An arson attack on the Manchester Dog’s Home this week killed 60 animals. They must have suffered horribly. It’s a terrible story which has, quite rightly, affected many, many people. A subsequent fundraising campaign has raised more than £1m at the time of writing.
Why are we affected by an event like this so much more than the horrors we allow others to inflict on animals each day? We have become very adept at finding flimsy, fragments of difference between moral positions and building our ways of being on top of them.
To put the deaths of these dogs into a crude context, the Humane Slaughter Association estimates that each year in the UK 2 million cattle, 8 million pigs, 9 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 750 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption. Let’s cut ourselves a break and exclude the fish and birds and stick with just those animals that are roughly the same size and shape and apparent intelligence as dogs. That’s 19 million each year. By the time those 60 dogs died on Thursday evening, 52,000 similar mammals had already been killed in the UK that day.
How can we mourn one group so publicly and ignore another so steadfastly?
Is it because the dogs were killed either by accident, maliciously or for no purpose whatsoever, depending on the motivation of the arsonist?
The fact that we put the corpse of an animal to use after it is dead is immaterial. Immaterial to the animal, of course, but also utterly incidental in moral terms. Just because we take some benefit from the death does not give us the right to take the life. We refuse to justify many, many other actions which would benefit us at the expense of others.
If a death is made acceptable by the subsequent consumption of the corpse, then would this event have been made more acceptable if the dogs had been eaten?
If we bestow moral purpose upon a death by eating the body, then why do we not eat the bodies of dead humans? Not to do so would be relatively less moral under this calculation.
Are we moved so greatly by this story because the dogs that died suffered so horribly? I’m afraid that hardly sets them apart from many hundreds of thousands of farmed animals.
Is it specifically because they were dogs? In the UK we, for the most part, treasure dogs. In other countries they are food. We venerate whales whilst others eat them. Dolphins? We wouldn’t order them from the menu but we try to find ways to think around the fact that they die as our fish is caught.
There is no meaningful distinction to be made between dogs, cats, pigs, sheep and cows that is clear enough to justify the slaughter of one species whilst another is offered love and protection. The only credible position is to admit that we like one species more than the other. There’s a philosophical term for that, which many of you will find amusing, but it is nonetheless an important concept: Speciesism.
The fact is that we, as individuals and collectively as a society, turn a blind eye to the deaths of millions of animals each year because to do so serves our interests and keeps us from having to make significant changes to the way we live our lives. We outsource these deaths to others to keep us from thinking about them in any depth.
Unless you have already made changes to ensure that your life minimises the deaths of other animals, then this event should give you pause to consider your many complex and problematic relationships with other species.
If you mourn these dogs and ignore the other mammals killed in your name each year, then you must accept the label ‘hypocrite’.