BOOK REVIEW: A Primer on Animal Rights: Leading Experts Write About Animal Cruelty and Exploitation

A Primer on Animal Rights: Leading Experts Write About Animal Cruelty and Exploitation

Once you have discovered what is happening, you can’t pretend not to know, you can’t abdicate responsibility. – P.D. James, British novelist

A Primer on Animal Rights is a collection of articles on a wide variety of humane issues, courtesy of the sadly defunct magazine “The Animals’ Agenda.” I’m happy to report that Primer will be a welcome addition to the home libraries of not only newcomers to animal rights but seasoned advocates as well. Unlike titles such as Why Animals Matter, Primer is not a strictly “Animal Cruelty 101” intro but rather a more in-depth examination of a variety of issues, many of them more obscure. I found this book so personally informative I purchased my own copy.

Published in 2002, the volume gives today’s AR advocates a perspective on then-obscure issues just beginning to take the spotlight, and those still hidden. The Fund for Animals’ Michael Markarian writes of the use and abuse of wildlife to “train” hunting dogs. In 2011, chase pens for foxes and coyotes are now a matter of national debate, however the use of shackled live birds remains unknown.

I was shocked to read this passage in “Scapegoats and Underdogs,” the article on pit bulls:

In 2000, when law enforcement authorities raided the Nebraska home of NY Giants linebacker LeShon Johnson for allegedly running a dog-fighting operation, they found almost 70 pit bulls staked in the woods near the house, many bloodied from battle.

Wikipedia updates the crime for us: Johnson pled guilty in 2005 to the crime of dog fighting in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma. He received a five-year deferred sentence. How amazing that in a few short years, the crime of dog fighting was taken much more seriously by police and prosecutors. Johnson’s name could have become synonmous with dog abuse, but instead Michael Vick became this shameful poster child.

Another article forces us to ponder a parallel between two female country stars who were put to the flames for their opinions. We learn that in 1990, k.d. lang instigated a radio station boycott of her music throughout cattle country after the singer appeared in a PETA ad. The similarities are obvious with the Dixie Chicks’ experience a decade later.

There are issues which are no longer headline news, but unjustifiably so. An article details the investigation into the cat and dog fur trade, which was the subject of a shocking HSUS investigation in the late ‘90s. Today, the group’s website has deleted most of its articles on the subject, because they seem to believe the passage of the Cat and Dog Protection Act mitigated the problem. Yet “Animal People” editor Merritt Clifton points out that this self-assuredness is foolish, as cat and dog fur is still no doubt making its way into the tremendous volume of cheap fur-trimmed garments imported from China yearly.

[Investigator Rick] Swain said that at the beginning of the effort, he expected to uncover a small, black-market trade in cat and dog skins abroad. But what the investigative group found is a multimillion-dollar, international industry. As he told Dateline, he saw hundred of thousands of dog pelts in one warehouse.

[I]t became clear that dog and cat fur is inexorably linked to the international fur industry as a whole.

And come on, HSUS, do you really believe they’re going to give up those multimillions that easily? Especially since your own investigators confirmed importers were willing to mislabel the garments, and the fact that dog and cat fur is usually impossible to discern from “legal” fur without expensive DNA testing. A little thing like a unenforceable law won’t get in their way.

Occasionally, the text veers toward the darkly humorous, such as when we read of animal use industries’ attempts to “reach out” to school children:

The Missouri Dept. of Conservation distributes a comic book to Missouri’s public schools titled “Chris’ First Hunting Adventure.” The comic portrays young Chris killing his first deer, then slicing through the deer’s stomach with a knife while thinking, “Wow, what a privilege it is to be able to hunt and enjoy the beauties of nature and to have the education to take care of this deer in the right way.”

Other times, the facts are just dark, as in these grim reminders of the power of factory farms:

The meat and poultry industries are the biggest buyers of grain, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, advertising, machinery, vehicles, energy, and water. This gives animal agribusiness a lot of rich, powerful allies, who work together much like a syndicate to keep it all going.

(review originally appeared at

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Markus Utecht
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 21:43:32

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    Nov 05, 2011 @ 04:23:07

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  3. Christine Goldrup
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 21:19:17

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