not being commodities, there has got to be
something said about domination. Yes, we have a lot of history. We
dominated them and then they became commodities. So what can we do about
this hierarchical mind we have? How are we going to talk with other
I think Donald Watson got there, talking about non-exploitation, and
saying that veganism was about conscientious objection, and seeing our
treatment of other animals as a war on them. That there was no border
between warring on our own human community and warring on theirs and
keeping them as captives. And that war needs to stop, not just between
humans-- although it does, and that’s really important, and a lot of
people don’t advocate that-- and that it has to end, all of it. We are
peace activists as vegans.
And Watson could see that. Watson was a mountain climber, an organic
vegan grower. Watson appreciated the outdoors and spent a lot of time
there, appreciating free-living animals.
Watson revived a blackbird who hit a newly built glass wall, providing
food and shelter, and the eye that appeared to be hanging from the
socket by an inch-long stem when Watson found the bird-- they [Donald
and Dorothy] said we’ve never killed. And amazingly enough, because
nature is amazing, it wasn’t long-- George will remember how many days
it was-- the eye went back into the head, the little bird took off, and
would dip every time Dorothy was out with the laundry.
Donald said this to George in an interview, during the sound check,
and wanted this to be observed as part of the history of animals’
natural lives. Here was this animal who was healed, and appeared to
signal gratitude. Watson wanted to say something about who other animals
What Donald and Dorothy did had nothing to do with domination; it was
like pulling a child out of the way of traffic. It was control, but just
enough to ensure the child lived and flourished. It was the power of
That’s very nice of everybody for staying. This will be posted on
Abolitionist Online, the website. Claudette Vaughan, the editor, has
asked for the transcript. You’ve made it special, and a really nice time
for me, and, I’m sure, for a lot of people who will read the website.
Cite: Lee Hall, “Animals as Pets.” Transcript from a talk at the London Vegan Festival 2008. Originally printed in Abolitionist Online,
Issue 6 ( Holiday Issue 2008-09).
Most of us share the view that in situations of true conflict between human and animal interests, or in some emergency that requires us to make a choice between a human and an animal -- that is, when it is
necessary to do so -- we ought to prefer the interests of a human over
the interests of an animal.
Regarding such situations, Francione says (on page 159):
If we prefer the human over the animal in all such situations, are we not guilty of being speciesist in that our choice represents a morally unjustifiable prejudice against animals? No, no more than the
physician who would always choose to give the one available pint of
blood to the healthy human over the terminally ill one is guilty of
prejudice against the terminally ill.
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