Guest blog by: Stephanie Mathers – Ally of the Sage Mountain Team and the Animal Rights Movement
I wasn’t surprised when I scrolled through my newsfeed on Tuesday, January 17th to see cries of outrage by my social media network over the leaked video from the set of A Dog’s Purpose. In the video, a German shepherd named Hercules is directed to perform a water stunt by his trainer. The dog shows signs of distress in his body language and his actions, but he is continually pressed to perform.
The fact that my newsfeed was filled with friends condemning the actions in the video and demanding a boycott of the film didn’t stand out at first; after all, many of those in my social media networks are animal rights activists and individuals passionate about animal causes. However, as I looked closer at who was posting about the incident, I noticed the more than half of the people on my feeds who were publicly upset were meat eaters.
First, let’s be clear that what happened to Hercules that day was wrong. Since the video’s release, the premiere of the film has been canceled and there is an ongoing investigation by American Humane. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Why was it wrong?
Well, anyone who has loved a pet knows that animals experience a wide range of emotions, the strongest of which might be fear. The fact that the studio has since stated Hercules was not ultimately forced to perform the stunt that day doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, and for good reason: it’s wrong to knowingly inflict any level of fear, pain, or suffering upon a being for our own purposes. In this case, the purpose was a film, but what if the purpose were something different? What if it were another form of entertainment, like a circus? Or, what if it were for food? Moreover, what if it were a different animal, someone other than a dog or a cat?
If you value an animal like Hercules enough to condemn his suffering, then you already have all the beliefs you need to face the real dog’s purpose in this story: the only difference between the suffering of Hercules and the suffering of billions of animals slaughtered for food each year is your own acceptance of each action as dictated by your cultural paradigm. After all, many countries do raise, slaughter, and eat German shepherds, giving them the same treatment as pigs, chickens, and cows in the US – that’s part of their cultural paradigm.
Pigs dream at night just like people and have consistently passed intelligence measures comparable to a 3 year old child and beyond those of most dogs. Baby chicks quickly grasp the concept of object permanence, an intelligence marker that it takes a human baby a year or more to reach. Cows form strong friendships and can be taught to problem solve using tools, such as pressing a lever to operate a drinking device. Beyond these facts is the visceral experience that comes from the opportunity to look into the eyes of any animal: the sentience there is undeniable if we allow ourselves to see it. Surely the emotional and intellectual lives of these animals are just as rich as those of dogs and cats.
Yet even animals in the meat industry marketed with the feel-good label “humane” still have to be loaded onto a truck to go to a USDA-FSIS slaughter and processing facility (this is the only legal way to slaughter, process, and sell meat in the United States – even meat labeled as pasture raised, pasture finished, organic, grass-fed, etc.). Every one of these victims is starved and deprived of water during that multi-day journey to the USDA facility. They line up and march toward the killing floor, watching their peers ahead of them murdered, the smell of blood and the sounds of terror filling the air. These descriptions don’t even touch on the horrific, day-to-day perils suffered by animals in feedlots and factory farms that become the vast majority of meat sold in the United States. Certainly these experiences of fear and panic far surpass what Hercules went through in 60 seconds of footage before he was allowed to stop attempting a stunt.
Culture and tradition can be great things, but they can also be flat out wrong. Those willing to remove their cultural lenses for only a moment will quickly realize that the fear felt by Hercules in this short clip is nothing compared to the suffering of animals used by our society for food and entertainment. At the end of the day, Hercules probably curled up on a cozy bed and got extra treats for a hard day’s work; in contrast, the animals within our agricultural system suffer from birth to brutal death.
For those of you who were outraged by what happened to Hercules and still consume animal products, I humbly ask you to challenge your cultural conditioning and then to educate yourself on the realities of animal agriculture. The reality is that the animals our society victimizes in the name of food have just as much capacity to feel fear and pain as a dog. The reality is that many of these animals actually have higher intelligence markers than the animals we domesticate as pets. The reality is that no matter what advertising tells you, there are no happy cows in the food industry (or chickens or pigs or goats).
One of the most encouraging things for me about this whole situation has been seeing the quick actions that were taken almost immediately after public outcry. So many dog and animal lovers spoke out, that the industry had to respond. Furthermore, many individuals agreed to boycott the film because they did not want to support an animal being treated with cruelty. What could happen if we raised a collective voice against the suffering of animals other than dogs? What could happen if people decided they didn’t want to contribute to any type of animal suffering? I’m inspired just imagining the possibilities.