I recently came across an article on the CNN web-site. An animal welfare group had found that a certain size of joghurt pot is just the right size and shape for skunks to get their heads into. Unfortunately, they often get stuck, and suffocate. The amazing thing is that CNN ran this as a humorous piece.
I contacted CNN, and pointed out that they wouldn't have run a joke report about babies getting their heads stuck in plastic bags ("here's one that died earlier") As in the past, CNN was very responsive to my input, and they soon dropped the item. However, this is just a symptom of the wider difficulty that many humans have in taking animal welfare seriously.
Over the last few months, I have told many people that I am setting up an animal welfare foundation. Most have been supportive; but a few have found it difficult to make sense of my concern. I asked a photographer friend if he could help me break into factory farms to take pictures of animals being treated cruelly.
"Why don't you just tie up a pig and be cruel to it? It's only bacon, after all". This guy was obviously trying to wind me up. But imagine if I had said that I wanted to get a pervert to bugger a couple of kids so that I could get some good shots of child abuse. I don't think many people would have taken that suggestion as a "joke".
We are different from other animals in one or two ways, but in most respects, we are very similar. For example, a dog's brain (like that of most humans) will never give him or her the ability to do calculus. However, the part which controls feeling is very much the same as yours. Yet in China, Vietnam and Korea, dogs are deliberately tortured before being eaten.
Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean people apparently have part of their consciousness (or maybe part of their brain) missing, and are consequently unable to empathise with their victims.
Despite its advances in other fields, the greatest amount of animal cruelty probably takes place in the USA. Animals are kept in factory farms in America under conditions that would be illegal in more civilised countries. In the UK, experiments on animals are strictly controlled: scientists need government approval, and the animals' welfare is an important part of whether this approval will be given.
In the US, there is no effective legislation whatsoever. Experimenters can (and do) perform pointless, painful experiments on cats, dogs, monkeys and apes with no legal constraints whatsoever.
98.4% of a chimpanzee's DNA is the same as yours. Apart from having fur and a lower IQ, we are pretty much the same. Yet a scientist who would be prosecuted if he as much as slapped a child in the street can torture an adult chimpanzee with complete impunity. Even in the US, experiments on small children and severely mentally-disabled adults are illegal.
Yet chimpanzees with the same level of intellect can be freely abused, because they are regarded as objects.
It wasn't that long ago that non-Europeans fell into the same category. When Cook "discovered" Australia he declared it a terra nullius because the only inhabitants were black. As recently as the 1950s, the British government was conducting nuclear tests in South Australia, without bothering to tell the aborigines who were living there.
Since then attitudes towards aborigines have changed.
Attitudes towards animals have also changed during this time. However, even today, the difference between being the species that you were born as, and being any other species, means the difference between being a person who has rights and being an animal whose death is considered a joke item on CNN.