IT'S A DOG'S LIFE
by Ardeth Baxter
Whether you believe that wolves first came out of the cold of their own volition to share their lives with early humans, or that it was a human desire to capture wolves and create the domesticated dog, it is indisputable that dogs are dependent on us for food, shelter, safety— their very survival. They are designed to serve us and to be our companions.
We exploit dogs for a variety of human purposes, often to perpetuate questionable traditions, to make a profit, or both. We breed them to be fighters, we train them for racing, we force them to help us hunt other animals, we cut them up or break their bones for physiology classes, and test drugs and devices on them. We imprison and then kill them cruelly for fur, food and folk medicine. We breed them with impunity, and then punish the millions unlucky enough not to find homes by euthanizing them. We employ them in show biz. We keep them confined as pets. We teach them to assist the blind and the handicapped and to round up sheep and cattle. What do they get in return?
They get abuse and neglect in the highly profitable greyhound racing/gambling industry. Discarded greyhounds are bludgeoned to death or have their skulls crushed, are shot and sometimes buried alive, drowned or starved. An Alabama man shot and buried thousands of greyhounds, some still alive, in a killing field in his backyard, for which he was paid $10 each by Florida racetracks. Puppies and young adults are routinely “culled” by breeders if they don’t show promise as racers. Live puppies, kittens and rabbits are used as lures to train racers. Since greyhounds are docile and trusting, research labs buy them for medical experimentation. Others are exported to third world racetracks, or to Mexican game farms to be hunted by wildcats. In Spain, a horrific tradition dictates that hare-coursing greyhounds (galgos) be hung from trees to slowly and agonizingly die after hunting season.
Cruelty and neglect are also rampant in the infamous Iditarod. This so-called tradition has killed at least 120 dogs, plus an unknown number outside of the actual race, through strangulation, internal hemorrhaging, liver injury, heart failure and pneumonia, as well as the brutality of some mushers. In addition, many dogs are injured or made ill by their food. Like greyhounds, Iditarod dogs are “culled” by their mushers, who shoot them in the head when they are puppies, or if they are too old or too slow. They are kept on four-foot chains outdoors in frigid weather and must urinate and defecate where they sleep. Many receive little if any veterinary care. But the Iditarod is profitable for tourism, for mushers, and for corporate sponsors, despite the fact that it is not a commemoration of the 1925 diphtheria serum run but patterned after the much more grueling early 20th century All-Alaskan Sweepstakes.
The “sport” of dog fighting, in which two dogs fight in a pit until one is too injured to continue or dies, is the definition of abuse. Dog fighters operate in an atmosphere of illegal gambling, weapons, drugs, violent behavior and gang activity. Dogs are starved and beaten in training. As in greyhound racing, cats, kittens, puppies and rabbits are used as bait and mauled to death. Children often watch the fighting. Battered fighting dogs, mostly pit bulls and other large breeds, are often dumped at shelters and euthanized because they’ve been taught to be killers. Dog fighting is illegal in all states (and a felony in six) but alive and well underground.
Hunting with dogs is another abusive “sporting” tradition. A ban on hunting bears and bobcats with dogs was recently defeated in Texas, although it is dangerous and cruel for both the dogs and their quarry. Maine and other states are also trying to eliminate the use of hunting dogs, who are trained to chase their terrified prey for miles until it is trapped and the hunter can move in and easily shoot it. Why is it allowed? One reason is that state fish and game departments make money off bear tags and other hunting licenses and do not want to bite the hand that feeds them. In Britain, a controversial ban on fox hunting (that is, canines hunting a canine) was recently passed, but fox hunting is increasingly popular in the U.S.
Biomedical research is another willing participant in the dog exploitation tradition. Stolen pets, particularly in the Midwest, are sold to registered dog dealers licensed by the USDA. Class A dealers breed dogs for sale, while Class B dealers buy dogs from unlicensed sellers called “bunchers,” who obtain dogs from “free to good home” ads or willing shelters, or steal them from neighborhoods. The dealer sells dogs to bunchers for next to nothing, who in turn sell them to labs for a big profit.
Dead dogs are even more valuable in some cultures. China, Korea, Thailand and other Asian countries share a long tradition of eating dogs, where superstitions persist that their meat is good medicine, particularly as an aphrodisiac. Dog meat is sold in markets and restaurants. In addition, two million dogs and cats are killed annually in China and Southeast Asia to make coats and fur trim, accessories and toys. The animals are kept in filthy conditions in the cold to encourage fur growth, then bludgeoned or bled to death, or hanged, or tied with wire, stabbed in the groin and skinned, sometimes while still alive. The Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 bans the import, export and sale of dog and cat fur in the U.S., but it remains legal in Europe.
Animal rights groups get a lot of flack for pointing out that dogs and other domesticated animals are our slaves: “As long as people treat animals as toys, possessions, and commodities, rather than as individuals with feelings, families, and friendships, widespread neglect and abuse is destined to continue.” (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, www.peta.org) It could be argued that some forms of slavery are more benign than others. But PETA makes a good point: for every dog who has a good life, there are many more who suffer horribly.
Don’t our best friends deserve better?
Ardeth Baxter is the slavish guardian of four dogs (and five cats) and an animal rights advocate. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content
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