This little piggy has rights
Focus on animal rights should be expanded at American schools
In 2009, animal rights activist Bob Barker donated one million dollars to the University Law School to create Virginia's first Animal Rights Law program. Host of the popular game show "The Price is Right," Barker has spent his life advocating for animals. His commitment to animal rights and philanthropy in retirement should be commended. Barker's donation recognizes that animal rights is a hot topic in American law and society. Furthermore, humane treatment of animals should become a staple for all levels of education in our nation.
Bob Barker's donation is part of a wider Animal Rights Movement that has made significant strides over the past decade to implement ethical legislation and humane education. Already, almost half of American law schools have animal rights curricula. This donation follows a string of previous donations to other prestigious law schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, Stanford, Duke, UCLA and Northwestern. The Animal Law Program saw its first class, "Animal Law 9040," appear in the Fall 2009 academic semester. Law students tackled the extensive scope of animal law and other ethical issues. According to Prof. Margaret Riley, head of the University Animal Rights Program, the new course focuses on "legal issues pertaining to animals, the laws that govern their treatment, as well as a number of topics that fall within the general headings 'animal law' and 'animal rights."
Those who advocate for animal rights believe that animals, as sentient beings, have a unique set of interests that must be protected from human exploitation and abuse. Issues of animal rights law include factory farming, animal experimentation, the fur trade, dog fighting, vivisection, puppy mills, hunting, animal entertainment, and other forms of animal cruelty. Under United States law, animals are valued as property and thus have historically failed to gain necessary rights protecting their interests, specifically to live free of pain. For example, in Mississippi, when a man set his dog on fire for entertainment in 2009, he was charged with a misdemeanor, sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000. Mississippi is not the only state that still fails to treat animal cruelty cases as felonies, which would carry both a longer sentence and heftier fine. Opponents of animal rights like to skirt around the issue, ignoring basic fact and obvious statistics. Often this opposition stems from a fundamental misunderstanding and often ignorance.
Barker's donation touches upon a critical need for increased education. Humane treatment must be taught from an early age. The way Americans currently treat animals tells of the many contradictions that exist within our society. European nations have far surpassed the United States when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals. Already several European Union countries have banned cosmetic testing, and age old traditions such as bull fighting and hound hunting are on the decline.
Whether or not one believes in the values of the Animal Rights Movement, cruelty to animals has further implications. Crimes against animals are most often the precursors to crimes against other humans. According to FBI detective Robert K. Ressler, "Murderers ... very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids." Furthermore, the exploitation of animals in the United States is affecting both our health and our environment. According to PETA, over 400 animals are killed per hour in a typical American slaughterhouse. These animals will never see the light of day before they are slaughtered. The question is why? Whether or not you believe animals should have certain basic rights, the reality is that America cannot afford to continue to exploit and mistreat animals.\nFurthermore, factory farming destroys the environment and is a primary contributor to global warming. The green house gases produced by factory farming exceed those of all transportation vehicles in the world combined, according to a 2006 United Nations study. Ethical legislation that mandates more suitable conditions for animals raised for meat is necessary. Such legislation deals with the most elemental needs of any creature. For example, California's Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty act, passed in November 2008, regulates the confinement of farm animals. Many farm animals in the United States are kept in gestation crates and battery cages without the ability to stand or move for the entirety of their lives. Beyond the clear ethical problems associated with these practices, studies have shown that animals in stressful environments have severely compromised immune systems and thus are at increased risk for illness.
Progress in the ethical treatment of animals has been made, but only through the tenacious efforts of animal rights activists. The persistent mistreatment of animals in the United States lies in the fundamental pitfalls of the American education system. Barker's Animal Law program should be the stepping stone for similar programs at an undergraduate level. There is no justification for animal cruelty and continued unethical practices. The University should embrace its chance to become a leader in animal rights and should further establish instruction on humane treatment at an undergraduate level.