Posted: Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:03 pm Post subject: Help with moral dilemma needed!
I am writing to the people of this forum to ask for everyone's advice. I live on a small island and there is no one here who can help me make this decision. I would be
grateful for any suggestions you might have.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my dilemma, which is,
“Can I as a vegan who doesn’t believe in the factory farming of animals
legitimately pursue a career working with dogs?”
If you would please read this essay I wrote for University first as it
explains things quite nicely. I was sixteen when I wrote this and I am now
eighteen years old, and I still have pretty much the same position.
"Following an allergic reaction to a vaccination, my immune system
never fully recovered. I suffered from many illnesses, hospitalizations and
had a large number of allergies, including being unable to eat any animal
products. The cats were kicked outside of the house because I became
allergic to their fur. Our family had filters installed and plastic covers
for all of the mattresses and pillows because of dust mite allergies. I was
vegan reluctantly for almost seven years. An allergy test at that time
showed I could now eat meat. We tried eating it, but I just didn't like it.
At that point in my life I was oblivious to the cruelty of the meat
industry; however, I somehow got a sense it was wrong. Our family decided
to be vegetarian. Only recently have I gone back to being vegan. What does
it mean to be vegan? Being vegan means that you eat no animal products of
any description, vegetarian on the other hand means eating no animal flesh;
however, animal products are allowed.
I used to think that farm animals were well treated. After all, it
wouldn't benefit the factory farms to treat the animals poorly. Sadly, I
was greatly mistaken. Almost all factory farm animals will not see the
light of day their whole lives, excluding the transport truck. The National
Live Stock and Meat Board said in defense "Animal welfare is the cornerstone
of good animal husbandry.... Confinement rearing has its precedents.
Schools are examples of 'confinement rearing' of children which, if handled
properly, are effective.” (Robbins 173)
Up to four egg-laying hens are put in cages measuring just 16 inches
wide. They are improving; it used to be eight hens per cage. After the
egg-laying chicks are hatched they have their beaks cut off without
anesthesia. This reduces injuries from stressed birds that are driven to
fight from the unnatural conditions. (Animal Industry 13) There are
currently "roughly 235 million laying birds in the U.S… some flocks number
more than one million. (Incredible Edible Eggâ)
Approximately one hundred million pigs are raised and slaughtered in
the U.S. every year. When they are born, the piglets are subjected to
painful mutilations without any anesthesia or pain relievers. "Pigs are
packed together and don't have enough space, they become violent, sometimes
biting each other's tails, and rumps, and even becoming cannibalistic. The
industry's response is simply to cut off most of the pigs' tails and chip
off part of the animals' teeth... anesthesia is almost never used." (Robbins
200) According to the Wall Street Journal, “The total amount of human
attention given to the average factory-farmed pig in four months adds up to
exactly 12 minutes (Kilman A1).
An amazing 80% of the 35 million beef cattle slaughtered annually in
the U.S. are in the hands of four huge factory farm corporations. (Farm
Sanctuary) Last month, The New York Times informed the public that over 143
million pounds of beef was recalled from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company,
a slaughter house. (Martin) This followed the Humane Society of the United
States distributing an undercover video on January 30, 2008 "The video
raised questions about the safety of the meat, because cows that cannot
walk, called downer cows, pose an added risk of diseases including mad cow
disease." (Martin) The federal government has long banned downer cows from
the food supply. Another article in The New York Times published, March 13,
2008 discussed a video taken by an undercover investigator from the Humane
Society of the United States. "One tape showed a worker using a garden hose
to try to squirt water up the nose of a downed cow, a technique...referred
to as waterboarding." (Wald)
"Mad cow disease is thought to be caused by misfolded proteins known
as prions, which cause other proteins to misfold, leading to brain damage
and other problems. It is believed to spread through once common feeding
practices, like making feed from certain animal byproducts and conserving
the milk of dairy cattle for sale by feeding their calves cattle blood."
(Krauss) This is yet one more indication of animal abuse.
After reading, listening, watching and learning about factory
farming I felt sick. My stomach churned and I felt incensed at the people
that treated these animals this way. How could someone do this? However,
was anger really going to help anything? Can hatred actually solve
anything? These were the questions that lingered around my mind, taunting
me to no end. They burdened me for days. The answer was clearly no, but
when I look at families around North America eating meat, I can't help but
wonder, what if they knew? I believe that people deserve to know the truth
about factory farming and make an informed decision for themselves. Lying
is not an ethical way to make money.
According to Soil and Water specialists from the University of
California Agricultural Extension, working with livestock farm advisors, it
takes 5,214 gallons of water per pound of beef. (Robbins 236) The
Rainforest Action Network states that 55 square feet of tropical rainforest
are destroyed to produce one hamburger (Robbins 256). If the land is
producing cabbage it can feed 23 people. If the land is producing beef it
can feed one person (Robbins 294). It would take 12 million tons of grain
to feed every person that dies of hunger or hunger-caused diseases. If
Americas took 10% of their beef out of their diets there would be 12
millions tons of grain left over (Robbins 294). We can save human lives
just by choosing what goes on our plate.
I believe this is an ethical situation and morally it is not right
to treat animals this way. I think this quote sums up the issue of factory
farming very well "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be
judged by the way its animals are treated." (Mahatma Gandhi) If this is
true, we are not a great nation and morally we are worse than what we call
"third world countries".
I have become vegan; however, I have a dog and a cat. Both of them
would be sick if put on a pure vegan diet. My dog eats almost two pounds of
meat a day. My dog is using up 10,000 gallons of water a day. I think it
is clear that we were not meant to consume animal products, but our pets
were. Therefore is it right to have a pet? Is it right to make one animal
suffer for the benefit of another? We have been raised with this delusional
mindset that pets somehow have more feelings than other animals. What is
actually different? They are fuzzier and "cuter", that is about it.
However, I stand in no position to judge for I myself have a meat-eating
My point of view is that the world, its people and its animals would
all be better off if people ate less or even no animal products. I have a
dream that there will be a day when we realize nothing tastes good enough to
make an animal suffer so much. "The question is not, Can they reason? Nor,
Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?" (Bentham)"
I do have citations for this paper, but I know it is generally not advisable
to open links from strangers .
I believe it would be best if I gave a brief introduction of why I really
enjoy working with dogs and why this seems to be one of the better options
for me to pursue. I have presently, and according to my parents have always
had an interest in animals. We have mostly been vegans for health reasons,
but as a kid it was more something I couldn’t have due to my allergies,
rather than that it was a choice.
When we got Moxie (our dog) I took a slight interest in training her, but it
was all very amateur. A local dog trainer was offering classes and we took
one of them, and she recommended I take some courses, which I did. During a
trip around North America we spent four months in California and I
volunteered at a border collie ranch for four months. There I learnt about
kennels, dog agility and sheep herding. After I finished volunteering I
entered one agility competition and also finished two more companion animal
courses (six week long courses in total).
As a result of my chronic health problems, I cannot do hard physical work.
However, even if I build my strength, if I get sick then it takes weeks to
recover. This would be extremely impractical unless I had my own job and
could take the time off. I do get good grades but I am not much of an
academic, or at least it is not something that excites me a whole lot.
Therefore, not only do I truly enjoy dog training and being with animals,
but it is also something that is a possible career given my physical
limitations. My joints are also easily inflamed and if I do not move
regularly they become worse. So desk jobs aren’t really an option either.
I would consider myself somewhat anti Capitalist. The wealthy one percent
control more wealth than the rest of the ninety-nine percent. To me that
seems perfectly disgusting. Inspired by this I have tried to live more
fairly, but I have come to the realization that it is near impossible to
live fairly here in the west. For example most of the world’s population
live on less than a dollar a day and a child starves to death every second,
yet here in the west it costs us a couple dollars to drive to the grocery
store and groceries for a week costs over a hundred dollars. Does this seem
at all fair? Our poor live like kings compared to most, so what does that
I would also like to state my position on this whole subject before I get
into the dog training. If we are to accept that we are created by the
Christian God then naturally we can fairly assume that we are above animals.
Even so we are called to be stewards of the earth. What I can gather from
that is we should respect God’s creation, especially other human beings. If
one believes in Evolution it would seem to me to make the argument just as
strong if not stronger. If we believe that there is such a thing as moral
life, and that killing is wrong, then it should be wrong across the board.
Our being more evolved does not make it right. Therefore, in my opinion
there are three reasons to eliminate factory farms: the welfare of humans
and animals, global health and stewardship of the planet.
My first reason is this, if something depended on the abuse of human beings,
we as Christians would be Biblically called to try to help our brother’s in
peril rather than support whatever is causing this abuse. Factory farming
by nature requires the abuse of not only animals, but people also. The
number of human beings that could be fed around the planet, by the grain and
soybeans eaten by U.S. livestock is one billion and four hundred million.
Our unnecessary, over consumption of meat eating is killing people that will
most likely never hear the gospel message.
Reason two, customers are lied to, somewhat subliminally and also flat out.
When I speak of subliminal lies, I speak of the image these corporations
have created for themselves, of idealized farms that no longer exist. But,
this is not only where they lie. They also lie about health benefits, and
ignore all the negatives. Their products kill people, and some how we the
customers still believe that this food is part of a healthy diet.
Point three is that by indulging ourselves we are destroying our planet.
Now, there will be those that argue, that because this world is temporary we
should use the planet to benefit humans. Since I have heard this argument
used mostly by Christians, it would seem that if it did not benefit humans
we shouldn’t do it. Well I think it is explicitly clear that we are not
only ripping off the world’s poor, but we are also killing ourselves by
trying to make life easier and cheaper.
Talking about the dog training again, I will list below the major pros and
cons and my reasons.
Pros to stay a dog trainer:
- I highly enjoy working with dogs.
- It is something I can do given my physical condition.
- I would be doing something useful in training assistance dogs for people
with disabilities, who without the help of the dog would be less
independent. I have already trained my dog in some skills of this type.
For example, she can open the fridge, get a can of beer for my Dad and close
the fridge again.
-My family directs a Foundation that could help me train assistance dogs.
-(My mother added this) Colin is highly gifted at training dogs. The woman
who trained him where he lives said “If the reason she was put on this
planet was to inspire Colin in his gift that was reason enough for her to
have lived.” The founder of Tellington Touch dog training said “Colin was
one of the most gifted young people she had ever met, and the only man who
‘got it’ at such an early age.” Colin will be the second youngest in the
world to be a TTouch practioner.
Cons to being a dog trainer:
- The three reasons stated above to not eat meat must all be ignored, since
dogs require meat.
- Fairness. Including costs of property etc. the cost of a single
assistance dog is thirty five thousand dollars. It just seems to me the
money could be more wisely spent.
- Slaughterhouse workers have the highest job turnover rate and also the
highest injury rate. Illegal immigrants who lost their jobs because they
couldn’t compete with mass food production from America are shipped into the
country, paid below minimum wage and put in prison by our legal system
(Mostly America). The system is not only treating animals as nothing more
than items of food, but is also treating the workers as nothing more than a
machine. Even the factory farm machines are looked after better than these
workers. Thus even if I am helping people, I am doing so at the cost of
other people’s suffering.
- To me this seems like an awfully large moral compromise. If my goal is to
save someone, and to be able to save them I have to kill a few people, then
I have to do exactly what I do not want to do, to do something I want to do.
My methods are in opposition to my goal. As my goal is to help others, how
can I support something I know actually does the opposite? How does my
position make any sense?
Thank you so much in advance for your feedback. Colin
Joined: 17 Jan 2010 Posts: 2 Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Posted: Sun Jan 17, 2010 10:35 am Post subject: Is dog training ever an ethically-defensible career choice?
Dear Colin (lover of border collies on an island in Canada):
I see that you live on an island in Canada, though Haiti is an island in the Caribbean. I see that you love border collies, though the Haitians who were buried in last Tuesday’s earthquake are being rescued by animal rescue teams.
They are, at this time, dependent on the efficacy of trained dog rescue teams, and I’ve worked at Harvard Medical School with researchers who also led dog rescue teams when mountain skiers and hikers were lost in snow banks or the woods. You ask, though, whether it’s ever ethical to become a dog trainer, and you list a number of ethical questions you want to consider.
When we train animals to do things that elevate them above dependency, where (with us) they work for a living (as in canine search and rescue teams), their social status is enhanced and they are socially valued by both us AND by those around us, who either admire or directly benefit from their efforts (whether it's rescue, companionship, etc.).
Many abolitionists do not like animal training because it socially reconstructs the animals' place in nature from one of relative independence of humans to one of co-dependence with humans (and we have misgivings about 'co-dependent' relationships.
There's much here to study if one wishes to become an ethical philosopher and engage in the very real and serious debates about the potential for economically productive (though hopefully non-exploitative_ relationships with nonhumans (at this point, probably not cats, but surely with SOME but not all dogs, and with SOME but not all other species). The alternative for those who 'don't make the cut' is a gratuitous relationship of dependence upon human largess (often as 'companion animals').
Most nonhuman animals are not so 'fortunate' as to find an 'optimally' comfortable, safe, and health-supporting niche in the ecosystem. Dogs and cats who are 'unwanted' are often euthanized, sometimes not very well. Strays don't often have a good life; many are rounded up for labs. And those animals are WHO effectively trained to become productive become examples (as your border collie is) to other humans who can admire their intelligence through the outcomes of human intervention in training. Similar things can be said for good education for human beings, which enhances the good learner's social potential, social value, quality of life, and personal satisfaction in living.
Rather than your merely making music (like a folk song, like that about Herbie, “He’s a dog, but that's all right with me”) about a brilliant border collie, you ask serious ethical questions. That appeals to me because I’m currently working with professional philosophers at Harvard in bioethics, and we ask ethical and other philosophical questions.
I thought my answer would have been forwarded to you, but since it’s not, I’m pasting here my answer so you can read what I had written indirectly to you (in the ‘third person’). I hope that, in some measure, it will be helpful. Do communicate with me at both e-mail addresses.
Late this morning, I received a request from the Bay Area Vegetarian group on behalf of a young vegan student asking in a long and involved way whether he, as an ethical vegan, could responsibly pursue a career in dog training (he had been impress with how smart the family dog is). See the website for that story and also his ruminations on the ethical complexity with which he's currently struggling.
Trained dogs are very much in the news these days because animal (dog) search and rescue teams are aggressively helping to locate living humans in the rubble of last Tuesday's earthquake in Port-au-Prince. You'll note that Colin lives in an island in Canada; I don't know how much that island is like Haiti in the Caribbean, which is very much in today's news.
On Sun, Jan 17, 2010 at 11:21 AM, Tammy wrote:
We got an email from a teen asking for advice about a career. While he isn't local, he doesn't have a community in his own area so he reached out to ours. I asked him to post to the forum, so that those interested in supporting a young ethical vegan could dialogue with him there.
"I am writing to the people of this forum to ask for everyone's advice. I live on a small island and there is no one here who can help me make this decision. I would be grateful for any suggestions you might have.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my dilemma, which is, "Can I as a vegan who doesn’t believe in the factory farming of animals legitimately pursue a career working with dogs?"
If you would please read this essay I wrote for University first as it explains things quite nicely. I was sixteen when I wrote this and I am now eighteen years old, and I still have pretty much the same position."
Here is the link to the forum and his post (same userid as used for the Ultimate Guide reviews)
Here's my basic response to BAV and this young man:
Our vegetarian (vegan) movement needs a well-established function (service with high visibility) to address these questions, which continue throughout college and after graduation through the first decade or so of a young veggie's working life.
The EXPLICIT question is:
“Can I as a vegan who doesn’t believe in the factory farming of animals legitimately pursue a career working with dogs?”
The EXPLICIT (though simplified) answer is:
Yes, you CAN. However, not all careers make sense for you, nor would every nonvegetarian's career development work for you (or the animals).
Study usually helps us find the kinds of answers we are seeking, and the answers we are able to find are broader than our immediate needs, which helps us answer questions for others (note that the questioner is asking for advice, so he should prepare to help others find such answers, which requires broad reading, study, exposure, experience.
How much vocational slack does he have? Are parents funding college education for 2-4 years or more?
He can list the questions and problems he has now, prioritize them, and begin working through them and finding answers, deepening understanding, and prepare brief talks or essays on each one, since teaching is one of the best ways of learning.
He has questions about allergies, food sensitivities, dog training, religious faith, moral obligations and duties, stewardship of life and fidelity to God, animal intelligence (and working with it), comparative psychology (animal intelligence), animals and public policy (Tufts Vet School in Grafton MA has a program), ethics, animal rights and claims to decent and fair treatment, co-existence and animal social relationships with humans (getting beverages out of frig for his dad), vegan dogs (and cats), human duties to animals, and more.
Surely he should read Dogs and Cats Go Vegetarian and Little Tyke (both available from American Vegan Society). Little Tyke is about a wonderful lacto-vegetarian lioness who refused to eat meat of any kind (but would drink milk), but she was exploited through animal training and overstressed by being put on TV (and eventually died from overwork). Themes of ethics in animal training are involved, but not really spelled out. This whole area could be systematized further. I'm interested in that set of topics. [http://www.HSPH.Harvard.edu/bioethics/] Dogs and Cats Go Vegetarian was written by the Pedens (Jim and Barbara) before their divorce, then after their divorce, Barbara (who had done much of the food research, I'm told) shifted to a singing career (and we've lost touch with her), but Jim kept the book and the veggiefood business and has developed and grown and improved it. "Themes of how our 'social subcultures' overlap with issues of caring for animals would be seen by anyone exploring a career in veterinary medicine (the broad field of humans caring for nonhumans, not merely in clinical ways). And social policy areas must be explored, also, such as better ways to insure 'companion animals' for their increasing veterinary healthcare needs as they live longer within sheltered caring situations. And, of course, as we see in Haiti today, there's a growing need for search and rescue animal teams, but justice would require that we learn how (as abolitionists) to do all this without trading off the rights of some animals (food animals) for the needs of others (pet food). so if ALL animal agriculture is abolished (looking far down this historical tunnels of possibility), we need ways to FEED animals that don't involve killing OTHER animals for food,.
Networking with others who work in each of those areas helps him understand the issues - complex issues, not simple issues - better so he can teach others at some point in the future.
It's good that he sees problems because recognizing problems motivates a person to study and learn. Best wishes. I hope to hear more about this young man's career development.
To some extent, many of us are trailblazers, and in building vegan culture globally, we ALL are trailblazers to some extent.
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