Vegan FAQ #2 – What are animals here for?


Last month, I came across this comment on a Philadelphia Vegan Examiner post.

sooo… i don’t understand the “exploited animal” thing.

is a dog that serves as a seeing eye animal, a dog that is well feed/cared for/loved, and then put to sleep at the end of his/her life exploited?

what is the role of an animal? are pets okay? are they not supposed to play a role in our society at all? we domesticated animals to serve a purpose in our society, was that wrong?

i guess what i don’t understand about vegans is what they think animals are for. i mean, i think everyone earns its keep. like on a farm. horses work, chickens give eggs, dogs herd and protect.

Here is my response. I may want to elaborate more on this in the future, but I think I already hit one of the most important points that I would have wanted to make in that post.

Vegans are concerned because animals are exploited for unnecessary commercial products. The fact is that we can live healthfully and abundantly without consuming any animal products.

You can’t compare seeing-eye dogs and dogs as pets to animals exploited for food or clothing products. Dogs in these cases are usually seen as more than property – a beloved member of a family, like a child. Do you consider it “exploiting” your children because you force them to live under your care until they’re adults? Vegans are divided on the issue of seeing-eye dogs, but at least the dog is performing a very noble service that GREATLY helps a person and GREATLY enriches his or her quality of life for many years. Farm animals are usually treated terribly, kept in awful conditions, and killed in pain and dread just so someone can have a momentary gustatory pleasure that’s not even healthy – like a burger or a sausage.

As to your question – “why are animals here?” Let me ask you why are you here? Why am I here? Why is anyone here? There is no objective answer to this question. Wouldn’t it be best if we all let each other (including our fellow earthlings) decide the peaceful course of his or her own life?

Also, chickens don’t “give” eggs as much as you don’t “give” eggs to anyone when you ovulate. They are your eggs, not anyone else’s. Eggs are just part of a chicken’s menstrual cycle, and the nutrients found in eggs are there for the baby chick to eat as he or she grows. Not all dogs herd and protect. What about chihuahuas? Should we find them another purpose – kill them for meat perhaps? Most horses only work because we’ve forced them to and “broken” their spirits into being terrified to do anything but what we tell them. It’s almost as if you’re saying if something doesn’t have a clear purpose for human benefit, then we need to give them one no matter how much it infringes on their right to live life as they want. What would you say about a severely mentally handicapped human who can’t do much of anything and has no living family? What is that person here for? They can’t work a job and contribute to society. They don’t have a family to make happy. In fact, they’re probably a drain on society because tax dollars have to support them. But why do we allow them to live in society and still support them? Because life is valued by many as sacred. And vegans extend that reverence for life that most humans have for other human life to include animals as well. Believe it or not, some people used to say, what good are black people for anything other than to pick cotton as slaves? It’s the view that we can define another sentient, emotional being’s life that gets us into trouble.

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24 Responses to “Vegan FAQ #2 – What are animals here for?”

  • Leafy Says:

    You make some excellent points, Lindsey, although I’m not in favor of using animals even as pets.

    Here’s a video that shows that eggs are not just for chicks. The adults eat their own eggs, too.

  • Jordan Says:

    Excellent post!

    One could also make a point that any animal’s purpose is to help to balance our ecosystem. Unfortunately, humans are basically the only animal that is sufficiently enough advanced to be able to consciously decide to destroy this balance. =/

    Katie Reply:

    Heh, good point, we are the only species to defecate in its own nest. :-(

  • TRISTAN Says:

    I think non humans used as guide dogs or “service dogs are exploited. Fidelco puppies are bred for this purpose. They spend one year with a family that they are brutally ripped from to be “trained” to help a blind human. I have seen the way some people treat these dogs.”Don’t touch,” don’t pet, he/she is working.”I have even seen blind people yell and hit their dogs. One black seeing eye dog was out in 90 degree weather while the blind person chatted for 30 minutes. When I offered the dog water she said, you guessed it “he’s working.

    We humans have domesticated(enslaved) canines and as a result there are an excess of these disposible beings. I do not think it is exploitation to rescue a companion animal. The breeders(animal pimps and procurers)and those who buy a living being are the true exploiters.

    Katie Reply:

    I guess it goes to show that vision-impaired people are no different from non-vision-impaired people.

  • Tessa Says:

    Hi there. Let me open by saying I am a flexitarian farmer who works by day at an exotic animal behavioral research lab that is devoted to studying behavior for the purpose of forwarding endangered species conservation. Basically, I think I pull one of the greatest balancing acts of all times. I appreciate this article and find it well thought out and interesting, and I think your points are quite valid. However, I do have a few questions. One thing I thought of as I was reading is the use of work horses on Amish farms. If you are not familiar with the Amish, their religion bars them from the use of most modern technologies, and the degree of this technological restriction varies from group to group. However, I believe all Amish are barred from owning or operating automobiles and tractors, making horses an absolutely integral part of their lives for transportation and for the care of their fields. I dare say that these horses enrich the lives of their owners and perform a rather noble service. Are these animals exploited? If so, and tomorrow a Vegan was elected President (and to most of Senate and the House) would it be fair to take the right to use horses away from the Amish, who rely on them for religious reasons?
    Also, being a dairy and poultry farmer specifically, I am not sure I understand how using milk or unfertilized eggs from cattle and chickens is harmful. Dairy cattle produce far more milk than a calf could ever eat (over 100 lbs per day!) and unfertilized eggs, well, are not highly useful to anyone if just left in the yard, and these materials, if taken properly, should cause zero pain or distress to the producing animals (the amount of just plain fabricated anti-dairy propaganda is staggering, please ask a local dairy farmer about the milking process, not activist groups; many small farmers will be happy to show you their operation, or take a gander at around 6PM at your county fair at their dairy parlor, where the cows are milked just a couple feet away from you). I guess I see this as opportunism, not exploitation. In fact, milking a cow who is producing more than her calf can eat can prevent discomfort to the cow, as well as infection (how would you feel if someone said, here, let me take 100 pounds off your back?). Finally, in response to your comment about your ovulation being yours, that’s true, but I think if for some reason somebody said they could make use out of my menstruation, I wouldn’t have a problem giving it to them. Afterall, I’m not using it.
    Finally, I’m wondering how the vegan community feels about animals that are displayed in (nice, certified) zoos or act as “animal ambassadors” at preserves. These guys are put on display to the public, but do so to educate people about conservation and zoology. I think we can all agree that this is a very valuable thing to educate the public about. Additionally, they may generate funds to keep the zoo going (ensuring ongoing education) and to keep programs going that are dedicated to studying ecology, habitat protection, conservation, population recovery, biodiversity recovery, etc. etc. etc. In other words, they’re buying their species a future in many cases, and protecting their ecosystem. Should we do away with these programs that offer so much?
    Thanks for reading!

    Katie Reply:

    Hi Tessa, you raise a lot of questions there! i’d like to offer my thoughts in reply. to begin with i’ll let you know that i started following a vegan diet to help combat a serious illness and, on discovery of the things that happen to animals while looking for recipes, became an ethical vegan.

    re: religions. I believe strongly in freedom of religion, providing it doesn’t harm others. I don’t believe in allowing people to do anything they want just because it is part of their religion (or culture or family tradition etc). I wouldn’t condone, for example, baby sacrifice, female circumcision or the beating of women and children into submission because it was part of a religion etc.

    re: dairy and eggs. we don’t need these products to survive or thrive and they weren’t made for us. it seems odd that cows are producing too much milk. this doesn’t normally happen in other animals. also, where do the male calves go? what happens to “spent” cows? if the cows weren’t bred in the first place worrying about their extra milk wouldn’t be an issue anyway.

    re: chickens…they eat most of the eggs that aren’t fertilised to replace the nutrients lost while laying, particularly constant laying. in a natural setting they wouldn’t be constantly laying (there’d be roosters present and so they’d spend some time brooding). so not really a completely unused substance, the same as a human’s menstruation.

    re: asking anti-dairy groups or pro-dairy groups, they’ll both have their agendas, so i don’t think the pro-dairy would give any information that would suggest they were doing anything wrong.

    although some zoos are considered nice, ultimately animals deserve to be free. now, we humans have clearly made this impossible for them in most places, but i don’t think this makes zoos right. but beyond that, i don’t know enough about it to comment properly.

    i realise you are writing from the perspective of a farmer and occasional meat/dairy/egg-eater. would you be willing to “try on” another way of thinking for a few days or a week? i’ve done that a few times and found it to be a most remarkable experience on each occasion.

    thank you also for reading. i’m in a hurry but wanted to respond to you! i hope everything i’ve written makes sense. :-)

  • Katie Says:

    Great post Lindsey. I too believe that animals are not ours to do with as we wish. Simply put, we don’t need their “products” or their services, so let’s leave them alone and let the ecosystem start to re-balance.

  • Heather Says:

    Ok, let me just give you a little bit of information, so that your opinion can be as informed as possible. Most guide dogs are treated ten times better than companion dogs. No, you can not pet them or touch them, but that doesn’t mean that their handler doesn’t. And, when they are out of harness, lots of people touch them and love on them. Most guide dog schools actually teach dog massage and sometimes dog accupressure. How many pet owners, we are talking percentage wise here, even know the first thing about massage or accupressure for their animals? Most guide dog users feed human grade dry dog food or human grade, fresh raw meals, whereas the vast majority of pet owners feed low grade dry kibble that often even contains dogs and cats in the animal fat and animal bi-products used to make them. See Anne M Martin’s book on “Foods Your Pets Die For.” If they wouldn’t let you give the dog water, it is because A. they are the only ones who are supposed to feed or water the dog, and B, they keep very careful track of how much food and water the dog gets, so that, they are always well hydrated and adiquately nourished. That dog may have had a nice long drink right before you came across them. If the handler left their dog outside in ninety degree weather for thirty minutes, all by them self, for no good reason, which would be highly unlikely and unusual, report them to their guide dog school, if they were right there with the dog, then, stop worrying. We take care of our dogs better than we take care of our selves. In the morning, my baby and my guide dog get their breakfast first, and if I don’t have time for mine? Ah well, baby, who can’t get his own breakfast, and dog who works hard for me and also can’t get his own breakfast, both come first. I have sat through many long lecture classes, doing the “I’ve really gotta go pea” wiggle, because I only had time for one of us, me or my dog, to relieve, and I took them out and I waited. Most pet owners just fill their dog’s dishes strait from the tap, or worse, let them drink out of the toilet or dripping bath tub tap. I and many many guide dog handlers give their dogs the same filtered water that they filter from their tap, for their own use as well, removing harmful floride, chlorine, etc. Most pets do not get regular vet care, such as vaxines, flee and tick preventative and heart worm testing and protection. Guide dogs are mandated by the schools to be up to this standard, and guide dog owners often, even exceed these standards, with practices such as giving tyders, which test for antibody levels for things like rabies or distemper, and avoid unneccessary over-doses of vaxines, if the dog is still producing the proper antibodies. How many ordinary pet owners do you know that even know what tyders are? Guide dogs, unlike the vast majority of companion dogs in the United States get tons of healthy, vigerous, but not strenuous excersize and are never overweight or obese if they are being worked. I am sick and tired of seeing untrue rumors spread, not by you, because you mentioned something you personally had seen, which is good, but groups like PETA keep insisting that retired guide dogs are ripped away from their handlers and either given away, tossed into shelters or yuthanized, which is never true. Retired guide dogs are never taken away by the schools, and no guide dog handlers give them to shelters. In eighty to ninety percent of cases, they live out the rest of their lives, being pampered and appreciated by their favorite human in the world. Of that remaining ten to twenty percent, most go to personal friends or family members of the handler, who the dog already knows and loves. In the rare, maybe one to five percent of cases where the handler dies, or they simply don’t have the space for the new and old guide dog when they need to retire a guide and get their next, the dog returns to the family who raised them as a puppy. Also, PETA asserts that guide dogs are in harness 24/7, which is never, ever true, of even the busiest guide dog. Guide dogs usually work, for one to three hours a day total. They snooze under their handler’s desk at work, lounge in the lecture hall at college, play fetch in the quad inbetween classes, get a trip to the dog park on lunch breaks, get to play with a quiet toy during most of their day, if they so choose, and are given water through out the day. Most pets are left home alone for six to eight hours at a stretch with no companionship, but guide dogs are always with their favorit person, and get to see all sorts of sights and meet all sorts of other animals and people, that pet dogs do not. As a vegan, it is your right to take issue with whatever annimal treatment you so choose, but I would urge you to focus your attentions on those causes that cause death and enumerable suffering, such as male chicks tossed alive into dumpsters to die and rot in the heat, to veal calves who are tied in place and force fed a poor diet and then slaughtered, never having really known their mothers, and don’t spread bad press about some of the best taken care of dogs in America. I would say that if you ever are in upstate New York that you should look me up, and my black labrador Bailey and I would be happy to show you what a guide dog’s life is really like, but you would probably think that was creepy, so I guess I won’t. If I put my email address up here, I don’t want a bunch of flaming from others who happen across this post, but I really do think, that if you knew a guide dog handler personally, that you wouldn’t feel the way you do. A lot of people get ticked off when they are told they can’t pet the dog, but, with all due respect, your momentary happiness if you meet me on the street is not as important as my life, my baby’s life, if I am wearing him in my babycarrier and my dog’s life, if you distract him and we get hit by a car. Now, some guide dog handlers are jerks, and might get snippy, but a lot of pet owners are horrible to their dogs, feeding them unsafe people food, letting them get fat and unsocialized, yelling at them, abusing them, neglecting them. Also, the handler who tells you no you can’t pet the dog, might have had to tell thirty people this already today, and they are tired and stressed, as any normal person would be in that situation. If you, ever, EVER! see a handler hit their guide dog, report them immediately to their guide dog school. If the dog is a German Shepherd, it is a good bet that it either came from Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation or The Seeing Eye. If the harness has a martingale, or strap that comes down between the front legs and clips to the belly strap, then it is probably one of those two schools, although other schools do occationally place shepherds and use martingales. If you are close enough or can get close enough to look at the backstrap, just behind the dog’s shoulders, all harnesses identify the school the dog is from. If it is true abuse and you are sure it worents reporting, it might be worth it to “make nice” long enough to get a good look at the back strap. All schools keep detailed records of the teams they place, and the location of the handler, the breed and coloration of the dog are usually enough, but if you do happen to get the dog’s or handler’s name, then this will help. No two dogs from the same school have the same name, so if it is a dog named Tara from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, there is only one Tara on their books. There may be a Tara at Seeing Eye and Guide Dog Foundation, but proccess of elimination will help. Even if you are not sure and you google guide dog schools and call a few whose harnesses look like what you saw, in pictures on their web site, you will probably get results. If you are wrong in your guess, a school can often help you, even if it is not their dog, by asking you about the color of the harness leather and the reflective tapes and the style of collar, etc, they can probably point you to the proper school. That brings me to one final point. Almost no pet shops have contracts that buyers must sign, those shelters that do have contracts have no way to follow up, and even responsible breeders, who are not backyard breeders, with their intricate contracts, rarely can do any real follow up with the dogs they place into the care of other people. In this way, guide dogs are guarinteed a far smaller chance of being abused or neglected, and if, heaven forbid they are, their chances of being noticed and helped are hundreds to thousands of times greater than a pet. The schools often do follow up visits with their teams, require medical and behavior reports, follow up on abuse or neglect complaints in-person, stay involved and provide services to assist handlers, if they should suddenly become very ill or lose a job and cannot aford vet care for a time, or if the dog develops a very costly condition, they will often help with vet bills. The Bobst Animal Center in NYC even provides any and all medical care free of charge to guide dogs. When many pet owners become sick or lose their jobs, they just give their animals to shelters, where they are put to sleep in most cases, or if the vet care gets too costly for a pet owner, they often just opt to have the animal distroyed or they dump them at a shelter, often not telling the shelter staff about the life-threatening condition the dog has been diagnosed with. If a man locks his pet in his basement, very few people will notice, whereas, if a guide dog stops showing up with their blind owner, people miss it and ask questions. When I had to retire one of my guides suddenly, because of health concerns, a woman in one of my classes went so far as to contact the school, to make sure that the dog hadn’t been killed, injured or lost, and that I was not trying to cover something up. While I wish that she would have known me and trusted me better than that, I am glad that people like her are looking out for guide dogs that they know and love. If a guide dog gets injured or sick, everyone notices, and if the injuries seem suspicious or the dog looks underfed, complaints will be filed, which is more than most neglected pets ever get, and as I said, abuse and neglect are very very rare. Shelters do not screne their adoptive families well at all, relying on the word of the person serendering the animal for the information that is provided, pet stores and backyard breeders do no background checks, and even most really responsible breeders don’t do much more than interview the buyer once. Guide dog schools require medical records for the handler, detailed questionaires, a home visit by a trainer to assess fitness of the home environment, and three or more personal references from people such as employers, professors, orientation and mobility instructors, etc. In an ideal world every animal could live in the wild, naturally, and not be interacting with humans, unless they so-choose, but in today’s world, it cannot be denied that guide dogs get some of the best treatment out of all of the animals in the world. Also, bear in mind that if animals are treated well and their jobs cut down on the use of vehicles and other technologies, the polution is less, which is better for all animals. I hope this was helpful to you. And, please don’t suggest that blind people should rely on sighted “helpers” for assistance, is that is degrading and highly disrespectful, even if you didn’t intend it to be, please do think about it.

  • Samantha Says:

    Here is my issue – I have 3 pets all muts from rescues. I adore these animals, I work from home to be with them, I take them everywhere, I take them on a 2 hour hike everyday. I am super dedicated to their happiness, however I happen to believe that dogs are carnivores. Also I didn’t go out and get them, they just kind of happened and I had a big enough heart to take them in and make their lives better. They are wonderfully behaved because I have put alot of work into training them in a strict but gentle manner – using their social structure as opposed to any heavy handed or overly dominating methods. They are so well behaved that they enjoy more freedom than most dogs and don’t even walk on a leash. All of them came from bad situations, all of them I did my best to restore their spirits and rehab them back into social, playful creatures.

    Then there are the devout vegans who live above me. They have a PUREBRED dog who is very, very rarely outside. It doesn’t socialize with other pets and I only ever see tied to a baby carriage on a walk around the block, maybe once or twice a day. I think they use puppy pads even because my own dogs go out to relieve themselves more like 6 or 7 times a day.

    Is that hypocrisy or what? To me the comfinement of their PUREBRED dog is cruelty.

    Lindsey Reply:

    That is really wonderful you adopted and take such good care of your dogs. I wish everyone would do that.

    But I would not call those vegans who live by you hypocrites for having a purebred until you know the full story. First, many purebreds are often abandoned in shelters and can be adopted and are just as much in need of a home as mutts (I personally would always want to adopt a mutt though), not bought from a breeder, or they can be rescued from puppy mills. Second, the purebred may have been bought from a breeder BEFORE they were vegan and educated on animal issues. Third, are you sure they are ethical vegans and not just “vegans” for health reasons? Fourth, I hope you are not basing your opinions on all vegans based on some possibly bad behavior by other vegans. Vegans are an incredibly diverse group of people. That is really too bad they don’t take the dog out more often – maybe you can talk to them about it and ask them if you could take the dog out more often, but don’t take issue with the fact they have a purebred unless you know all the details of why and how they got the dog.

    Also, I’d like to mention that dogs are omnivores, not carnivores. Cats are carnivores though. Most dogs can actually do just fine on a vegan diet as long as you do your research, but that is not an issue I choose to push on people.

  • Samantha Says:

    To reply, yes they are devout, they own a vegan based business and from reading their blogs, they are very, very serious.

    I have had some noise troubles with them (their noise not mine)and have been a victim of their hateful words, however I am not judging other vegans based on them. I share many of the same opinions with them, but they wouldn’t know that because they attack me rather than talk to me. I think this is becasue my husband BBQs every night in the summer.

    I don’t believe I made any broad statements about other vegans in my post, if I did I apologize, that was not my intent and is not a reflection of how I feel about veganism.

    Perhaps their dog was rescued or purchased before they converted to veganism, but my major point was that their treatment of the dog is cruel. This dog is starving for socialization and excercise which are very basic dog needs. When we run into them on the street he almost chokes himself trying to say hi to my dogs, and they don’t let him, they pull him away. I thought vegans believed man shouldn’t have dominion over animals because we are bad at it (I think we are too). How can they not see that they are not providing their animal with basic needs? Two 5 minute pee breaks a day is not enough for a young hyper terrier. Their dog has even started running away and coming here of all places.

    Omnivore, carnivore OK semantics – maybe I should have just said what I meant. I disagree with a vegan diet for a dog. I know dogs hunt and scavenge animal protein as well as nibble on grass and roots. Dogs… now that is a subject I know. I am not trying to change your mind, there is plenty of room in the sandbox for all.

    I only wanted to discuss this with some friendly, non-fanatical vegans to see if these people are a fair representation. To see if there really is a problem coexisting with serious vegans and how I can continue to support the things I agree with alongside the vegans without having to choose a side.

    Lindsey Reply:

    I’m sorry they have been hateful toward you – you don’t deserve that. I’m also glad you’re not judging all vegans based on them.
    Yes, I did catch that your main point was that you were concerned about their dog. It doesn’t sound like they’re doing anything illegal (NOT that the law is the best place to look when it comes to animals). That is how many people take care of their dogs – food, water, and out a couple times a day. I wish everyone was able to take as good of care of their dogs as you do. But sometimes basic care is all people can do if all caretakers work full time out of the home. It’s really a sad dilemma that pet overpopulation has brought us to – do you not adopt and let another dog just be killed in a shelter or do you save a dog’s life by adopting him and giving him the minimum care even though you might not be able to give him the most wonderful life? I don’t have a great answer for this. Both my husband and I work full time, and we lived in a second floor apartment for a while, so we didn’t adopt a dog because he would have been hard to care for, even though I would have liked to. But it always haunted me that I would have saved a dog’s life.
    Next time you see them with the dog on the leash, ask if your dogs can say hi to their dog, and maybe that will lead to conversation where you could offer to take the dog out more often if they’re too busy to do that. Since the law can’t step in, it’s people like you who have to. You could also suggest that they use a dog walking service.
    Also, I’d like to add that you really seem to care about animals, so I hope you’re considering becoming vegan, if you’re not already.

    Lindsey Reply:

    I forgot to respond to a couple other things…many people (including devout vegans) may not be educated on dogs’ basic needs. I read that dogs need 1.5 – 2 hours of exercise a day (like you give your dogs), but I personally do not know of anyone that knows that or does that with their dog.

    And to answer your question, right – most vegans do not believe humans have the right to dominate other species.

  • Samantha Says:

    Peace and blessings to all animals – even us humans.

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