Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rabbits In Your Headlights

"I used to graze in a field,
I used to breathe - I used to be alive
Did chew the grass in the field
Could see and hear the world around me...
Had a virgin skin but now sold in supermarkets...
Used to hear the cars and the birds going by
And the people going by, they were my destiny
They were my reason, my purpose in this field
For their plates, their cold bodies, their car seat covers
My soul for your soles of shoes.
You may like my taste, you may like my warmth
And it may say in the Bible that you can kill me,
But I don’t want to die."

--"Sick Butchers," a song by 80's punk band Flux of Pink Indians

Yesterday, The Guardian reported on a jury at Winchester crown court took thirty-three hours to convict four members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), an extremist group faction of the Animal Liberation Front, an organization of animal rights activists.

Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) have been accused of violating animal rights since the turn of the century (like the 1997 television documentary It's A Dog's Life), and are only one of many animal rights violations being uncovered all over the globe getting wide coverage through YouTube and news media. In 1993, there was news footage from Sungnam, the largest dog market in South Korea - which is illegal due to the sanitation problems (most of the time, the torture and slaughter is right in public) and a violation of trade and animal rights. The cruel treatment of dogs has not shown signs of letting up, especially since earlier this year an English teacher in Daegu City, South Korea, recorded illegal dog torture for a restaurant occuring near his house and put it on YouTube. In 2001, a BUAV undercover investigation recorded footage of disturbing experimentation on marmoset monkeys at Cambridge University. And, of course, many places in Europe have fallen under scrutiny for the unethical slaughter and massacre of dolphins and whales.

So in 2005, a TV crew was allowed inside the already criticized HLS labs and recorded harsh treatment of beagle dogs, monkeys, rates, cats, and other animals. One clip of a doctor beating a beagle dog was in particular what sent made many in the U.K. public outcry HLS, with many responses from the Animal Liberation Front. However, it was SHAC that began to take demands to a more serious level: as the trial of seven SHAC members has commenced for the past three months, according to The Guardian, "the jury heard how employees of firms linked in any way to HLS would be targeted at work and at home. Groups of extremists wearing masks would turn up at night with sirens, fireworks and klaxons. They would daub slogans with paint on the individual's home and car. In some cases families received hoax bombs, and many employees were smeared by false campaigns alleging they were pedophiles. The intimidation included sending used sanitary towels in the post, saying they were contaminated with HIV."

Three of the seven SHAC members pleaded guilty and seven have been convicted. The extremist action doesn't show signs of stopping; yesterday, the SHAC website updated with a list of companies to target, "including those who trade on the New York Stock Exchange Euronext," says The Guardian, "which now lists HLS shares."

"Customers are the main thing keeping HLS in business," the posting reads. "It's simple No Customers = No HLS.

An HLS spokesman said: "Freedom of expression and lawful protest are important rights, but so is the right to conduct vital biomedical research or to support organisations that perform such research without being harassed and threatened."

One has to wonder, though, if the harassment and threat that HLS researchers feel is so different from the harassment they inflict on their animal test subjects, as seen in undercover investigative footage taken in the HLS labs over the years.

Animal rights violations are not limited to big corporations like HLS or McDonald's. A simple YouTube peruse will yield hundreds of videos where someone has either recorded themselves or someone else torturing and abusing animals. It's also a common enough thing happening every day - and one of the biggest examples is "Rabbit Night" for some Boy Scout troops in parts of the country, an activity that might yield fun rabbit skins, lucky rabbit feet keychains, and a tasty dinner...but at what cost?

Ultimately, public and societal perceptions of animal rights may be influenced greatly by efforts to expose animal cruelty. A special emphasis might also be placed NOT on anthromorphizing animals or on extremist (even terrorist) measures - but on showing the uniqueness of animals in this world being not that different from our own as human beings.

Here is a video (among the millions) that is a good exposure to the kind of effort that goes into making your Costco chicken breast and your Thanksgiving turkey:

And lastly, here is an amazing, and hopefully optimistic video of an elephant who can paint. It is a testament to the nature of animals...but what that exactly that could mean is left to you.

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