September 2007
From the State Vet's Office

Animal Rights Issues

by Dr. Tony Frazier

Unless you have been completely out of touch for the past few months, you have heard issues about animal rights on the news. And while it is slightly difficult to write an article about animal rights without it becoming an editorial, these issues must be addressed. Animal rights issues are not going to go away, nor should they when it comes to abusing or neglecting animals. The problem comes when different people have different views of exactly what constitutes animal rights. As the State Veterinarian, it is an issue that my office and Commissioner Sparks must deal with more than you might think. That is certainly part of what taxpayers expect out of us and they do pay our salaries. Again, the problem is that different people see animal rights differently.

Here at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, we receive many complaints about animal neglect and cruelty, which we are obliged to investigate. We often include one of our veterinary medical officers, along with our agriculture investigators, to look into the complaint. Sometimes the investigation reveals obvious neglect and abuse. On those occasions, the owner is charged with a cruelty violation and must pay whatever fine or penalty goes along with the violation. There are other times when owners are given a period of time to show significant improvement in the care of the animals in question. Quite often complaints are made in relation to dogs, cats and other companion animals. In Alabama, the Department of Agriculture does not have regulatory authority over dogs and cats at this time. We will however, investigate any report of cruelty. We do our best, with the authority we have, to make sure neglect and abuse are not tolerated.

A number of complaints originate from well-meaning people who feel animal abuse is occurring because of what they see from the road when they pass by a farm. An example of perceived animal abuse occurs when someone passes by a farm in the summertime and sees horses standing in a corral with no food or water. Is that neglect or abuse? We often find those horses are well cared-for. They are often stabled at night, fed and watered, and turned out during the day on a dry lot. To the concerned passer-by, it is perceived to be abuse. In reality, it is not.

There are other times when someone will call in a complaint about a horse that is very thin and appears from the road to be starved and neglected. Often our investigation reveals this is a 30-year-old horse that has been a family companion for most of its life, and even though the horse is thin, it is fed well and enjoys some quality of life. There are often other horses in very good body condition that are pastured with the one in question.

There are people who abuse and neglect animals. When we see on the news how some individuals harm and abuse innocent children, it is understandable there are people who give no thought to abusing animals. However, those of us involved in animal agriculture know, for the most part, there is a bond that exists between the farmer and his animals. It is just something you cannot see from the highway. People usually never see the poultry farmer making his way through the poultry houses right before bedtime to make sure everything is comfortable for the chickens. They never see the times the cattle farmer brings a weak newborn calf into the house to get it warm or the time spent with the paralyzed heifer trying to get her back on her feet.

While there are groups who publicly state their opposition to animal agriculture and encourage a vegetarian lifestyle, most complaints originate from people who are genuinely concerned for the health and comfort of animals. These issues are not going to go away and in many cases do not need to. It is the society in which we live.

The bottom line for the producer is to be pro-active. Realize our practices in animal agriculture are being watched. It is often said the best defense is a good offense. Just ask yourself, "If I were not involved in animal agriculture, what would my perception be if I drove past my farm?" All producers know stressed or sick animals are unproductive. The issue was pretty well summed up in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs: "A righteous man takes care of the needs of his animals."