Bred to Suffer: Paul Shapiro on Animals in Factory Farming

August 17, 2015

Happy cows and chickens grazing in pastures, we see them plastered all over our milk and egg cartons at the grocery store. While most of us realize these images are more marketing than reality, the truth about how animals are treated in factory farming is far worse than most of us imagine. It’s not even clear exactly how much better animals fare when packaging advertises things like “cage-free,” “natural” and “vegetarian-fed.”

This week on Point of Inquiry, Paul Shapiro, the vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society, is here to sort through some of the common misconceptions about the meat industry. As a former factory farm inspector, Shapiro knows first hand how normalized animal suffering has become, and how lax the regulations are that determine how animals can be treated and mistreated throughout their lives. Shapiro and host Lindsay Beyerstein sort through many of the myths and misconceptions consumers have about animal well-being, from chickens raised in “battery cages,” to meat killed according to religious tenets.

*Correction: Philosopher Peter Singer wrote in to clarify his stance on the ethics of eating different kinds of sea creatures. In his classic book, “Animal Liberation,” Singer draws a line between crustaceans and bivalves, and that’s the distinction he follows in his day-to-day life. “You may have seen me eat something with oysters or clams in it, but I’m sure it wasn’t a crab puff,” Singer wrote.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, August 17, 2015. 

Hello and welcome. The point of inquiry, a production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection for the Humane Society of the United States. He’s a former farm animal cruelty inspector and the founder of the group Compassion Not Killing. Consumers are bombarded with dubious messages about how our meat and eggs are ethically raised. Marketers paint romantic images of contented cows and blissed out chickens. But what do these claims really mean? Today, we’ll look at the facts behind the labels. We’ll also explore some thorny philosophical problems about whether meat eating can be part of an ethical life. Welcome to the program. 

Thanks, Lindsay. It’s a pleasure to be on. 

So if I go in to a typical Safeway and select the Produ Wonder Chicken, what can I assume about the life that it led up to this point? 

Probably that it wasn’t that great. Most of the chickens who are used for a produ and for other poultry giants have been genetically manipulated to grow very fast and become very fat in a rapid amount of time. And so these birds, while they may not be imprisoned in cages, they really are imprisoned in their bodies. They’re so gigantic that many of them have difficulty even taking more than a few pitiful steps before they collapse underneath their weight. So in the case of these chickens and turkeys who have been raised for the meat industry, they really have been bred to suffer. And it’s it’s a gross failing a virus. 

As a society, when it comes to our relationship with other animals, it’s true that some commercial chicken farmers still cut the beaks off their chickens. 

It’s a common practice in the egg industry where the chicks have parts of their beaks usually burned off because in the egg industry, these animals are kept confined in tiny cages that are so cramped the birds are unable to spread their wings. And when you overcrowd animals to that extreme degree, they have a lot of stress, which produces a lot of aggression. They’re suffering very much. And so sometimes they will either attack each other or based on the boredom of the confinement, they will just pack at each other. And the egg industry’s response to this is not to provide better living conditions for the animals, but rather to simply burn parts of their beaks off and chickens use their beaks like we use our hands to explore the world with it. It’s a very innovative part of their body, meaning it’s painful when they cut it off. 

How do they eat without the lips of their beaks? The birds are still able to eat. Some of them do starve to death after the procedure if it’s botched. But they are still able to eat. 

In fact, there may be even be some economic benefits to the egg industry because the birds might end up eating less for a time because of the pain associated with eating after the amputation. And the birds falling their food to rest. And so there’s less feed wastage. And so the egg industry has a number of reasons why it performs this very cruel mutilation on the animals. 

Is that a standard thing? Like if I go to Safeway again and just pull a random carton of white eggs off the shelf? Is it fair to assume that the chicks have probably had their beaks cauterized? 

Yes, absolutely. Then say so. Nine out of 10 egg cartons in the country come from birds who are in what are known as battery cages. These are cages so cramped that the birds can barely move an inch their whole lives. They have had parts of their big burned off. In fact, while there are very few rules as to how the egg industry has to treat these animals, there is a voluntary guidelines that the egg industry has set. And to give you a sense of how anemic those guidelines are. They recommend just 67 square inches of space per animal. Now, I know most of us aren’t mathlete. We don’t know at 67 square inches. Looks like that’s smaller than an iPad, less based than an iPad on which to live for her entire life before they’re slaughtered. And that’s a really miserable existence for these animals than a chicken’s wingspan case. Yeah. For sure. The birds are prevented from spreading their wings for their entire lives. 

And if I go to the egg case at the fancy market, I see all these different claims, these labels saying that the hen the pasture added that they were cage free or that there’s all this verbiage. What, if any, of those guidelines is meaningful to me as a consumer who wants to buy ethical eggs? 

Lindsay, there’s a dizzying array of claims that are made on egg cartons around the country. Some of them have some meaning. Some of them have very little meaning. And some of them are quite misleading. And so if you go to the Humane Society of the US Web site, which has egg labels, dot com, you can read more about what the various claims do and don’t mean. Again, that’s egg labels, dot com. But in short, nine out of 10 of the egg claims are coming from caged hens, so automatically cage free. While it’s certainly not old, McDonald’s farm is a substantial improvement from the cage confinement of egg laying hands. So once you’re into that realm, you’re already at a much better level than where nearly all of the eggs are coming from. But there still are a lot of concerns and ways to go even higher in the animal welfare factory. 

Can you talk a bit about the legal framework in terms of who controls what can be done? Animals that are being raised for food? 

There is so little legal protection for farm animals in our country. 

So while we have 50 state anti cruelty laws, which really codifies this notion that there are some things that we can do to other animals that our society considers so heinous, things ought to be punished criminally. Most of the state anti cruelty kurds’ exempt customary agricultural practices, regardless of how abusive those practices may be. So let me give you an example and then let’s say somebody wants to take their dog in to the veterinarian to have their dog neutered because they’re concerned about pet overpopulation. And let’s say the vet says, sure, I’m happy to do to your dog. And the vet pulls out a scalpel and just goes to town and cuts the dog’s testicles out without any pain relief. 

That would probably lose his or her license, be charged with criminal animal cruelty, probably be sued civilly and have other problems as well. Now, imagine that there wasn’t a dog, but a pig or a calf. Animals who suffered just like dogs do when we mutilate their genitals, for example, by cutting them off without any pain relief whatsoever. But because those are standard practices and the pork and the beef industry to cut the animals genitals off without any painkillers. And it’s exempted from most state anti cruelty laws. And so you’re getting a brief glimpse into the world of farm animal. We will protections. A friend of mine likes to say he’s a law professor, that it’s very easy to be an expert on the laws relating to the treatment of farm animals because there are nearly none of them. Now, that’s starting to change. Ten states in recent years have passed reforms, modest though they may be, that prevent some types of inhumanity to farm animals, for example, preventing farmers from locking them in cages so small they can’t even turn around for their whole lives. But there’s a long way to go. Farm animals are essentially at the mercy of agro businesses who will treat them and mistreat them usually. However they see fit. 

Does the U.S. Department of Agriculture or any kind of federal authority have anything to say about this? 

The Congress has never given the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to regulate the treatment of animals on farms. So keep in mind that farm animals are on farms for 99 percent of their lives. One percent of their lives. Are they in slaughter plants or less. And so USDA does have some authority over certain kinds of slaughter for some animals. But for the 99 percent of these animals lives, either on factory farms where they’re being tormented day in and day out. The USDA really has not been tasked with the authority by the Congress. 

You’re a former farm animal anti cruelty inspector. What was that like to do that work in a past life? 

I did conduct investigations at factory farms and slaughter plants. And it really drove home for me. The fact that animal abuse is the norm, not the exception in the meat and dairy industry is these industries are built on standard institutionalized cruelty to animals. So much so that you have to ask yourself what crimes these animals have possibly committed to deserve the punishment that meted out to them. And we wouldn’t treat the most heinous criminals in our society the way that we treat farm animals. We would take murderers and rapists and put them inside of a jail cell so small they literally can’t even turn around or can’t raise their arms up. Yet that’s customary in the meat and egg industries. It’s customary to subject animals to torment and torture. That is so unimaginable that most of us wouldn’t want to even bear witness to it, let alone would we want to participate in the cruelty. 

How did you end up going into these factories? Were you working for the Humane Society when you were investigating? 

So I’ve been working at the Humane Society of the United States for the past decade and for a decade prior to that was with an organization called Compassion Over Killing. And in both of those roles, I have had the opportunity to visit dozens of factory farms and slaughter plants. Sometimes I invitation, sometimes not. And whether I have a camera or a video camera or no camera, I usually see the same thing, which is animals in a severe state of distress, animals who are locked away behind private doors, never feeling the sun on their back, never stepping foot on a blade of grass, often confined in cages, suspended above their own waist. These are typical practices in the meat and dairy industries. It’s a case where really bad has become normal. 

And the people who are running these farms sometimes invite you in to see this thinking that you’re gonna be okay with it as an inspector. Is that normal? 

Sometimes, yeah. Do you personally? I don’t. 

Do you think it’s possible to make an ethical argument that eating sustainably raised and ethically raised meat can be as good as being a vegetarian? 

Morally, I think there’s a whole continuum of viewpoints on this. And the least defensible in that continuum is doing what most people do, which is just buying factory farmed animal products, which represent virtually all of the animal products sold in our society. Well over 95 percent. Closer to 99 percent of the meat, eggs and dairy produced in our country come from concentrated animal feeding operations. 

So anybody who wants to move away from that model I think is taking an important step in the right direction. Whether somebody wants to do a meatless Monday and seek out higher welfare animal products. I think that’s a good step. Somebody wants to do, for example, what Mark Bittman from The New York Times recommends in his book Vegan before 6:00 p.m. or he is vegan before 6:00 and after six eats whatever he wants. Or if you want to do something like what folks that Peter Singer, who I know you’ve had on the show before, do the vegan before 6:00 p.m. and after 6:00 p.m., I think that all of these are important options to move in the right direction, which is a way from a society in which our relationship with other animals is one that’s just based purely on violence and domination rather than on compassion and respect. 

Peter Singer, a vegan now, because I met him in person once at that time, that was 10 years ago when he was promoting his moral critique of George W. Bush book. We were at a reception and he ate some crab puffs and he was saying that, you know, his criterion was sentience rather than eating animals, per say. So he was OK with eating crabs. Has it changed his views on that? 

I’m pretty sure the Peter Singer would say that crabs are sentient, meaning that they’re capable of having experiences. He has called into question whether bivalves, like oysters and mussels are capable of having experiences or not. But it would be pretty hard for me to think of Peter as saying that he didn’t think that crabs were capable of having experiences. 

Do you think there’s any value in sort of using a second chance criterion morally to decide which animals to eat? I mean, I know I gave up eating octopus about 10 years ago because I saw a video of an octopus opening a jar that is going to open my social learning ends. And I just felt, OK, mentally, that’s going over into the category of elephants and dolphins and chimpanzees and creatures that could learn sign language. I just don’t feel right at all about eating those sort of completely beyond the pale. But I still have an attachment to eating less sentient animals, but I keep thinking that maybe that’s not the ethical way to approach the problem. 

Yeah, I think that there is sometimes can be a phenomenon where we conflate sentence with intelligence. And what’s really fascinating is that octopi are invertebrates and yet still are among the smartest animals who we are familiar with. At the same time, clearly, octopi are capable of feeling pain and they are definitely sentiment. But I think that the same is certainly so for chickens and turkeys and other animals who we eat. For example, if you think about chickens, I mean, they use different sounds or words, if you will, for predators by land or by air. They recognized dozens of other birds by their facial features. In fact, in one training program, chickens were taught to consistently package one of four unique geometric shapes. Even as the order of the shapes changed and when the target shape was removed, they waited to pack. And why might they have this mandamus lead, some type of geometry to catch insects like grasshoppers? And if you ever watch chickens as one does. You’ll note that they don’t try to catch the grasshopper in the air. They go to where the insect will end and then they do it with precision. So these are very smart animals and so are pigs, for example, who are smarter than dogs. Pigs easily learn to sit on command. They can herd sheep. They even play video games using joysticks that they control with their mouths. So if you think about chickens and turkeys and pigs, they’re very smart animals. And there’s a tendency that we as humans have to try to underestimate the intelligence of those animals who were abusing. But in this case, I think the reality speaks volumes and that people will look back and recognize that these animals actually are a lot smarter than we ever give them credit for their health reasons why we should be concerned about eating food from factory farms. 

I mean, I know a lot about what it does to the animals, but what’s it doing to us? 

Oftentimes when we are abusing farm animals, we’re not doing ourselves any favors in the process. So, for example, study after study has shown that walking birds in cages tends to increase the risk of salmonella compared to cage free operations and whether or not we’re increasing salmonella or E. coli or having risk of other illnesses. The fact remains that eating so much meat as Americans tend to do is really not good for us. Certainly bad for animals. It’s terrible for the environment. The big driver in the climate change problem, but it’s also just not good for us. Study after study links such high rates of meat consumption with increased risk of obesity, type two diabetes, stroke and other types of heart disease. The fact is that by eating less meat, we really can do ourselves, animals and the planet a favor. 

If we’re approaching this from a strictly utilitarian perspective, is there any merit to the idea that, well, you know, these animals would not have existed? There are many more cows and chickens and pigs. If we give them really good lives up until the point that they get painless deaths. Isn’t that a net win for utility or do not raising them at all? 

It’s a great question. Lindsay, as somebody who does identify with utilitarianism, I say that there are tradeoffs that we have to consider, which is. 

For all of these domesticated animals who we keep, regardless of whether they’re treated well or poorly, they do mean fewer wild animals. These animals displaced because of the enormous amounts of grain that are produced to feed all of them. It destroys wildlife habitat. It’s not like these chickens and turkeys and pigs who were raising for food exists just in a vacuum. They exist because a lot of other wildlife don’t exist. So we have to consider the lives of wildlife compared to the lives of these animals now. But at the same time, in the world that we actually live in, there’s billions of farm animals aren’t having good lives worth living. Their reading lives of virtually unmitigated misery. A lot of the time. And we can do quite a lot to help ameliorate their suffering by eating fewer of them and having rules for their treatment. 

I mean, it seems like one thing that the factory farms are very good at is saving space. If we were to convert to a much more expansive environment for farm animals, would that threaten wild spaces where we need even more room to house these animals? 

Well, the biggest amount of land that’s taken up for animal agriculture isn’t the land that they’re actually occupying with the animals, but rather the enormous amount of land that is used to grow corn and soy to feed all of these animals. The vast majority of those two grains is going to feed farm animals. 

So if we eat less meat, you would have less corn and a lot less soy being produced, meaning you could see some of that cropland going back to forest land or wetlands or whatever they were before. But yes, farm animals should have decent lives that are worth living, and that would mean not confining them in such extreme ways that we’re doing right now. And so if we’re eating fewer of them, we would have a greater capacity to give them better lives. 

What’s the cost differential for a pound of hamburger? It’s raised humanely, according to recognized standards from U.S. Humane Society, compared to a factory farm. Pound of hamburger. 

Well, most of the hamburger meat is coming from so-called spense dairy cows. And so they’re really being raised for milk. And often times suffering on dairy factories to be a little bit more difficult to look at that instead. And looking, for example, let’s say, the case of eggs. The egg industry did its own economic analysis, looking at what it would cost for egg producers to go cage free rather than in cages. Now, again, it’s not like cage free necessarily means cruelty free, but it is a lot better than being in cages. And the economic analysis showed that it would cost about a penny, an egg, more about a penny, an egg, more to not contain these animals in cages. But the hidden cost of keeping these birds in battery cages is worth increased animal cruelty and increased food safety risk. You mean up here that at the cash register, but it’s being paid nonetheless, either on the backs of the animals and on our own backs when we have food safety scares relating to salmonella and others. So the costs are various from industry to industry. But we’re usually talking about modest costs and talking about costs that especially if we’re eating less meat and fewer animal products, as we really need to, both for public health, for our own health and for the planet to be very manageable. 

Is there a number of that you have in mind in terms of what the whole amount of meat consumption, assuming that no more people become vegetarians than are currently vegetarians if meat eating Americans were cut back? Is there an optimal amount of meat consumption that you would say, OK, yes, we’re at the carrying capacity where it’s acceptable? 

I don’t know that anybody has ever looked at that environmentally. I’d be very fascinated if they had. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily a choice. And I think you correctly point out it’s not necessarily a choice of everybody becoming a vegetarian and then other people remaining the same. America doesn’t need to eat so much meat per person and we’re going in the right direction. In fact, per capita meat consumption, the US has been declining for the last eight years in a row and we continue to see less and less meat. In fact, we’re eating 10 percent less meat per person today than we were in 2007, despite the fact that the percentage of Americans who are vegetarian has remained relatively stable. And as a result, hundreds of millions of fewer farm animals are being raised and killed for food because Americans are eating less meat. The meat industry has been in a contraction for the last seven or so years. So I think that would still be very beneficial to continue that trend. And regardless of what type of meat reductions somebody is engaged in. The fact is that it’s easier and easier to choose meat free options than ever before. Everybody from Ganny is to Burger King to Tripoli has great meat free options now. It’s very easy and convenient and it’s delicious. I mean, you think about all the ways to try to combat climate change. 

And, yes, there are important public policies that need to be put in place. But are we really going to be able to do it by changing our light bulbs or taking shorter showers? Keep in mind that animal agriculture is pinpointed by the United Nations as a leading cause of climate change, as a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. 

How does being a typical American meat eater compare in terms of greenhouse emissions to. Say, owning a car. I mean, it depends on how much you drive and what kind of car. But in general, are those comparable indulgences? 

Yeah. In fact, the typical rate of American meat consumption may even be worse. Researchers have looked at this issue and found that a typical vegetarian contributes the equivalent of many hundreds of miles fewer. Driving simply by abstaining from so much meat consumption. In fact, Carnegie Mellon did a study where they looked at the effect of eating entirely local. So all of your food from local sources, every meal for an entire week versus being meat free for just one day. And they found that you had a greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions just by being meat free for one day than being entirely local for a whole week. 

The Humane Society was involved in shutting down one of the world’s largest animal sacrifices for religious reasons. Can you tell us a bit about that campaign in Nepal? 

Every five years there has been a ritual slaughter, the largest sacrifice of animals, up to half a million animals from mules to donkeys and other animals who are beheaded while fully conscious as part of this ritual sacrifice. And the Humane Society of the United States operates an organization globally called Humane Society International, which worked with local animal welfare groups in Nepal to come to a good solution to this problem. Ending it happened last year, so it’s not scheduled to happen for another four years. But the organizers of the event have announced, mercifully, that they are going to cease this ritual bloodbath. And it’s a it’s an important advancement for animal welfare and a part of the world where the animal welfare movement is not nearly as developed as in some Western countries. It’s an important win for them to move forward and put this bloodbath in their rearview mirror. 

How long had this festival been going on and what religious tradition was it part of? 

I believe that while, you know, I don’t know which specific sect it was part of. I mean, animal sacrifice has been a part of a lot of religions for many millennia. And fortunately, many religions have left it in their rearview mirror. And today, some of them still have not. And it’s a real shame for animals to have to bear the brunt of that type of practice by religious adherence. But this particular festival has been going on for many, many decades, maybe even centuries. I’m not certain about that. But it’s time for it to come to an end. And we’re very grateful that those who were organizing it have agreed to put the axes down and put the knives down and to adopt a more live and let live approach to religion. 

I mean, it’s really interesting. We talk about changing these really deeply held beliefs. I think we have them culturally around eating animals just for food. But when you get into religious belief, that’s a whole nother level of emotional and cultural commitment. What strategies were effective in getting these obviously very traditionally minded people to agree that? Yeah. 

Now it’s time to give this out, really the eyes of the world being on them. The images that were going around the globe during the Nepalese slaughter last year were truly heartbreaking. I mean, really difficult to watch and to recognize that these animals are being brought there under extraordinarily inhumane conditions and then being butchered while still alive in many cases is horrendous. 

So they’re being dismembered while they were being dismembered, while they were still living. Many of them were killed. Did you see that social media scandal that just broke yesterday about a whale shark in China that was being dismembered while it was still alive? No, I didn’t say that. 

I find it really heartening because the outcry was so much from Chinese citizens. It came out of Chinese social media and people were just absolutely horrified that this whale shark was being dismembered. It wasn’t just Western environmental activists criticizing someone. It was viral video that somebody shot of this thing happening. 

That’s really great. The Chinese animal welfare movement is nascent, but it is growing. And so far, it has largely been surrounding the treatment of dogs, especially dogs who are being used for meat purposes. But that’s extremely heartening to hear. The fact is that humanity often can have an empathetic side of us. Yes, we can be cruel and callous, but we can also be kind and merciful and animals stand totally powerless before us. That whale shark had no power against us and we can use the power that we have over other animals either to be kind and compassionate or to be cruel and to create misery in the world. And how we treat those who are at our mercy oftentimes speaks greater volumes about us than just about anything else that we do in our lives. And so I like to think of animals really as a test for the test of our own basic decency as to how we treat those who are weaker than we are. I got involved in the animal protection movement as a child because I was so offended by bullying. And oftentimes I think that our treatment of animals is just bullying. We’re stronger than they are. And so we bend them to our will. And then we come up with rationalizations that try to justify our tyranny over them after the fact, when in reality we abuse animals typically for the reason that we can. 

He’s eating kosher animal. Products, any kind of hedge against unethical treatment. I know that officially, theologically, a lot of kosher slaughter practices are mandated because the people who came up with them all these years ago believed that there were more humane. Was that ever true and is that true today? 

It probably was true many thousands of years ago when kosher slaughter was invented. It may have been preferable to the methods that were available then, but now kosher slaughter oftentimes can be even more inhumane than conventional slaughter because the rules of kosher and halal, for that matter, require that the animals be fully conscious when their throats are cut. So the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act that was passed in the 1950s requires that cattle and certain other farm animals have to be rendered completely unconscious prior to the slaughter process, whereas the kosher and hello rules require that the animals be fully conscious at the time that their throats are cut. 

What’s the rationale that they would have to be fully conscious? 

I mean, the rationale of thousands of years ago was to prevent killing animals who were previously injured. They only wanted healthy animals, uninjured animals. And so the way that cattle, for example, were rendered unconscious and slaughter plants prior to slaughter is through the use of a captive gun that is placed to their heads and then damages their brain so that they are supposed to be insensible prior to slaughter. That counts as an injury in the eyes of the kosher and hollow authorities. So they have a very disturbing rule. As I mentioned, that the animals have to be conscious during slaughter. And that’s why you see so many experts, heirs of kosher and halal slaughter around the country and the world because it is just so gruesome. 

So much of the time is any movement afoot either with the Humane Society or with Jewish organizations to reform what kosher slaughter means to make it more humane. 

And today, there are a number of rabbis around the country and around the world who are arguing just for that, Lindsay. In fact, one of them, an Orthodox rabbi named Schmaler Yanko It’s published a great column in The Wall Street Journal about a year ago arguing why the kosher rules really need to be thought about seriously as to whether they are achieving the original aims or whether they’re holding back progress. Because Jews have a very long tradition of animal welfare in the Jewish tradition, both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the Talmud. There’s all types of prohibitions on various forms of animal cruelty. And so the rabbis who are making this case are basically saying that the spirit of Judaism really should require us to rethink what it means for an animal to be kosher. The slaughter process is one thing. But also, keep in mind, again, animals are slaughter only for a minute or two of their lives. Ninety nine percent of their lives are on factory farms. And there are new rules in the kosher or halal traditions for that. So these animals could be tormented every day of their lives, as many are on factory farms and then show up at a kosher slaughter plant and be slaughtered in a kosher manner. And even if it is a quick kill, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t suffer enormously from months or even years prior to the day of slaughter because the Orthodox Union biggest kosher certifier in the country and in the world doesn’t consider anything for kosher prior to the moment the animal enters the slaughter plant. 

So your cow, that is your kosher meat, could have been raised on the same farm as a regular meat and safe when they just got on different trains to different slaughterhouses. 

Virtually certain. Yes. 

Moving on to animals that we don’t eat. The Humane Society recently had an interesting success in defending a municipality that wanted to shut down commercial breeding mills for puppies. Can you talk a bit about that case and what implications it might have for the power of municipalities to do things like that at home? 

Yeah, it’s a great example, Lenzi, of the power that local municipalities have. So huge numbers of dogs are bred in inhumane commercial puppy mills, often in the Midwest, and then they’re either sold via Internet or they’re sold to pet stores across the country. And now keep in mind, our nation’s animal shelters have plenty of fantastic dogs and cats who are waiting to find good homes. And that’s the best way to bring any animal into your family as they go into the animal shelter. However, some people go to pet stores and these pet stores often are getting their dogs from these inhumane puppy mills where dogs are basically treated like factory farmed animals, kept in cages, put through regular breeding cycles and so on. And some municipalities now have tast ordinances prohibiting either the sale of dogs from puppy mills or the sale of animals at all, making adoption through these pet stores, pet supply stores to be required and so on. And it’s transforming the landscape because these ordinances are now popping up throughout the country, dozens of them. And there have been important court rulings saying that these are constitutional and they set an important precedent both for animal welfare and the dog field, but also because some states have begun regulating the sale of animal products within their borders. So, for example, in California now, it is not legal to sell shell eggs that have come from birds who are confined in battery cages. And that is a trend that is going to continue seeing across the country because. I don’t want to allow the cameras in these unsafe, substandard and inhumane animal products. 

I have some friends who are really into rescue animals and a couple of them have gotten female. Those were spent Reeder’s from puppy mills. Is this just like a random thing or is there some kind of move afoot to make that more of an option somehow? 

You know, there are rescue groups for a whole variety of dog breeds out there. And so if there’s a particular type of dog you’re looking for and you’ve gone to your animal shelter and you don’t see that animal there, you get on the west. But then you can also look up rescue groups for that dog. And sometimes they do have agreements where they have been able to rescue survivors of puppy mills and adopt them out to good families. 

And are you guys, the Humane Society, you guys against commercial trafficking in pets? Do you think that that should ultimately be banned? 

Well, dogs and cats are best to adopt from animal shelters, and they make great companions for us. I work with companion animals myself, and they are a rich addition to our families. In fact, at the Humane Society headquarters that I’m in right now, there are probably nearly 100 dogs here. My co coworkers bring to work every day, and all of us are much happier to have them here. At the same time, there are some types of animals who shouldn’t be pets. Animals, of course, like lions and bears who many Americans do keep as quote unquote pets, really. They’re just more like ornaments. And then other animals, like exotic animals, like boa constrictors and other types of reptiles and serpents who not only for some public health risks because of their prevalence to carry salmonella, but, for example, the Everglades right now is being overrun by various constricting snakes who have been released there from the Patriot, from people who didn’t want them anymore. And they have killed upwards of 90 percent of some of the important mammal species who live native to the Everglades. So there’s a real problem with exotic keeping in our country with dangerous animals like lions and bears and boa constrictors who really shouldn’t be pets. 

Do you have a position on the spate of A.I. Pitbull ordinances that have been cropping up around the country? I mean, not not dogfighting is, of course, say that the attempts of municipalities to ban one specific breed. 

Yeah, it’s misguided. I understand with their concerns, of course, but as misguided. There’s a saying that you should punish the deed, not the breed. And pit bulls can be some of the most loving, amazing dogs who you can have. I had a pit bull for nearly 10 years who was just such a phenomenal dog. Everybody loved him. He loved everybody. And so their misconceptions that people have about those animals and pressing breed specific legislation. It’s not the answer. In fact, it often causes a real problem. 

What kind of problems arise? 

Well, in Maryland, there was a terrible court ruling a couple years ago where a judge unilaterally declared that people who had pit bulls, if their dog beat somebody, even if they had never bitten anybody before. There are no signs or warnings that there would be de facto considered a real risk simply because of the breed of dog they are. There are many breeds have dogs who are reported to have far more bites than pit bulls. It’s difficult to determine what exactly is a pit bull. And it creates real problems for tenants, for example, who want to have their loved companion animals with them. And then landlords may not want to take on the liability if there is breed specific legislation. And so there are real problems that are created by these. And fortunately, in Maryland, the problem was rectified via an act of the legislature or later on. But there’s a lot of prejudice that exists against these dogs. And the problem often is in human behavior, we often create the problems for these dogs in our treatment of them. And many pit bulls are just fine. They do just fine. 

That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Ronald A. Lindsay. It’s an honor to be on with you. Thanks so much. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.