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On “Blinders” and Animal Rights (Really)

There are two upcoming screenings in New York of "Blinders," a documentary about the horse-drawn carriage industry:

October 29, 6:00 p.m.
Brooklyn Law School
250 Joralemon St.
Free and open to the public – bring photo ID

November 7
New York Law
57 Worth Street
New York Law or NYU Student ID required

It will also air on The Documentary Channel tomorrow evening (October 27) at 10:30 pm, and in New York , also tomorrow evening, on Channel 25 (Time Warner Cable).

As for animal rights (really), check out this feature and interview with David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA), which includes:

Cantor eventually became disillusioned with PETA and many organizations like Humane Society of the U.S., Fund for Animals, Friends of Animals, World Wildlife Fund, etc. He insists these organizations are wrongly labeled as “animal rights” organizations when they are actually “animal welfare” organizations. The average person would probably not recognize or care about this difference, but Cantor felt the difference was (and is) of monumental importance, so much so that in 2002 he started his own animal rights organization called Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA), Inc., which currently has about 140 members. The number is relatively small, but [Cantor] is quick to point out that the abolitionist movement of the first half of the 19th century was extremely small and was considered too radical by almost everyone in the north and south.

According to Cantor, almost all of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of organizations working on behalf of animals are basically applying band-aids to a cancer that has to be completely ripped out. “Newspapers are always calling people ‘animal rights’ advocates when they are in fact ‘animal welfare’ advocates,” he said. “The animal rights movement is more than just about compassion. It’s about justice. As long as animals are viewed as property, there will be extreme cruelty. It is inevitable.

“Animal welfare people think if they make life expensive and difficult for puppy mill owners, for example, they will go out of business, but industries get exemptions, and laws are not enforced. As long as animals are viewed by the law as property, there will be no end to abuse. The efforts to fight cruelty are like going after twigs and branches instead of the roots. Rights are powerful; that’s why the Second Amendment has been used by gun owners to stop all rational attempts to control guns.

According to Cantor (who has no pets), despite the proliferation of what he calls animal welfare organizations in the past generation, a basic rights movement for nonhuman animals is just as lacking today as it was when the animal rights movement was declared about 30 or more years ago. “Lowering the bar by calling all kinds of things ‘animal rights’ that are not really animal rights only dooms today’s billions of animals and billions more yet to live to the double standard that only true animal rights can end …

“So much is said about animal rights — as if they already existed in the real world outside of our beliefs, plans and aspirations — that it is easy to confuse ‘saving’ animals, giving animals good homes, eating plants only, purchasing only ‘cruelty-free’ household and personal-care products, and doing other good things for animals with actually advancing their rights. So I see the primary task of the animal rights movement as educating as to what animal rights is (and is not) and moving people to help advance animal rights or to get out of the way and stop impeding animal rights and supporting human supremacy.”

If you're new to the land-grant university issue (I was before I was introduced to RPA last year), visit the "10,000 Years is Enough" page, and when you need information for your unfortunate encounters with hunters, the "This Land is Their Land" is very helpful. There are printable brochures, as well.

I think about the ramifications of not having "pets" for me. Way more time and money to be used elsewhere comes to mind! But as long as we've created the cat and dog overpopulation problem, and the greyhound racing industry, I feel obligated to help. Now, I don't think that in any way is a manifestation of a belief in animal rights–quite the contrary. But still, it feels right to me to provide a safe, loving, fun home for cats and dogs–particularly those with special needs or who are less adoptable. (I was looking for a special needs dog when I found Violet, and I adopted Emily because she was an adult and didn't have the most appealing, adorable, kitty-like personality.)

I do like that Cantor essentially says that being vegan doesn't actually advance the rights of animals. (And I'm assuming he doesn't include animal rights outreach in being vegan. Most of the vegans I know in my area don't engage anyone or talk about anything but the health and environmental benefits of veganism, so I think it's fair to say that education about animal rights is not necessarily part of veganism.)

As for Friends of Animals, I'm not sure what the issue is . . .

Finally, the statement on violence is unclear about property damage, if you're interested. It states:

"Responsible Policies for Animals opposes acts of violence, the use of threats, obscenity, or degrading or insulting language, and any other behavior that does physical harm to any human being or diminishes any human being’s dignity or humanity in the name of, or in association with, the animal rights movement."

I see some wiggle room in there, but it might be unintentional.

I'm just happy that animal rights is getting some press for what it actually is. That's so rare these days . . .

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Deb #

    I remember you mentioning them before. He certainly brings up points to think about, though I am not entirely convinced that legislation is going to be the key to changing people's behaviors and attitudes. And I'm never sure what I think about the focus on property status.

    Women used to be property. We no longer are, in this country, but we still get raped, beaten to death, and on and on. There is the potential to punish men, I suppose, if they can be caught when they're breaking the law, but has the existence of laws changed society's attitudes?

    People just don't typically think in terms of property status, unless they are farmers. Or lawyers, I suppose.

    Maybe it doesn't matter how the average jane thinks, if the focus is on the law?

    October 26, 2008
  2. Mike Grieco #

    Hi Mary, many thanks for posting David Cantor's wonderful work. David sure is not affraid to tackle the meat, egg, and dairy industries and does it with such logic. I urge your wonderful readers to check out RPA's website for other great information and logic.

    And Mary, thanks as always for being here and inviting us to visit, read, learn, and comment.


    October 27, 2008
  3. Roger #

    I think Deb is right – we need to think critically about the value of changes in law. Supporters of such a strategy tend to suggest that the issue is generational. Take the "bans" on hunting with dogs in Wales, Scotland and England. The latest reports suggest that hunting is more popular now than ever:

    Clearly the 60 year campaign to ban hunting has not altered attitudes (there was little talk of animal rights in the hunting debate btw). Supporters of the bans suggest that there will be a difference between the generation who have witnessed the bans and future generations who will be born into a society in which hunting is illegal (in a limited and specific sense – there are apparently more foxes being killed now than before).

    On the pet issue that Mary raised – I have found the solution!!!:


    October 27, 2008
  4. Bea Elliott #

    I wish I had the Documentary Channel – perhaps it will air in part on the web (I hope)… It's so awful what these pathetic horses endure.

    Thank you for directing those of us (like myself) who have never heard of RPA – Consistant with your postings here, I'm thrilled to read the coherent arguments made by David Cantor.

    But there are a few "party-line" issues concerning AR that I march to my own drum about… one of them is "pets" – We discussed this a few months back and I'm a hold-out for "companion animals"… perhaps because I refuse to see myself in a world without my closest family and my dearest friends (?)… However, if "pets" were ever to "hold up" AR in my lifetime (fat chance) – I'm sure I'd find a way to let this issue go… in favor of a Yume-Petto instead…

    October 27, 2008
  5. Thank you for posting a significant part of the October 23rd Chestnut Hill Local newspaper article about Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA) and its work for animal rights. A couple of quick replies to your wondering what the issue with Friends of Animals might be and one thing mentioned in a reader's comment.

    As in most articles resulting from a lengthy and detailed interview, the reporter lumped many things together. My point wasn't specifically to criticize even specific organizations I mentioned. It was to explain why I founded RPA after having worked for several national organizations beforehand — the only one mentioned in the article being PETA.

    I explained to the reporter why I see RPA as taking a rights approach to animal advocacy; explained differences between a rights approach and welfare, welfarist, and abolitionist approaches; and gave him a significant amount of literature explaining those matters, including reference to the Animal Rights page at

    How much good of various kinds doesn't define whether an organization is taking a welfare, welfarist, abolitionist, or rights approach. Because I believe your readers understand that welfare and welfarist approaches are antithetical to an abolitionist approach and the difference between the latter and a rights approach has been discussed little if at all, I'll very briefly explain that I see FoA as an abolitionist organization that admirably avoids a welfarist approach as the two have customarily been defined.

    However, I think abolitionism (striving to establish rights for nonhumans by abolishing animal use) cannot lead to rights because of the way institutions, laws, and rights function and due to humans' currently possessing property rights in animals and their ecosystems and those rights being intricately woven into national and global human economies, rights for all sentient beings as the basic governing principle, rather than only for humans, must precede abolition. That is based on years of historical analysis and definitions of terms. As a governing principle, equal unalienable individual rights based on natural law were established before abolition of human slavery and many other forms of tyranny were achieved. Equal human rights were the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional basis of the Abolition movement.

    That distinction doesn't mean I disrespect FoA or anyone who works for or supports the organization, nor was I disillusioned by FoA as I didn't harbor any illusions about FoA in the first place. My views on how to achieve animal rights — basic legal & constitutional rights for all sentient beings starting with personal & ecological sovereignty have evolved over the 19 years I've worked full-time as an animal advocate. I'm sure they'll continue to evolve. But I find it hard to dispute — and none of the many intelligent people who've offered intelligent arguments have refuted — that a rights approach is a logical one for establishing rights. Just as a welfare approach is a logical one for tweaking welfare laws and incapable of ever generating basic rights.

    The other point I'd like to make is that RPA does not work for legislation. I don't know anywhere in any of our campaigns or literature or on our websites —,, or — where anyone could get the impression we do. 10,000 Years Is Enough, the organized effort to get our universities out of the meat industry, involves major public institutions that receive state funding, so legislators, governors, agriculture secretaries, and others can have an impact. But it is not a legislation-based campaign. Eventually, rights, as always in the past, will have to be established and elaborated through the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. But usually in animal-advocacy discourse working on legislation means proposals today's legislators are willing to sponsor. Those are always welfare proposals as no legislator publicly supports animal rights, even the widely known vegan one.

    If that is not clear in any of RPA's work, we're glad to correct misimpressions. Working on a small budget with low overhead, RPA is better able than large organizations to avoid becoming over-invested in strategies, tactics, language or texts that might need adjusting as we learn more. That enables us to ask not only, What will be best for RPA? But why, with so many thousands of dedicated and intelligent people, has animal rights made so little progress, if any?

    Thanks and best wishes,

    David Cantor
    Executive Director
    Responsible Policies for Animals

    November 2, 2008

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