Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Recently, I became deeply concerned about an event that came to my attention, the “World Animal Day” held at Edgar’s Mission in Australia.
Concerned enough to engage in a 100-comment thread discussion with Australians on it and post a blog here? Yes. Continue reading to see why.


Some sanctuaries treat all under their care with full respect and engender this respect at all times, thereby being great places vegans should support. However, the sad reality is that the rescues they are performing only treat the symptom, animals needing rescue, of the disease, speciesism. The message they send about respect and veganism (ending speciesism) is the key to their long-term advocacy. Unfortunately, Edgar’s is not a sanctuary that engenders respect for animals and treats all under their care with full respect at all times; quite the contrary. If we, as vegans, support places with non-vegan ethics, especially ones that are holding events under the guise of animal advocacy, we are doing a huge disservice to the animals being exploited and the movement as a whole.


The World Animal Day at Edgar’s had:

(1) A guest of honor that specializes in breaking horses of their wild spirit to not have humans on their back and the subsequent training of these spirit-broken horses to be used for human purposes. The guest is especially proud of his special talent: breaking and training horses taken from the wild ("brumbies" in Australian) (link to images of him breaking spirits and his special pride in breaking brumbies),

(2) An "ethical" egg relay game (apparently now using fake eggs), and cow feces throwing competitions, and

(3) A dog agility course.


Perhaps those that are familiar with Edgar’s were not that surprised with these events, due to the fact that they are coordinated by the owner, who is a long time horse-rider, equestrian event competitor, and horse-trainer that trains riders for, and judges at, equestrian competitions (a link, another link, last link).


These special events at Edgar’s, and the regular events there, like training horses for competitions and to serve other human ends, promote disrespect for animals and promote using animals to serve human purposes (speciesism). We vote and shape society with every dollar we spend and business or non-profit we support. It is the very core of veganism to not support anything that promotes speciesism. [Some might call this vegan philosophy ‘abolitionism.’ I don’t like to use this term much, and when I do, I only use it in its pure form and not as defined by any one commentator on the philosophy (see this post for further explanation of my feelings on this)]. When you support speciesism, you prolong it and perpetuate it. Would a human slavery abolitionist support a place that had someone come and talk about breaking slaves of their tremendous spirit to not be slaves, much less one that also specialized in breaking the wildest slaves and had a website full of pictures documenting these horrific breakings, including standing triumphantly on the back of the “finally broken” slave? Would they support a place that had a slave agility course competition or had a slave chain toss competition? Of course not, nor would they justify supporting such a place because it does, after all, have a few rescued slaves living under their care in relatively good conditions for slaves. If people withdraw support from Edgar’s, they will have to change to a vegan ethic or be supplanted (or outdone) by the truly respectful vegan sanctuaries; true progress for veganism and ending speciesism.


I am sure many that work to support Edgar's have the best of intentions, but facts are facts and many people like myself feel that the guest highlighted there, the events held there, and the owner's regular treatment of horses, foster a disrespect for animals and confuse the animal advocacy message by saying these things are acceptable within animal advocacy.


What is respect and veganism if it is not withdrawing your support in every way possible from those that are exploiting and engendering disrespect for animals? I don’t think we should be supporting anyone that does any of these things to animals, regardless of the good that they do. Animal Rights and Veganism are not about balancing the bad and good, they are about full respect for ALL animals at ALL times, and engendering such to other people at ALL times.


[I sincerely hope that Edgar’s Mission reconsiders the speciesism they are supporting and engendering with their guests, events, and trainings. In hope
that they will reconsider, I have contacted them with these concerns.]


[my blog is found on the internet at http://aveganvision.blogspot.com/]

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Comment by Mark Jordan on November 14, 2010 at 9:37
Phil,

Thanks for commenting here. You find issue with the horse trainer being a guest of honor at Edgar’s, and therefore claim that this is the “ONLY thing I should be drawing issue with here…” I think that the guest was probably the most offensive display of lack of respect (speciesism) toward animals, but I find issue with much more than that. Therefore, I speak of those issues here. We disagree.

Dog agility courses exist to make dogs perform the agility course. If it just a dog play area why is it called a dog agility course?

“[T]he word "veganism" denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.” ~ The Vegan Society.

Per the Vegan Society’s definition, I find it very “possible and practical” to not: (1) break a horse's spirit to be free of having a human on their back, (2) ride horses, (3) train people for, and judge, horse competitions, (4) play games with fake eggs or real cow poo, (5) make a dog run an agility course, and (6) encourage and support animal exploitation regulation campaigns. Edgar’s Mission supports, encourages, or does all of the above. Therefore, my view is that vegans should alert people to these non-vegan aspects of Edgar’s, encourage Edgar’s to change these behaviors, and not support them while these activities are performed and/or encouraged by Edgar’s.

Regarding, “In other news…50+ billion animals….” Apparently, your insinuation is that these issues at Edgar’s are too trivial to be discussed. However, I have time to do vegan outreach and all the other things I do for those 50+ billion animals you mention and write a quick blog about a place that, in the name of vegan advocacy, is engendering a lack of respect for animals. To me, it is important for the individuals that are harmed by this lack of respect, and the harm it does to vegan advocacy in general.

---

Renata,

Thanks for adding to this discussion here. Yes, I had heard that Edgar’s kills snakes and acts in other speciesist ways besides those discussed in my blog. However, I decided to keep it to reliable evidence of World Animal Day (the fliers, pictures, and announcements by Edgar’s themselves). Your first hand experience there bolsters what I have heard elsewhere. To me, this is not surprising. When someone behaves in a speciesist manner (or in several speciesist manners), you can be confident it is not an isolated occurrence. This is very sad for the snakes and other individuals that fall victim to speciesism.
Comment by Renata on November 13, 2010 at 20:36
I once did a tour of Edgars Mission. I was disturbed by the speciesism attitude that oozed through the place.

The farm is in rural Victoria on the way there we seen a snake and many other indigenous species. Upon arrival I observed many indigenous birds. Then the tour started, I got to see all the residents and hear there stories. It was at this point I seen that there were cats, I asked if the cats were kept confined to ensure they don’t harm the wild birds and other animals. I was told no. This actually horrified me as I seen a flock of rosellas near by. One would expect that they would be confined in some way to ensure they don’t kill other animals. I thought this is rather irresponsible and is a speciesist attitude. I then proceeded with the rest of the tour.

Someone mentioned snakes a little latter on in the tour and I remarked "Yes we seen a snake not far from here, what do you do with snakes?". And was told "We get someone to take care of them" I said "What do you mean?, Are they removed and taken to the bush?" I was told no. I was disgusted by this and I remember thinking what kind of a sanctuary provides refuge, safety and a home for some species of animals and then treats other species as killable.

This is blatant speciesism.

I also am disturbed by the owner, who is a long time horse-rider, equestrian event competitor, and horse-trainer that trains riders for, and judges at, equestrian competitions. This kind of selfish self serving use of horses is wrong.
Comment by Phil Rasmussen on November 13, 2010 at 20:23
Mark the only thing...and I repeat ONLY thing you should be drawing issue with here if anything, is the horse trainer. I already stated in the FB thread that the dog agility course was just a small little playground setup for dogs that were present on the day to use and exercise on since it was risky letting dogs run around loose with so many other animals present. During the hours I was there I observed maybe 2-3 people take their dogs over to it and let them run around through the tunnels and over the ramps on their own accord. Nobody was there forcing their dogs to do anything against their will as you seem to constantly suggest Mark.

Again you were not there on the day and your constant criticisms over trivial events such as a "fake" egg and spoon race, and cow pat throwing competition are getting tiring. In other news 50+ billion other animals are being slaughtered, experimented with, and abused in the most vile and insidious ways around the world....
Comment by Mark Jordan on November 13, 2010 at 13:01
Hi Tammy,

Thanks for your comments.

I am glad you find the guest, domination of horses, and horse competitions a problem. I think that the games with eggs and feces are animal respect issues as well. I think these games send the message I mention in my response to Tim, that animal eggs (and poop) are ours to do with as we see fit. The poop issue has lots of nuances and I don’t think it worthy of too much discussion, I just don’t understand why we need to play games with another animal’s poop (or why people find it amusing). I think playing games with eggs, faux or not, sends an animal-product use message. And even if we think that only some children/people might get that message, why take the chance? Pick another game, for goodness sake (respect sake). Because you say, “…well, initially YOU had said it was an egg throwing contest…” I feel like you saw the long thread on facebook. The reason I said that is because a flyer for the event I saw said, “Ethical Egg Toss.” Notice on that thread, people that went to the event initially thought the eggs used were real, and only later found out they were faux; which shows how confusing having such an event can be, even to those that were there. Why play games with animal products, real or simulated? I think respect for animals means choosing to play another game, one that doesn’t simulate animal product use.

I choose to stand up for horses (and all animals) and identify those that exploit them and/or promote their exploitation, and work to end the exploitation/promotion, even though the exploitation may “never end.” However, 99% of the world consumes animal products and I do vegan outreach all the time. I assume the total % of people that exploit horses for their pleasure is much less (5%? 10%?). I never say never (when talking about bad things, like animal exploitation, ending).

For the reasons I state in the blog and my response to Tim, I strongly disagree with you that Edgar’s should have the support of vegans (or anti-speciesists, or abolitionists).

---

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for your comments. I am sorry to hear this about Victoria. It is tough being a minority (against exploitation regulation, etc.) within a minority (dietary vegans, animal advocates). But onward we go, despite the name-calling, etc., in what work we think is best for the animals. And goodness knows, those that think similarly to us, aren’t above name-calling, rudeness, etc. as well. 

“In the end we are all separate: our stories, no matter how similar, come to a fork and diverge. We are drawn to each other because of our similarities, but it is our differences we must learn to respect.” ~ Unknown
Comment by Tim Gier on November 13, 2010 at 11:55
Hi Mark!

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree with you, it's time for others to weigh in. I am very interested to hear what they think on this issue.

tim
Comment by Tammy McLeod on November 13, 2010 at 11:51
Ok... I was shocked when I found that they'd had a horse trainer as a speaker. That was wrong. I dont like that Pam Ahern judges equestrian events. I was up in arms when I heard about the egg and spoon race (well, initially YOU had said it was an egg throwing contest.. that was why I was up in arms), until I found out that it was actually a FAKE egg. And the cowshit throwing contest... so what??? Who cares about that? Honestly??? Fact of the matter is, farm sanctuaries like this in Australia are few and far between. I think they need to be supported, not have support withdrawn! As far as I'm concerned, it's a step in the right direction, though they need guidance on their speakers, definitely. Having said that, there are a massive amount of ppl here in Australia who have horses, and that is not going to change... EVER. Establishments such as this need our support, it's better to have sanctuaries like this than not. At least they are trying to do the right thing.
Comment by Carolyn Bailey on November 13, 2010 at 11:40
I have to agree with Mark here.

One thing to take into consideration here is that this sanctuary is in Victoria. The vast majority of animal advocates in Victoria believe that the regulation of treatment is what we should be aiming for. Edgar's is a very popular place, and the overwhelming majority of Australian advocates are very comfortable with how Pam runs the sanctuary. Most believe that so long as Pam is doing "something for the animals" she has to be doing the right thing.

There is one organisation in Melbourne which is abolitionist and they cop a hard time from a lot of people for being so. Being told they are all the usual terms - too extremist, too elitist, too radical etc etc.

I disagree with some of the activities that are happening at Edgar's for the same reasons Mark mentioned, but I'm certainly in the minority here.
Comment by Mark Jordan on November 12, 2010 at 18:19
Hi Tim,

I appreciate your interest in this subject and respond to your concerns below.

Playing with eggs, mock or not, supports the majority assumption that the eggs of chickens are for humans to do with as they see fit. Speciesism. Direct harm is not the only thing that perpetuates speciesism. Our language, our activities, how we spend our money, our food choices, our entertainment, our clothing, etc. can either support speciesism or work to subvert it. Playing games with eggs supports it. Choosing instead to play games that do not involve animal products helps subvert it.

Training dogs to perform agility courses is unnecessary. Unfortunately for animals, many humans seem to enjoy making animals perform for them. This manifests itself in circuses, horse competitions, racing, pulling competitions, fighting, etc. A vegan, by contrast, does the best they can for every animal and dominates and makes decisions for them as little as possible. For these descendants of wolves that are refugees in our speciesist society that domesticated them, I think the best we can do is to accustom them to function in this unnatural setting we have created. Full stop. Any training beyond that is unnecessary and done for human enjoyment at the expense of the animal. The same applies for horses and all other animals.

The Guest: Tim, you say, “Considering all this, the simple fact that a man who trains horses, and who instructs the people who own them, was a guest at Edgar's Mission wouldn't cause me to withdraw support from them.” It definitely causes me to. Horses are not ours to train, ride, or make to compete. They are for themselves. To say otherwise is the definition of speciesism. If we have horse refugees, we care for them the best we can, with as little training and domination as possible. This spirit breaking and training are gratuitous. Would you support a man that did the same to giraffes, tigers, elephants? – broke their spirit to not be dominated, made them accept humans on their backs, etc. and then show he can stand on their backs because they “trust” him? Sounds to me a lot like a circus. Why is it different for horses? Then, to further test speciesism, would you support a man that did this to humans? It breaks my heart to see these photos and watch videos of horses being broken of their spirit, all for the speciesist human whim to ride them and make them perform in certain ways that give the human pleasure – and these are the images people put in public – i.e. look the ‘best’! To me it is the core of veganism, of anti-speciesism, of abolition, to say this is wrong and withdraw support from those that do it.

The owner/manager of Edgar’s having an ethic that supports this type of guest and has made her a long time horse competition participant and judge is very relevant to my decision whether or not to support her being the caretaker of animal refugees. The analogies are obvious and I won’t go into them. But suffice it to say – she demonstrates a level of respect for animals I feel is insufficient to be running a sanctuary, and therefore I won’t be supporting it. This doesn’t even go into her decisions of choosing to play with eggs/feces and the “happy” exploitation literature and campaigns Edgar’s promotes, which make the case even worse.

To say we owe it to those animals under Edgar’s care to support the place is the same as saying we owe it to the chickens, pigs, and cows being exploited right now to support Prop 2 and other exploitation regulations. We owe it to all the animals of the world to say no to speciesism and be consistent in our message. This serves the greater number over the greater time span; it chips away at the root of the disease. I have personally visited two sanctuaries in the U.S. that treat all under their care with as little domination and training as possible and know of many more that do the same. To withdraw support from Edgar’s and others that perpetuate and promote speciesism is not a death-sentence for the individual refugees there, they will likely continue to be cared for there without the support of anti-speciesists or they will likely find other refuge. Withdrawing our support from places like Edgar’s is, more importantly, also a breath of life to consistent anti-speciesism and the sanctuaries that we support instead - the ones that treat all animals they care for with full respect, don’t invite speciesist guests to give domination demonstrations, don’t support animal competitions in their free time, and don’t support exploitation regulation in their literature and activities.

[Tim, you have said your peace, and I have responded. Instead of us getting into a 100+ comment thread here like I just got done doing elsewhere, how about we now leave it open for others (to comment or engage one of us - rather than you and I having a back and forth)?]
Comment by Tim Gier on November 12, 2010 at 15:09
Hi Mark,

This is an important subject for us to consider so it's great that you've brought it up.

My own view is that vegans and abolitionists do not have to actively withdraw support from other people, groups and organizations who are not vegan or abolitionist. I am not saying that Edgar's Mission isn't vegan or abolitionist, but that even if they aren't, that alone doesn't mean that we'd have to withdraw support from them.

You mention four main points in your criticism of them. To dispense with the easiest first, playing games with plastic eggs or cow manure doesn't cause any direct harm to any sentient being, so, unless Edgar's Mission is exploiting cows specifically for the manure they produce, I don't understand the objection.

As far as the dog agility course is concerned, you don't describe what it is, or what the dogs have to do on it. I can imagine that a loving, caring and respectful person could exercise their dogs on a well-designed agility course, and that just as is the case with a dog who likes to play fetch, dogs might enjoy such exercise very much. Obviously, I can also imagine a dog agility course like that in a circus, where the dogs are manipulated and forced to perform after extensive training. Without knowing where between these two possible extremes the dog agility course at Edgar's Mission falls, it would be unfair of me to withdraw support from them based on that alone. Perhaps you have more information about this concern?

Edgar's Mission hosted a man who specializes, according to the man himself, in establishing bonds of trust and respect between humans and horses. He says that he jumps onto the backs of horses to demonstrate not that anyone has been broken, but to show that he places himself in the trust of the horse, who always has the power to throw him. The horse doesn't throw him, because he or she knows that there is nothing to fear; the trust is mutual. Maybe he's full of himself (or something else) but he doesn't describe what he does as breaking horses, in the pictures I've seen he doesn't use bits or whips, he says that he works mainly with existing owners and their horses to remedy problem situations. The world we live in accepts that people can own horses. It stands to reason that some of those who own horses will not be equipped, on their own, to provide proper care and understanding for their horses. If Carlos can actually help make these unfortunate situations better, is that so wrong? It would be better for sure that Edgar's Mission attract support only from those who reject the use of horses as things. But even if everyone who supported Edgar's Mission did reject the use of horses as things, that doesn't mean that none of them would own horses. Just as people who reject the idea of dogs and cats as "pets" nevertheless own dogs and cats, some people will own horses in order to provide them the best lives possible, even while they reject the idea of owning nonhumans on principle. I've never spent much time around horses. People who have spent time around them tell me that in the case of domesticated horses, it is nearly impossible for them to exercise properly without being ridden. Maybe such a belief is self-serving. But, just as is the case with dogs who play fetch, it's hard for me to deny that at least some horses may enjoy being ridden. Considering all this, the simple fact that a man who trains horses, and who instructs the people who own them, was a guest at Edgar's Mission wouldn't cause me to withdraw support from them.

Finally, there is the matter of the owner partaking herself in certain equestrian events. Let's assume that her participation in these events is completely unexplainable in vegan or abolitionist terms. Assuming that none of the individual nonhumans who are in her care at the sanctuary are involved in those events, does any harm come to any individual at the sanctuary as a result of her participation in them? It seems unlikely. If the work being done on behalf of the individuals at the sanctuary is good work, then withdrawing support from it would have the effect of harming them. It doesn't seem fair to punish helpless nonhumans for the acts of the human who runs the sanctuary. For the sake of the animals involved, I wouldn't withdraw support from the sanctuary on that basis either.

Perhaps I wouldn't promote Edgar's Mission, or hold it out to be something that it is not. But, ultimately it isn't about Edgar's Mission, or the owner of the sanctuary, or the causes of abolition and veganism or the lessons about those causes which the sanctuary does or does not teach to the public. Ultimately, it is about the lives of the individual nonhumans in the care of the sanctuary. If their individual lives are being respected and made better, then I would not withdraw support. Rather, if I could, I would help out by volunteering, hoping to make their lives even better.

One last point. The argument has been made elsewhere that abolitionists can withdraw support from a place such as Edgar's Mission secure in the knowledge that "welfarists" would provide them all the support they need. I reject this line of thinking. I happen to agree with Immanuel Kant when he said that before we embark on a course of action, we ought to ask what the world would like should everyone follow our proposed path. If it is right for me to withdraw support from Edgar's Mission, then I would have to accept that it would be right for everyone to withdraw support from them. If everyone withdrew support from every sanctuary which fails to meet vegan abolitionist standards, there would be few if any sanctuaries at all, and that outcome is obviously unacceptable. Sanctuaries may only be treating the symptoms of speciesism, but those symptoms are living, sensing, feeling individuals who most often have no other good options remaining. We owe them our support.

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