You#039;re not an animal

by Beacon Staff • March 4, 2009

On Feb. 16, Travis the chimpanzee, who brutally mauled the friend of a 70-year-old woman who kept him as her pet, was shot dead. His body was viewed in the Capitol by the grieving public.

This didn't really happen. But in our time, it could've.

With every passing year, animals are granted increasing levels of dignity and protection. Gone are the days of unfettered, culturally accepted cruelty to animals. Our furry and feathered friends are climbing the pecking order.

In June, the lower house of the Spanish parliament passed a resolution extending "human rights" to great apes (gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans). In November, California voters passed a ballot question that will require animal farms to increase cage sizes for sows, egg hens and veal calves by 2015. Another November ballot question, this one in Massachusetts, will shutter the commonwealth's two dog tracks at year's end, putting a thousand (people, not dogs) out of work amid the worst job market in decades.

In and of itself, the trend of increasing animal compassion is good. But to most modern humans, compassion is a discrete, exhaustible resource, like time or money. It turns out that compassion for animals often comes at the expense of compassion for humans.

When ads for animal shelters come on our television, the cuteness melts us. It's good someone is taking care of them. Poor animals shouldn't just wither away.

When sponsor-a-child ads come on, we furrow our brow. We're in our homes, watching TV, trying to relax. Not our problem. Leave us alone.

Putting animals before our sisters and brothers is nothing short of immoral. Spain, at least, as a member of the European Union, had the decency to enact universal health care and other progressive measures before declaring "mission accomplished" and turning to animal rights. Until we attempt to improve the plight of the planet's every woman, man and child, putting animals first is like launching a neo-Marshall plan on Beacon Hill.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is guilty of favoring lesser animals over humans. A few months ago, the group launched a campaign to build fish awareness, and to push vegetarianism, by dubbing the sea creatures "sea kittens."

I'm a vegetarian, and while I agree that people should not eat fish, PETA's ridiculous, animal-centric arguments make me want to eat a big steak. Their reasoning on environmental issues is completely irrelevant to humans-and being an animal lobby doesn't excuse them. There are compelling, human-oriented reasons to eat less meat, such as lowering global warming (according to the United Nations, the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than the world's cars, trucks, SUVs, planes and ships combined) and ending the global hunger pandemic (it is simply too ecologically costly to cook seven billion hamburgers-9.5 billion by 2050; spaghetti and marinara is much greener) that should be employed before arguing that eating fish is tantamount to pan frying Mittens in a wine sauce.

PETA has worked to link climate change with meat consumption, but that rhetoric is an afterthought. After hearing "sea kittens" and rolling their eyes, no one cares.

Maybe PETA uses this strategy because they know what works. To market vegetarianism and environmentalism, which both improve global human health, the organization tells us to think of the animals. This may shed more insight into the perversion of our values than into PETA's folly.

This animal-centrism is not exclusive to groups like PETA. Many in the industrialized world-with their needs for food, water, shelter and security fulfilled-turn to pets for entertainment and companionship. In many families, children are responsible for feeding and walking the pets, training them to canonize animals at a young age. We place trust in our animals. We mourn when they die. They make us laugh. We love them. This is fine. Beautiful, perhaps.

You can have a pet for entertainment or companionship, but focusing your compassion on Fido is a waste. As if we needed something to love. There are humans, humans all around you. Love them. Care for them. Mourn when they die-across the world or next door. We in this country spend $41 billion a year on our pets. We donate only eight times more to charity, a figure that sounds inconsequential, but which is a horrible injustice to suffering humans around the world.

The Totsan organization is a charity that protects women from genital mutilation violence, which demands our concern much more than battering fish. We should move our money and our caring from our animal budgets into human ones-into crusdaes like Totsan's.

So take heed: Man's best friend may be dog, but man's first, second and third obligation is people, whether they're cute or not.

iChris Girard is a junior political communication major and is opinion editor of/i The Beacon.