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Animal Abuse and Cruelty, Essay Example

Pages: 8

Words: 2161

Essay

Introduction

The question of whether or not certain rights should be given to animals is a very difficult one to address. People view animal rights in ways which range from beliefs that it is acceptable to abuse animals and because they have no natural rights, to thinking that animals should be accorded the same rights as human beings. This view that animals have rights may also go to animals as requiring greater protections than humans because they are unable to care for themselves and are vulnerable to their rights being violated.  My opinion on the matter is that animals should be treated with a certain level of respect and rights but not to the point of equality with humans. The reasons behind my belief are set out in this order and are: that it is morally wrong to make anything suffer that is capable of feeling physical pain; that it is an inherent right of any living creature to not be a victim of emotional pain caused by humans; and that when we as people neglect or are cruel to animals, we greatly lower our own standing as a superior form of life.  Ultimately, in keeping with Bentham’s views, animals, as living creatures largely dependent on human treatment and capable of feeling forms of pain, most certainly deserve moral recognition. They have moral rights because humanity has no right at all to harm them.

Intentional Cruelty to Animals

To begin, my first argument going to my belief is based on the reality that there is a specific moral wrong in human beings’ causing physical pain to animals.  As will be brought up elsewhere, human moral standards cannot be known to animals.  It may be that animals have senses of morality similar to humans, but this is not something we may know as fact.  Consequently, the moral value of how animals are treated rests completely with humans, just as humans have control over how animals live.  This translates to an innate responsibility. The stronger creature, the human, is obligated by morality to not cause physical pain to animals.  This exists apart from the reality that animals usually cannot protect themselves from the physical abuse of humans.  It is in fact a very basic reasoning; as human beings tend to hold that the deliberate causing of physical pain is wrong, and as animals certainly feel this pain, the human who behaves in such a way is greatly violating decency or morality.

It is also important to note that physical cruelty to animals takes many forms.  Some people actually enjoy inflicting pain on their pets or on random animals and directly abuse them physically. Others cause physical pain through gross neglect, as in not feeding animals in their care and/or exposing them to harsh conditions. There are even people who physically abuse animals through sexual assault, and this is widely established as being extreme physical cruelty (Beirne 120). In all these cases, then, what is occurring is that humans are ignoring the moral responsibility to not intentionally harm another creature. They are causing pain to living beings who can feel, and there can be no real justification for any such action.

Some may argue that human morality does not attach to animals or has no meaning in these cases. As noted, there is no way to know whether or not animals have any sense of right or wrong behavior. With this point of view, humans are only obligated to act morally toward one another and animals, who have limited intelligence and who exist to serve human interests, are removed from morality itself.  This perception cannot be held, however, because it relies on mistaken thinking.  Human morality is such that it has impact on  other creatures.  The nature of acting in a moral way in fact is never based on the degrees of understanding in the other being.  For example, the person who has the opportunity to steal from another but who chooses not to acts morally in a way that is unknown to the other.  In other words, morality is defined by the right thinking and actions of only the individual, so this obligation exists in regard to any living creature, or even thing, affected by the individual’s behavior.  Human morality is then attached to all living creatures because they are affected by it.  Then, there is no question that animals suffer from physical pain. They cannot articulate this in human ways, but, as they have complex nervous systems like humans, they most certainly experience physical distress (Beckoff). It is understood by anyone who has heard an animal being abused that the cries they make express pain, as animals whimper, howl, and make many noises that cannot be mistaken.  Clearly then, to cause an animal such pain is a moral wrong because it is always wrong to abuse another living being.

Emotional Pain and Animals

My second point is based on the first and is different only in terms of the treatment.  More exactly, it is a great moral wrong to inflict emotional pain on an animal; humans have the responsibility to prevent this and never engage in it. Animals have an actual moral right here just as they do in regard to physical pain, and this right exists no matter their own understanding of morality.  In both cases, it is a right created by the human need to hold to morality.  Just as all humans have the right to be free from emotional abuse, the same is true of animals.  No matter the laws in place in this regard, human morality alone makes it a reality that must be observed.

Also going to physical cruelty, emotional abuse of animals may take many forms. It may also be easily connected to the physical. The animal locked outdoors in extreme weather, for example, suffers the physical pain as well as the awareness that it is not wanted or cared about. The dog kept on a very short chain for long periods of time undergoes physical issues because it is denied movement, just as it must feel that it is being kept away from all contact with people. Other forms of abuse may be only emotional, as when a pet owner verbally abuses the animal and makes it cower in fear. The animal that is owned by people but completely ignored by them must develop a sense of being unloved. Then, there is as well the extreme emotional abuse when owners train animals to be violent, and warp their natures to be completely hostile.  Training dogs for dog fighting, for example, is increasingly being legislated as an act of animal cruelty (Merz-Perez and Heide 13). This legislation is as based on the emotional abuse of the dogs as it is on the physical cruelty.  Ultimately, the point here is that animals have feelings and are then able to suffer from emotional pain and abuse; they have the moral right, through how human morality functions, to not experience such pain.

Some may say that animals have no moral right to be protected from emotional abuse and because it is irrational to believe that animals experience emotion as humans do.  If animals feel in emotional ways, it is probably so different from human feeling, we cannot even comprehend it.  Such a view would hold that as animals have limited intelligence, it is likely that their ability to feel emotion is also limited. This thinking goes to supporting that animals mainly exist to serve human needs and wants, so the emotions of the human are the only relevant matter.  After all, people are allowed to own animals; clearly there is little concern as to their emotional rights.  To claim that animals have such a moral right in fact leads to giving animals the same standing as human beings, and that is completely unreasonable. It is, opponents would argue, another case of humans’ attaching human qualities to that which is not human.

When all of these claims are examined, however, none may stand up as valid.  To begin with, the point is not that animals must experience emotion as humans do in order to have this moral right; what matters is that they experience it at all, and this is established as fact.  For example, anthropologist Jane Goodall notes: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain” (Beckoff). Animals may serve human interests, but this is only due to human power and has nothing to do with the morality of treating other creatures correctly.  That animals have this moral right also in no way goes to granting them the same stature as human beings.  Instead, it only affirms that anything that feels emotion has the right to not be abused emotionally.  The argument is in fact based on the idea that humans and animals are different, but this is not the issue at hand. The issue is, again, human responsibility; this is supported by human knowledge of the suffering animals undergo when they are victims of emotional abuse.  It is in fact documented that some forms of emotional cruelty create greater suffering in animals than does physical abuse (Linzey 79).  As these are living creatures who depend on humanity, humanity is again obligated to acknowledge that any living creature that can feel has an innate right to be spared abuse.

Animal Rights and Human Stature

The last argument made regarding why animals have moral rights is based on the nature of humanity itself.  As has been discussed, it is known that animals feel physical and emotional pain.  It is generally true that animals, in terms of domestic pets and farm and utility animals, are under the authority of people.  Human beings actually control how animals live, and in all ways, just as humans tend to believe that they themselves are the most evolved and superior species on the planet. In the West, for example, many centuries of Judeo-Christian culture have gone to an insistence on the right of mankind to rule over animals because God gave man this absolute right (Ascione 158). This translates to animals as being completely dependent on humans, which in turn goes to the human responsibility to not abuse them.  When that abuse occurs, then the human surrenders the status of being a superior species or creature.  The surrender is in place because, by acting immorally and abusing creatures who rely on their care, humans give up the right to be seen as superior.  Put another way, human superiority is in place only when mankind accepts that all living creatures have the moral right to not be victims of abuse.

Opposition to this thinking would likely be based on the superiority factor itself.  It may be argued that, while harming animals is not necessarily right or moral, the right to do so lies within all the rights of mankind as the most evolved species on the planet.  This may exist apart from ideas of God as granting these rights or the status.  Human stature cannot then be lessened by abusing animals because, as humans are superior, the ways in which they treat animals cannot affect that fact.  Being the most superior creature is not a thing that can be qualified, so there can be no decrease of standing.

What defeats this argument is the greater reality of how superiority itself is defined.  As people believe themselves to be above other animals, they do so because they hold to certain standards of behavior that are “civilized” and moral.  It is no coincidence, for example, that when humans act in cruel ways, they are seen as “animals” by others.  The cruelty completely undermines the values necessary for being superior at all.  Consequently, when humans refuse to accept that animals have moral rights and abuse them, they are sacrificing their own claim to being above animals themselves.

Conclusion

As noted, animal rights is a controversial subject. People who strongly oppose animal abuse even debate over just what rights animals possess.  At the same time, that animals do have moral rights is very much in place because of the fact that human morality insists on this. When people physically and/or emotionally abuse animals, morality is destroyed and humanity loses its right to see itself as superior.  This does not mean that animals are equal to human beings; instead, it simply goes to basic human responsibility.  Animals are living creatures very much dependent on human treatment and capable of feeling physical and emotional pain; they have moral rights because humans have no right to abuse them.

Works Cited

Ascione, Frank. (Ed.)  The International Handbook of Animal Abuse and Cruelty: Theory, Research, and Application. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2010. Print.

Beckoff, Marc.  “Do Dogs Really Feel Pain and Are They Really Conscious?” Psychology Today.  21 June 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201206/do-dogs-really-feel-pain-and-are-they-really-conscious>

Beirne, Piers.  Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships.Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.  Print.

Linzey, Andrew. The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence. Portland, OR: Sussex Press, 2009. Print.

Merz-Perez, Linda, & Heide, Kathleen M. Animal Cruelty: Pathway to Violence Against People.Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004. Print

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