Skip to content

On Open Rescue

Check out this open rescue. I’d rather not embed it here, so as to bring traffic to it on YouTube. Notice there are other open rescues to view on the right.

Every time I see open rescue footage I have three burning questions:

  1. How on earth do the rescuers choose who will be rescued?
  2. Aren’t they heartbroken as they leave the faces who will not be rescued?
  3. Does nonviolence include property damage, and should it?

It’s good to know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, and also be willing to learn new things. One thing I will never be good at or learn how to do is intentionally enter a place ever again (I did go to a slaughterhouse years ago) where I know there is unbearable suffering. I am simply not equipped to deal with that. I’ve been in therapy since my early teens (that’s what happens when your mom’s a therapist) and I can’t imagine the degree of mental health counseling I’d need to deal with open rescue. The faces of those I left behind would be indelibly etched in my brain and I’m fairly certain I’d experience some sort of breakdown. When I went to the Greyhound kennel to meet Charles, I was in tears the entire time. And it’s not as if the dogs were actively being tortured.

As for property damage, I’m not talking about wanton destruction. I’m talking about locks, windows, doors and anything else necessary to gain entry to the establishment and to access the animals. And I particularly like when rescuers pay for any damage; that hits it home that this isn’t about vandalism.

Rescuing an animal you happen upon is entirely different from deliberately entering a place of torture where you know that when you leave you’ll leave most of the animals behind (or maybe all of them if you’re there for video footage and other documentation). And if there weren’t people willing and able to endure such pain themselves, we wouldn’t know much of what we know today. We’d have to count on whistleblowers (or plant them, and that’s a whole other level of suffering, I’d imagine).

Does anyone have an ethical problem with breaking and entering in this context? And do you think it’s true that if there were children in a building being tortured, that we’d all suddenly sign up for open rescue? Or are the situations simply not at all comparable because it is perfectly legal to torture chickens, and it is not legal to torture children?

This is where I say that speciesism isn’t really the same as Nazism or pedophilia. All three are dreadful, but one is socially acceptable and dreadful and the other two aren’t. If my neighbor were a pedophile, it would be socially acceptable to turn him in. But no one is turning in their speciesist neighbors, as that would be absurd considering speciesism is perfectly legal as well as socially acceptable. Is this me being a moral relativist because I’m saying one is wrong but the other isn’t objectively wrong for practical purposes? (Meaning, I do think it’s objectively wrong, but I don’t think you can go around telling people that they’re immoral because it doesn’t get you anywhere.)

You can’t decontextualize speciesism, Nazism or pedophilia. So my saying that Nazism and speciesism are different is probably a direct result of me living where I live in the time I live.  I might believe that they are all equally wrong, but does that give me the right to tell others that they need to change their lives and their ethics because mine are better?

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joseph #

    Hi again!

    I for one do not believe that property destruction is violence. Vandalism maybe, but not violence. Violence can only be committed against another living (sentient?) creature. I happen to feel that direct action (which includes property destruction and liberation) and grassroots vegan education are the most worthwhile campaigns to engage in for the animals.

    As for leaving animals behind, I unfortunately have never been in that situation but I could imagine it must be gut-wrenching. If only there were more people that actually liberate animals, then one could suppose that more animals would be rescued. It also must suck that no matter how many animals a group of people might rescue (in the case of slaughterhouses, research labs, etc), there's a pretty good chance that a new truck load of them might be coming in. Damn exploitative economic systems.

    November 26, 2007
  2. Christopher #

    Watching a few videos of open rescue activists was so intriguing. It gives me a bright glimmer of hope that humanity is still moving forward, evolving morally and that we humans will continue to surprise ourselves with the true "nobility" we are capable of, if just a few bright lights can lead the way.

    Open rescue seems very, very interesting!

    Maybe this is "evolution" happening right before our eyes.

    In contrast to the images of activists wearing balaclavas (which easily engenders associations with soldiers, militants, revolutionaries, terrorists, etc.), people taking compassionate action like this out in the open, wearing ordinary clothes, revealing their faces (hardly the faces of violence or terror or warmakers), really takes all the hot air out of the "extremist" associations on which the mainstream media tends to hang their worn-out metaphors.

    Mary, until this post of yours, I didn't realize there WAS such a thing as open rescue, and I'm still blown away by it. I can't quite yet imagine all the possible implications of this form of compassionate action, but here are a few thoughts.

    This is a form of non-violent resistance (which always involves the principle of breaking laws but never breaking bones) that people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks would obviously understand.

    And, like all forms of non-violent resistance, two of its central elements are powerful moral courage coupled with social responsibility:

    1) Unmasked and self-photographed, these people declare their moral courage without reservation. To do anything in the open is to state that one may fear the potential consequences of her actions, but she has already overcome any possibility of cowardice winning the day. She demonstrates that the source of her convictions is powerful and deep, that her action today is merely tip of an iceberg, not just a fleeting show of bravado.

    2) In brilliantly demonstrating the dual nature of their actions (consciously and even respectfully breaking an existing written law in order to appeal to a greater self-evident law), open rescuers show a fundamental sense of responsibility to society — yes, responsibility TO society. In this kind of highly conscious and carefully non-violent action, the activists actually reinforce their sense of unity with the greater society's moral codes — codes which MOST of us DO share in principle, even if our application of them is limited by prejudice, self-interest and/or unconsciousness.

    Crucially, these actions are not acts of vigilante justice, which would constitute a breaking of the fundamental bonds of the community. The motive is not to threaten or punish, but to rescue, relieve, heal and re-home suffering animals with a minimum of cost to their "owners."

    These people demonstrate a wonderful quality that is mostly absent from most headlines in most newspapers in the world; from their means to their ends, they demonstrate integrity.

    A person of integrity who is an activist for says: "I am exactly what I appear to be, and do what I say I will do, and I do so in the context of the majority of the rules established by my commmunity. You may disagree with the greater morality of my actions, but I don't deny your right — e.g., by threat of violence against you or by disguising myself — to judge my actions before the community, openly, fairly and according to the same legal system and moral code which I trust will ultimately evolve in the light of my actions."

    This kind of integrity is exactly the quality we look for in our heroes and heroines. We know that such a person will always choose to do the right thing according the light of their clearly-stated moral code. We can trust them in fundamental ways that we really don't trust, say, large corporations, whose complexity and institutional amorality makes them almost inherently incapable of integrity.

    If this kind of open rescue action gains greater popularity, and (as seems inevitable), some of these courageous people are brought to trial for their actions, I cannot even imagine what such trials will be like. Each of these trials would necessarily become a situation where society itself would be on trial, in a sense, for its treatment of innocent thinking-feeling beings whom we treat worse than our worst enemies.

    (Alas, if only the Geneva Convention rules on the humane treatment of prisoners of war were applicable to farm animals! Perhaps, it would be better if we simply outright declared war on nonhuman animals, thus ensuring them better treatment as our POWs.)

    Were I the proprietor of one of these hellish factory farms, would I really want to bring open rescuers to trial? Surely, such open rescuers can't be prosecuted without ALSO putting the proprietors of such operations and the true nature of their business "on trial" (to the public). And, how can one judge the nature of a crime without also examining the scene of the crime, which in these cases was clearly a "crime" before anyone broke any locks or windows, and was in many ways less of a crime after the rescuers left.

    I'm going to follow this movement closely. Even in the context of a society that continues to deny animals basic rights as individual sentient beings, Open Rescue raises a very pragmatic and also very philosophical question for our legal systems: "How great a crime is it to use non-violent means to reduce suffering?"

    If it is a great crime to reduce suffering, then clearly, the law is serving an inherently flawed moral code and needs to evolve.

    November 29, 2007
  3. Patty Mark pioneered open rescue in the 1990s. Check out:

    November 29, 2007
  4. GLT #

    It reminds me of adopting a pet at the pound. When I was little we went to the local pound and got our first cats, but I don't know if I could ever do it again. Thank God for rescue shelters. They take the brunt of all the heartbreak.

    November 30, 2007

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS