Pets and PETA

Exploring the mission of the animal rights group.

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by Nancy Kerns

Criticizing an organization that accomplishes good things on behalf of beings with no resources with which to help themselves – why would I want to do that? Actually, I hadn’t meant to – yet.

In the February issue, I mentioned that it had come to my attention that someone in the pet food industry was spreading a rumor that WDJ and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were somehow in alliance. I have a good hunch that the rumor was being spread maliciously, to try to undermine WDJ’s standing as an independent and reputable voice. I addressed the rumor directly because I wanted to nip it in the bud, fast.

I mentioned that I didn’t know much about PETA, but was aware that the animal rights organization had a poor reputation among dog owners. I offer my sincere apologies; that was a sloppily written statement, and I knew better. I should have said, “among some dog owners.” Because the little bit that I do know about PETA is that there are a number of dog owners who can’t stand the high-profile group.

I know this because I’ve seen many anti-PETA statements posted on dog-related bulletin boards, and heard many critical comments about the PETA at dog-related venues. The criticisms I’ve heard suggested that PETA is anti-pet – that the group is opposed to the practice of owning dogs and every other type of animal. I’ve also seen a number of quotes to this effect attributed to Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s founder and president.

Since being taken to task for my inaccurate statement by a number of readers who are fans of PETA, I belatedly educated myself about the group’s stance on dog ownership and use of dogs. I found no evidence to support the accusation that PETA is against dog ownership in the organization’s literature on its Web site (www.peta.org).

PETA does, however, disapprove of any and all dog breeding. One of its factsheets (“Companion Animals: Doing What’s Best for Them”) cites a number of sad statistics quantifying the numbers of dogs and cats put to death in U.S. animal shelters each year, and comments, “In light of these tragic statistics, no breeding can be considered ‘responsible.’ ”

It follows that the group is not crazy about conformation dog shows, which promote dogs based on appearance, because breeding has created health problems in many breeds. It is opposed to all tail-docking and ear-cropping.

I’ve heard it alleged that PETA is opposed to all dog training, dog sports, and use of service or working dogs. That’s not currently reflected in its literature, either, although the factsheet referenced above does mention the group’s opposition to dog sports and the use of working dogs when the dogs are treated inhumanely, pushed beyond their natural limits, sent into dangerous situations, and deprived of opportunities to socialize with other dogs.

PETA is opposed to all laboratory testing on animals – which is one place where the group and I disagree. My personal opinion – which is not that of WDJ or its contributors – is that it’s possible for labs to keep and use animals in a humane fashion, and that some lab tests involving animals are valuable and necessary. I would include feeding trials, which I discuss at length in “On Trial” (in this issue), in this category.

PETA has been a part of a movement that has improved living conditions for many animals. I think that’s commendable. Even so, I admit I’m not a fan of the techniques it uses to forward its mission of “establishing and protecting the rights of all animals.”

How about you? Do you think that any means justify the potential end of poor living conditions for lab dogs?

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Correction
In the March 2005 issue, we listed an incorrect phone number for Dr. John Symes, who advocates a gluten-free diet for dogs. The correct number is (251) 343-7110. We regret the error and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.

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