Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Veterinarians, Hippies & The Dying Art of Outrage

"I apologize for not speaking up sooner on your behalf."

I occasionally come across someone who is smart and bold and who writes wonderfully, even if I disagree on some points.

Such is the occasion today in a piece forwarded to me from The Veterinary Times in the U.K. (subscribe here)

The piece is authored under the "pen name" of Chanticleer ("singing from the rooftops"), and is so good that I feel not the slightest compunction about ripping and stripping the whole thing into thig blog, no matter if it does violate the finer parts of the "Fair Use" doctrine, and no matter that I disagree with some bits.

What? There are things I disagree with in this article?!

Yes, there are.

For one, I do not think Pedigree Dogs Exposed was the slightest bit sensationalistic, unless you think it is somehow "sensationalistic" to present the evil which an institution does without also noting all of the good work the same institution also does.

I do not think it sensationlistic, for example, for a TV station to show pictures of concentration camps and human ovens while not noting that the Nazis also made the trains run on time, worked very hard to stabilize the German currency, and made marvelous machinery including the V2 rocket, the Volkswagen beetle, and the Krups coffee grinder.

Call me a bigot if you want, but I like true horror presented clearly.

On another point: I do not support the ban on tail docking which is applauded here and I strenuosly object to anyone who would muddy the waters by mixing that sillyness into a serious debate about the longterm health of dogs.

As I have noted before, the tail docking issue is one of those absurd European debates.

Apparently in Europe it's OK for folks to lecture others about tail docking even as humans are running out to get themselves lifted and tucked, injected and dyed, tattoo'd and ringed, pierced and capped. Somehow it's OK for women to get their nipples and clitoris' ringed, and for men to get their penis's circumcised and barbeled, but it's "cruel" to snip two inches off the end of a terrier's whip tail at the age of two days when the pup itself barely lets out a yowl?

Give me a break!

That said, I allow folks to have differences of opinion on such matters.

Which brings me back to the main point of the piece, appended below, which is that too often we are "standing down" to avoid controversy rather than standing up for what is right.

I have thought a lot about this in recent years.

It seems to me that there was a time in which most of my colleagues were ready to storm the barricades or at least stand in the cold and rain and wave a few signs in order to turn a spotlight on bad things.

Once we were willing to suit up, show up, speak up, and even rise up for change.

But now too many of us have mortgages and marriages, investment portfolios, and career paths.

Everyone wants to be entirely blue-chip and proper. We are told to "color between the lines" to avoid a black mark on our resumes.

And then, there is the Internet.

Once you could kick someone's the ass in the street if they really needed it, or ask a question, or raise a protest sign in anger.

Now, however, not only may you go to jail for such activity, but the Internet means your actions may live forever, and perhaps be presented without any context at all. Just ask Bill Ayers or Joe the Plumber.

I swear to God, sometimes I think the only good Americans left are gay folks living in California who at least know how to raise a sign and push a boycott!

OK enough.

Back to the article which is appended below and which, small caveats not withstanding, is very well said.

Read the whole thing:

Veterinarians Can No Longer Ignore the Pedigree Dog Issue

THERE are certain topics that observers of human behaviour are meant to avoid.

There is no available authors’ rulebook, but, osmotically, one is expected to understand these constraints and avoid such topics unless writing specifically about them. One such topic is religion and another is politics. However, I cannot see how one can broach the topic of breeding without mentioning Christianity as, surely, one of the basic tenets of following the principles of Christianity is to treat all the creatures with which we share this planet with dignity and respect.

Let’s not get into the details and the nuances of how faiths might differ, but – at the very least – civilised human behaviour accepts that human kind doesn’t have the right to treat other creatures cruelly. This is slightly tricky, because we have many different views on what is acceptable and what is cruel. For all of us, however, there should be a point where certain activities are unacceptable in practice.

Call it morality, if you wish, but even in our self-indulgent, hedonistic world, some things should simply not be countenanced – yet we routinely accept them in a form of passive endorsement. This action is, in itself, counter to the basic tenets of Christianity, if I can recall accurately what I was taught in Sunday school half a century ago.

The trouble is, by walking past it, by not speaking out and by accepting the activities without condemning them, I am as guilty as those who practise cruelty to other creatures.

Intolerable practices

Today is my coming out; my belated decision to stand up against intolerable practices. But instead of feeling good about it, I just feel guilty.

What is this ubiquitous wrong?

Nothing more or less than the vanity of mankind manifest in the injudicious breeding of pet cats and dogs.

“Oh that,” you might say. “That’s nothing new; we know all about that.”

Of course we do, but – for once – there’s a spark of momentum behind the opportunity to effect a change for the better with the furore about a BBC television programme that took the lid off the pedigree dog breeding business and the current indecision, on the part of the BBC, whether to screen Crufts in future.

Typically, the style of coverage by the programme (Pedigree Dogs Exposed) was sensationalist, veering from the delights of verbal entrapment of a breeder and winning cavalier King Charles spaniel exhibitor to a crash course in eugenics and Hitler’s Aryan dream. The end result, however, was a nation of television viewers that now knows some of what the veterinary profession knows and abhors.

Knows and abhors and passively tolerates.

Responsible breeding

Of course, we need to breed responsibly – the profession understands this and knows what should be done to widen the gene pool to arrest the rapid slide towards the destruction of a number of breeds in cats and dogs.

Everyone understands the frustration that stems from the practitioner’s inability to act alone; to make a difference and to persuade individual breeders of the scientific folly of certain practices.

Yet, what is to stop the profession from acting collectively; from uniting behind the BVA [British Veterinary Association] in condemning the worst excesses and from putting pressure on their governing body to require breeders to change?

What is the point of new animal welfare legislation if we continue to turn a blind eye to the worst of these breeding practices?

Our preferred option of a watching brief is unacceptable. After years of dithering, the majority of the profession finally stood up against tail docking and can do so again to support a drive towards responsible breeding with a checklist of unacceptable practices that it believes should be outlawed.

There is an argument – there always is – that by doing nothing we won’t drive these practices underground, but isn’t that like saying that we’ve been right to turn a blind eye towards president Mugabe’s madness because we didn’t want to upset him?

There, I’ve done it again – I’ve mentioned another of the unmentionable topics I should have avoided. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a lifetime trying not to mention the unmentionable and it hasn’t really achieved anything other than to make me feel uncomfortable in my impotence. I don’t want to be uncomfortable any more and I don’t want to see another decade of boxers that are the oncologist’s nightmare or Maine coons whose hips are so bad they cannot climb the stairs.

Resolute BVA

What I do want to see is the profession standing behind a vibrant and resolute BVA, because this issue really does matter.

It provides us with one of those rare opportunities in which we can be seen to be making a difference and to be seen to care enough to do something about it. If we believe that “first, do no harm” is the correct moral position for our profession then surely we should feel strongly enough to require those who set the standards for breeders to embrace the same moral imperative.

Alternatively, we can all go back to work with a sigh and enjoy the tiny frisson of intellectual superiority that flares briefly with the next encounter with flawed genetic manipulation of pet species.

If, however, the difference between man and the rest of creation is that we have a conscience and understand the concept of morality, should we not take the lead in broadcasting the concept of “first, do no harm”?

A full PDF of the article is available here

1 comment:

gabboon said...

I am smart, bold and a brilliant writer. However, I am careful never to mix the three...