Preventing Cruelty

When any organisation states that its purpose or mission is to prevent cruelty to animals, one would expect that such an organisation would be engaged in activities that focus on prevention.

Let’s consider the meaning of the word, ‘prevent’

Prevent, v.t. 1. to keep from occurring 2. To stop from doing something

To prevent is to stop something effectually by forestalling action and rendering it impossible.

Prevention is something that happens before the fact, not after the event of cruelty has already occurred. It’s something we do, in every case, to stop something happening. We drive safely to prevent accidents; we eat healthily and use vaccines to prevent disease; we behave considerately to prevent conflict.

When one considers an organisation, it’s a little more complex, since an organisation is engaged in many activities, but surely the intent of the organisation must be to fulfil its mandate guided by it’s stated or at least implied purpose embodied in its name? Surely the main focus of its activities should be on those most likely to prevent cruelty?

Reacting to reports of cruelty is not prevention; it is policing once the cruelty has already happened. Preventative policing happens before the event takes place. Visible traffic officers reduce traffic offences; Patrolling cops, cameras or neighbourhood watches reduce crime. The argument that punishment, again after the fact, acts as a deterrent is not supported by evidence; the recidivist rate shows that punishment is not even a deterrent to those that have previously been caught.

Sheltering animals in cages may prevent further cruelty but arguably is cruel itself, often keeping animals from behaving naturally. There are no happy animals in shelters. They all want to be shown affection, have a family and a home.

Euthanasia is not ‘prevention’ it is doing away with the evidence that prevention has not been achieved. It’s really hiding the symptoms after the fact. It’s also arguably cruel to shorten the lives of sentient beings purely because you don’t have the resources to care for them.

In  meeting I was in recently, an official of a high-kill organisation said, “You’ll never stop cruelty” which I thought strange coming from a representative of an organisation whose stated aim is to prevent cruelty. The defeat in her whole bearing was self-evident and may be the reason why there are no new ideas coming from this outdated organisation. All the innovation is coming from elsewhere – independent organisations have more than doubled while high-kill franchises have contracted. That alone should be a warning sign.

What activities do prevent cruelty?

If we cannot stop it, surely there are things we can do reduce it? What activities do, in fact, reduce cruelty?

If we truly have a desire to see the end of animal cruelty one day, and of course it may be true that there will always be those who will be cruel to animals, but if we aren’t focusing on the reason why those people exist, how can we say we are looking ahead to a future without cruelty?  Surely we cannot just focus on the here and now, otherwise the same symptoms will prevail in a decade’s time, perhaps worse? Somewhere along the way, someone has to focus on the chronic causes, the conditions that continue to perpetuate the problem. Someone has to stop the cycle. And when we speak of ‘cycles’ we mean those created and reinforced by our thinking and the way it is incorporated into our procedures, policies and legislation – in short, the system.

The ‘status quo’ of Animal Welfare continues to be defended by those who have taken sides and now defend their chosen affiliation, as if an organisation is worth defending. It’s time we started identifying principles, and once defined, we should defend those – organisations come and go. Principles are sustaining.

Sins of Omission

Let’s start with activities that don’t change the system, and therefore don’t change the future of companion animal welfare in SA.

Rescuing, Rehabilitating and Rehoming are certainly necessary and certainly contribute to the welfare of animals already in the system, but homing animals does not change the system, it changes the consequences of a small percentage of the animals already in the system. It’s a solution to a few individuals but does not change the landscape.

Sanctuaries invariably have a limited capacity and will eventually stop admitting new animals.

Admitting strays and surrendered animals, the majority of which (at least 90%!)are ‘put to sleep’, the well-worn euphemism for killing animals for which there is insufficient carrying capacity or financial resources, effectively insufficient compassionate will, does not fix the problem, it just hides the symptoms. This is further compounded by not publishing statistics that would inform the public of the real state of the system: abject failure.

The fact is, the very activities that would lead to a reduction in neglect and cruelty in the future are undertaken by very few animal welfare organisations:

Education informs those who have little understanding of the fundamentals of companion animal welfare. It prepares people for the provision of primary care, including food and water, shelter, management of parasites, deworming, and exercise.

Education also provides knowledge of the sentience of companion animals and the degree to which they suffer in circumstances of deprivation, either physical or emotional. If more people understood this, there would be less neglect and cruelty.

Mass Sterilisation attacks the problem at its root. If animals do not come into being, they cannot be neglected or abused. It’s difficult to understand why the best-funded organisations do so little mass sterilisation and so little lobbying for legislation that restricts breeding.

Instead of passively doing ‘what we have always done’, it’s time there was pro-active intent to develop ways of ensuring a better future for companion animals in SA. If we remain in fire-fighting, panic mode, the crisis will never be averted. There is a need to understand that one component on its own will not do the job. And it cannot be achieved by any one organisation on its own. It’s time we dropped the ‘doing my own thing’ motto. It’s egocentric and ignores completely the fact that nobody can, in fact, live or work in isolation.

It’s time organisations and individuals dropped the defence of identity, which often has consequences destructive to the very creatures these organisations are purportedly defending. The infighting that continues to characterise the SA animal welfare landscape does not inspire others to support the sector; it is undoubtedly counterproductive for these organisations for these organisations to perceive one another as the enemy. The enemies are neglect and cruelty, and they cannot be defeated in isolation; only a coherent strategy implemented in a cohesive fashion will do the job.

Failing these organisations putting their pride in their pockets and banding together for the sake of the animals, it’s time the public helped make the decision by supporting sustainable activities that have an impact on the future of animal welfare.

If I had vast sums of money, I would invest in the future of animal welfare, and that means sterilisation and education. Everything else is about symptoms. Rescue organisations give the appearance that they are fixing the problem when in fact they are dealing with only a small percentage of the animals flowing into the system.

Education and Sterilisation are investments today in companion animal welfare tomorrow; unless we start prioritising them, the future will look much like the failure that is the status quo.