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On Environmental Injustice and Animal Units

I was going to write about Thanksgiving but, really, what's there to say that would be interesting or different at this point. Americans will pay to have tens of millions of one kind of sentient nonhuman slaughtered for one meal. And they'll do it this year because they did it last year and the year before and call that "tradition." They'll say that this particular day wouldn't be the same without the sight, smell and taste of one creature as sentient as their Labradoodle. Or their rescue dog.

It's simultaneously more upsetting and just as upsetting as any other day or meal. Scores of millions of animals have their lives unjustly taken for every meal, but I for one do feel an acute sense of scale and carnage when it comes to turkeys and Thanksgiving. But I'll spare you discussion about that in favor of some language deconstruction.

I was reading about a new study discussed over at Grist about infant mortality and factory farming (and, no surprise to you I'm sure, those rates are higher around the CAFOs), and was struck by a couple of passages in this happy meat article:

  • "The animal abuses associated with this type of confinement seem obvious. Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other animals need the same type of space and fresh air that human beings do. Crowding them together and never letting them see the light of day is certainly inhibiting their natural inclinations as sentient beings. But we should care about CAFOs for reasons far greater than animal abuses, for they abuse our own environment and the health of our children."
I see this a lot, this notion that protecting the environment is of "far greater" importance than abusing (forget about talking about using) animals, and I find it odd. On a level of pure, concrete reasoning, I'd think that seeing and hearing and smelling hundreds of thousands of sentient nonhumans in abject terror and pain wouldn't be backburnered to the environment, which most people don't see as in actual, physical screaming pain. I also see no reason why the two can't be on par, or close to it.

Is it that the environment is directly related to "the health of our children," and that's why it's so important (as in, not for its own sake)? I don't get it.

  • "This week, Stacy Sneeringer, a professor at Wellesley College, published research, which documented the impact of CAFOs on infant mortality, in the respected American Journal of Agricultural Economics. Sneeringer looked at a 15-year period between 1982 and 1997, analyzing data on a county level for the number of CAFOs and animal units. Controlling for a host of variables, she found that changes in animal units directly compared to changes in infant mortality."
Imagine, for a moment, if we spoke about the human population in terms of human units. "Unit" adds the ultimate insult to a lifetime of injury to each sentient nonhuman by basically naming them "living things." "Unit" makes sure you know you're a commodity. I wonder why they don't say "changes in the number of animals," or "analyzing data on a county level for the number of CAFOs and animals"? Why the extra word?

I'm going to return the two kitties today, as I was basically asked "are you high?" at behavioral assessment. Further, the entire colony was observed and there are likely only a handful–if that–who might be able to be socialized. There are two pregnant kitties, so obviously their offspring, if they can be caught very early, should be adoptable.

Our Animal Care and Control has killed 16,000 cats so far this year and adopted out 5,000. That's just for Palm Beach County and there are over a dozen other shelters that are kill shelters and not included in that number.

Some of you may have read about the public/private partnerships that serve the feral cat population and involves animal control (and not in the traditional sense, to trap and kill feral cats, but for TNR). I'll be looking into that, as good samaritans are fantastic, but from what I see around me, they're burnt out, frustrated, at full capacity and broke, and the feral cat situation in this county needs more than they are in a position to give and could use some help.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Re: Thanksgiving. Perhaps slaughtering the turkeys is a metaphor for all the natives slaughtered.

    Sorry to hear about the kitties, but maybe some of the new kittens can be homed? I don't know too much about this and I'm glad I found your blog, it's very interesting. I'm looking forward to reading more.

    Good Morning!

    November 22, 2008
  2. A friend is in town and we went to the colony today. It was daylight though, and the place was a ghost town if you didn't know where to look. I'm trying to count them because I have such varying estimates so I took pictures. I think I snapped 25 different ones, but when I go on Monday at dusk I might see many more. We'll see.

    They don't let people anywhere near them and they dart around so quickly. There's no hissing and spitting or even a meow. You'd never know they're there. My 60 hour experience with the two little guys makes me think they'd have to be trapped much earlier to stand a chance. I was given a list of behaviors that would make them adoptable, and my little guys had none of them. The upside is that they're playing with their colony mates and they're as safe as they can be and well fed.

    November 22, 2008
  3. Connie Graham #

    Found your blog through Google Alerts for feral cats. Liked what I've read so far.

    CARE Feline Rescue in Orlando began in 1995. To my knowledge it was the first TNR program that operated in partnership with a county animal services department. You can find out more about the program at I was president of CARE for about 8 years, so when I read about the program in Jacksonville, I was surprised that it was being touted as something "new" and different. With the CARE program, the spay/neuter surgeries, shots and testing are paid for with tax dollars. CARE provides traps to citizens who want to fix and keep the ferals and abandoned cats they are feeding.

    November 22, 2008
  4. Ah yes… the turkeys – seems more like a day of mourning than "thanks"… Not only a mourning of the mass slaughter of specific species animal but also some grief about our (lack of) compassion and how stingy we are with our empathy…

    But that your kitties and cats will have a (better) future – this is definately something to be thankful for. It's wonderful what you are doing for them… with your very (generous) vegan heart.

    November 23, 2008

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