James Wanless

this is where I write

Animal Arbitrariness

The past couple of weeks has been interesting to me, in that a few seemingly unrelated stories highlight just how arbitrary our feelings about animals can be. The randomness of which is usually a direct result of how humans benefit from animal exploitation, and we’re often completely unaware of it. Far worse though, is celebrities talking a good game while laughing about their hypocrisy.

Puppy Love

I was quite taken with a short documentary I watched during a trainer ride earlier this week. It’s not so much the subject matter of prison inmates training dogs for adoption that I loved (which I did), but it reminded me of our beautiful girl Darby. While she’s been gone for a few years now, we adopted her at 14 weeks from a near identical program, now defunct, out of Matsqui prison in Abbotsford.

Dogs on the Inside, presently on Netflix

I don’t know too many people who don’t want to see homeless dogs trained and adopted by loving families. The added benefit of how this work impacts the inmates makes it even more touching. The power of giving love and gaining trust reminded me of The Champions, a very touching documentary about the rehabilitation of the fighting dogs in the wake of the Michael Vick case.

Further case in point? This week a video surfaced, showing a terrified German Shepherd being tossed into a fake raging river, while filming the movie A Dog’s Purpose, set to open in late January. Reaction has been swift and put the movie’s producers on their heels, as it rightly should. I’d love it if we got this indignant about more cases of animal abuse.

One Less Circus

I was heartened by the news several days ago, that after nearly 150 years of operation, Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus will close its doors in May. People on both sides of the fence will argue about whether animals in reputable circuses are mistreated, but since we can’t ask the animals how they feel, we can only observe what they endure and document it.

There is no shortage of references documenting circus animal cruelty:

The issues with captive performing animals aren’t only about the animals. Another trainer ride documentary I watched recently, Tyke, Elephant Outlaw documents the 1994 rampage of a circus elephant, after killing her handler, through the streets of Honolulu. It delves further into her history, possible reasons for her snapping and ultimately, her demise in a hail of bullets in front of horrified onlookers. Not unlike Blackfish, possibly the defining film about performing animals going sideways and killing their handlers, it helps lay bare the illusion that we are in control or that we should even be using animals this way in the first place.

Raging Bull

I read with sadness the stories last week about a BC bull rider who’d apparently taken his own life as a result of concussion-related depression. The stories typically talk about the well-liked athlete and the risks of post-concussion depression, with the animal referred to as a thing to be conquered, or not mentioned at all.

When any young man with most of his life ahead of him commits suicide, it’s tragic. However, of the three or four media pieces I read there was one glaring omission in my mind. Without a societally endorsed ritual such as rodeo in the first place, would this have happened? The concussion issue is considered a contributing factor to his death, without the slightest mention of why he got the concussions in the first place. The choice to abuse animals for a living wasn’t even mentioned.

Having read a lot of commentary by members of the rodeo industry over the years, I know they feel they love and care for their animals. However, if you watch a bucking bronc or bull during the ride, they’re being abused by any rational measure. At least that’s how I think of forcing an animal to feel pain and discomfort, whipping, smacking and poking them, all in an effort to get them to try and throw a rider off their back. The pains taken to confine the bull just prior to the ride demonstrate how distressed it is. All of this to entertain people and prove some absurd dominance we have over nature.

Don’t even start me on the even more barbaric practice of calf roping:

The calf is goaded, prodded and often has its tail twisted to ensure it will burst out of the chute at full speed (up to 27 miles per hour). The terrified calf is then chased by a mounted rider who must lasso the calf, jump of his horse, pick up the calf, slam it to the ground and tie three of its feet together.

The main issue in all of this is that, not only can’t we say they aren’t hurt, but we can’t obtain their permission to participate. Animals regularly die or are euthanized (PDF) while participating in rodeo events.

I guess what I’m coming around to is the question of values. Valuing animals enough that we don’t find viewing their abuse to be entertaining, and certainly not accepting their death as a result. In 2017, why is domination of animals lauded as bravery? No one needs to die by their own hand after taking too many serious blows to the head as a result of animal abuse.

Raging Bullshit

Bill Maher and David Duchovny are animal rights guys. Sort of. Well, not so much … While this isn’t from this past week, the clip below is from Maher’s Real Time a couple years ago, and I just happened on it recently when searching for something entirely unrelated. It encapsulates almost perfectly the contradictions many of us have about animals.

After the usual introductions and chatter about the new book he was promoting, a sort of family oriented book about animal rights, they both then go on to say how they’re both big animal rights guys. Duchovny gets around actually being an animals rights guy by only raising questions and not solutions, but Maher jumps right in as he is often wont to do and says animals should simply have more rights. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, so far.

Then, they get into the horrors of factory farming, that humans consider themselves as separate, that we’re custodians of the animals, the environmental costs of raising meat, and they even manage to invoke the name of Peter Singer, who penned the seminal Animal Liberation (still a great read decades later). So, bravo boys, talking points fully covered.

“So, you don’t eat any meat,” Maher naturally asks next. “Well, I’m a lazy vegetarian,” says Duchovny, to which Maher responds that they’re the “same kind” of vegetarians. Laughs ensue and the whole issue is couched in being vegetarian when it’s convenient, that they don’t want offend people who serve meat, etc, etc.

Hey guys … You can politely decline to eat meat and not offend anyone. It’s true.

If this was framed as a discussion about trying to move to a more humane diet while not fully being there yet (and any meat not consumed is helpful IMHO), then this would be fine. However, to state at the outset they’re “big animal rights guys,” rail about the ills of factory farming, then simply laugh off the fact that they don’t actually embrace these talking points? Well, it’s kind of like claiming to be science-based (including staunchly and often insultingly atheist) while also being anti-vaccine. In other words, Maher comes off as having strong convictions, until it’s inconvenient to stick to them.

My problem isn’t with whether they’re vegetarians or not, rather that they start off talking a great game and reveal themselves as hypocrites without batting an eye.

In Closing

Like many relationships, it’s complicated. We love animals, but we’ve been using and abusing them for our benefit for so long, what we often think of as a partnership ends up with a clear winner and loser. I don’t really differentiate much between a dog, elephant or bull. They’re all self-aware and they can all be terrified and feel pain. When it comes to hurting them for our benefit, I simply can’t see why how we assign value is so arbitrary.

Should Pit Bulls be banned?

My pit bull-something mix

My pit bull-something mix

With recent media coverage of dog attacks, municipalities such as Surrey are considering revisions to their dangerous dog bylaws. A June 20th attack on a senior there was the latest high profile incident. In this particular case, the owner took off after his dog caused serious injury, forcing the police to hunt him down. The dog’s been surrendered for euthanasia, with the owner apparently facing no charges. There are a lot of things wrong with that, but using it and similar incidents as rationale to ban Pit Bulls outright would just be another wrong heaped on a pile of wrongs.

If you’ve been the victim of a dog attack, and if that dog had a bully breed appearance, I completely understand an emotional response to it. In that case, I suspect I might similarly have a fear of that breed. If that personal experience reinforced a perception I already had about these dogs, I might think a ban was a good idea, too. What I hope I’d also do, is take a step back and ask myself, “Do I feel this way because it’s reality, or because of my personal experience and/or what I’ve been led to believe by media coverage and victim advocacy?”

A Pit Bull isn’t a single breed

There are four distinct breeds usually referred to as ‘Pit Bulls,’ including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In addition to the variety of bully breeds that exist, visual identification is very difficult to begin with:

From the US-based National Canine Research Council:
Two separate, additional studies conducted at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, further confirm the unreliability of visual breed identification used by dog adoption agencies, animal control (lost and found), and in regulation.

Further, the same article goes on to say that even DNA-based breed identification is flawed. When you consider that many such dogs are mixed breed, any kind of Pit Bull breed identification for the purposes of a ban won’t work. As such, a ban effectively means that any muscular short-haired dog with a fat head may be subject to being muzzled or barred from public, or in some cases outright confiscation/euthanization.

Bully breeds aren’t proven inherently riskier

If you are banning a dog based completely on physical characteristics, then at the very least it needs to address an actual risk. This would require accurate unbiased statistics that clearly demonstrate risk after taking into account mitigating factors such as owner responsibility, media bias and breed prevalence, just to name three. Given the right circumstances, any dog can bite.

Research done specifically to prove or disprove something is often faulty. Confirmation bias is a serious concern in research, whereby well-meaning people will favour ‘evidence’ that confirms what they want to see. As such, you’ll find the more well-known anti-Pit Bull sources of data claiming conclusive evidence that this ‘breed’ is overwhelmingly responsible for bites, particularly when they cause serious injury or death. Ban Pit Bulls, Animals 24-7/Animal People News and DogsBite are three such sources, and they tend to be a cross-posting circle jerk. Read more about Merritt Clifton, the man behind Animals 24-7/Animal People News and Colleen Lynn, the woman behind DogsBite. Would you use them as reliable sources?

If you take a deeper look into any of the sites above, they typically compile their statistics from media reports and headlines. These media reports usually begin with visual breed identification and are heavily skewed by only incidents that are reported or which they decide to cover. As such, any conclusion drawn from them can’t be accurate, much less conclusive enough to outlaw a wide range of dogs.

Furthermore, when you include confirmation bias by people whose sole goal is to prove that bully breeds are dangerous enough to eliminate, the evidence becomes weaker still. It’s not that bully breeds don’t bite, but it’s the premise that their threat level warrants extermination, which is flawed. Considering just DogsBite as a source, I’ve been unable to find links to external sources for their research. Rather, they compile headline statistics and expect readers to simply trust that they’re correct.

Contrasting the research methodology above, in 2014 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) conducted a comprehensive literature review of other peer-reviewed research to determine the role of breed in dog bites in the US, citing findings from 65 sources. I strongly encourage you to give it a read, but the findings speak for themselves:

  • While pit bull types are over-represented in the very small sample of serious bite incidents, breed prevalence and geographical location, media bias, reliable breed identification and owner treatment are mitigating factors.
  • Behavioural assessments and owner surveys showed smaller breeds such as collies, toy breeds and spaniels had the highest propensity for aggression.
  • Controlled studies have shown pit bull types to not be disproportionately aggressive, despite the strong breed stigma and difficulty in reliable breed identification.
  • With most serious dog bites involving small children and un-neutered young male dogs which were familiar to the victims, owner education and animal supervision are deemed key to reducing such incidents.
  • The study concludes, “it has not been demonstrated that introducing a breed-specific ban will reduce the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community.”

Media bias affects data

For the most part, media stories about Pit Bulls focus on particularly unpleasant incidents, and often call for a breed ban. They usually include ‘statistics’ about how much damage they do, and how much more aggressive they are when compared to other breeds. Occasionally, you’ll see a well-reasoned piece that uses less biased data and which includes opinions from real professionals such as veterinarians and animal behaviourists. I’ll let you guess which type of article draws what conclusion.

While I’m loathe to drive any traffic to Pit Bull clickbait, some of the worst examples can be found here, here, here and here. These are but four examples by two local bloggers, of poorly researched sensationalism. However, there’s no shortage of others doing the same on the topic; some of which are real journalists at actual news outlets, like this (though it’s still an editorial). The one thing you’ll note about these and similar editorials, is that they rely almost entirely on other media, or worse, the sources I’ve mentioned above, for their ‘statistics’ in calling for a ban.

Editorialists fueled by emotion and bad data aside, you may notice an interesting trait with dog bite stories. Not a hard rule by any means, but often if a non-bully breed incident makes the news at all, the headline will make a generic reference to a dog bite. If it’s a bully breed, it’s more likely to make the news and the headline will often refer to a Pit Bull by name, include evocative terms such as vicious, mauling or maiming in the title, and include a stock image of a vicious dog. Stories framed this way will always drive more clicks/traffic and thus more revenue for the publisher.

Breed bans only discriminate

Ontario has had just such a province-wide ban in place for more than a decade. Montreal’s mayor has announced a planned ban for the fall and the province of Quebec has hinted that it may follow suit and enact province-wide legislation. South of the border, many jurisdictions in the US have enacted laws banning Pit Bulls. The question is, does it work? The answer, of course, depends on how you measure its effectiveness. If you’re only interested in measuring bully breed bite incidents, like this Toronto Star editorial, then every single breed specific ban will work wonders. As for bites overall? Not so much.

Let’s examine the Ontario case, specifically in the city of Toronto. Using the logic above, the law was very effective, as bites from the four dogs that make up the bully breed dropped from 112 in 2005 down to 19 in 2014. Interestingly, German Shepherds have always been responsible for the most bites since before the ban and remain so now. Total bites however, have not been reduced and have gone up sharply, with roughly 500 reported in 2005, rising to nearly 800 in 2014. Worse yet, by 2012, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association estimated that the law had led to over 1,000 dogs and puppies in Ontario having been needlessly put down.

If you’re with me so far, a Pit Bull can’t be accurately identified due to many issues, most ban-supportive research begins from biased and incomplete media headlines, and a comprehensive literature review of peer-reviewed research debunked the notion that bully breeds are inherently more dangerous, anyway. While BSL is the most commonly implemented ‘solution’ to the problem of dog bite reduction, Toronto’s case is proof that it doesn’t work unless the goal is purely discriminatory in nature. Despite a long-standing bully breed ban in Denver, it doesn’t appear to be working either. Researching the efficacy of Winnipeg’s long-standing ban, I could find nothing conclusive, only opinions.

Perhaps even more important, in addition to not actually addressing the problem of dog bites and needlessly killing innocent animals, such legislation discriminates heavily against responsible dog owners, stigmatizes the innocent animals it doesn’t kill, and sometimes forces people to move from their communities. When applied to people, this logic is called racism. Trump anyone?

From Metro News Vancouver:
Leanne Bird and her husband’s dog, Peanut, is blind and must use her whiskers and nose to get around. Peanut is also a pit bull, which means it has to wear a muzzle during walks in Richmond, where the Birds lived until earlier this year. The city requires all “dangerous” dogs, which includes all pit bulls, to wear a muzzle in public. That drove the Birds to move their family to Tsawwassen, where there is no breed-specific legislation, because Peanut kept bumping into things and falling down stairs with the muzzle on.

Owner responsibility, behaviour-based bylaws and municipal enforcement

So, leaving alone discriminatory legislation, there are rational, fair and simple solutions to reducing dog incidents. Any dog can only bite or attack if their owner hasn’t got sufficient control of them. Just in my own neighbourhood, I encounter off-leash assholes all the time, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People who have dogs often don’t understand enough about the breed they have or dog behaviour, abuse or don’t train their animals, overestimate their off-leash recall control, purposely train them to be aggressive, improperly socialize them, and the list goes on.

As a high percentage of bites and serious incidents involve small children and unneutered males, there are a few simple takeaways here. Never leave a dog alone with small child, always have control of your animal (and your child) when introducing a dog to a new child and have your dog fixed when it is old enough. I also believe dogs should nearly always be on-leash when in public and absolutely be on-leash when not in a designated off-leash area. Just these things alone would reduce dog bites significantly. Using the Surrey example at the beginning of this piece, if the owner had his dog on a leash, the attack never would have occurred.

Appropriate legislation and enforcement

As opposed to a patchwork quilt of widely varying animal bylaws, I think we need to start by making owners legally responsible for damage caused by their animals. Those of us who are responsible have nothing to worry about and those of us who aren’t will learn pretty quickly when irresponsibility means large financial penalties and potential jail time.

From Stephen Hume in the Vancouver Sun:
How about a provision in the criminal code? If a dog kills or causes bodily harm, let the owner face jail time, just as negligent drivers do. Then, perhaps, all dog owners will start taking their responsibilities seriously.

There are jurisdictions that have it right. Calgary is often lauded for its approach to animal bylaws, which places the responsibility where it belongs; squarely on the shoulders of owners. Calgary’s approach to dog legislation is based on the principles of mandatory licensing, public education, and owner responsibility for ensuring animals don’t become a threat to the community. The result is apparently the lowest bite and euthanasia rates in the country and high licensing compliance, in turn funding solid enforcement and animal infrastructure.


leashIf there’s one unfortunate byproduct of Vancouver’s off-leash dog parks, it’s clueless owners. Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing a couple pooches hamming it up, running around like lunatics and generally getting their dawg on – when the owners have both purposely come to an off-leash park for this reason.

Unfortunately, there’s a special breed of dog person who has their animal off-leash at all times, everywhere. We may see a bit more of it because we live right by one of the larger off-leash parks in Vancouver, but it’s all over our neighbourhood.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been charged by a dog, with an owner 20 or more feet away, yelling the standard refrain, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly …” That may well be the case, but it’s hardly the point. This attitude tells me right off the bat that the person doesn’t understand that it’s not just about their dog. What if I know my dog doesn’t interact well, but despite my best efforts, he defends himself and hurts your playful goof, for the sole reason that you’re too inconsiderate or stupid to have control of your animal?

As I’ve written before, we have had a rescue dog for close to a year now. We’ve worked hard, and had tremendous success, at helping him past many fear aggressions, not the least of which was with other dogs. When we can calmly approach another dog who’s also on a leash, a combination of reading both animals’ body language and some redirection usually results in a positive interaction. However, if the approach isn’t going well, we’re also able to avoid some potential ugliness because both owners have complete control of their dogs.

Happy interactions with both dogs under control

Happy interactions with both dogs under control

However, when a dog Brody doesn’t know bounds up quickly, friendly or not, he sees it as an affront and there’s no way to predict how he’ll react. Even when the leashed dog doesn’t have pre-existing issues, this interaction creates an imbalance of power. One dog flying around and, as dogs are wont to do, jumping, paw batting, running away, and the like, and the other dog restricted to a circle with a leash radius of five feet or so and, the leashed dog can feel trapped. Where there would normally be no reaction if both had complete freedom of movement, this can cause the leashed dog to lash out and hurt the other dog. Better yet, with both dogs on leash there’s almost zero chance of a bad outcome.

We’ve seen this happen with people who not only have no leash with them on the walk, but in one case, had no collar on their dog. In other words, no intention or ability to control their dog in the case of any problems. I’ve had an off-leash dog bolt across a street at Brody and nearly get hit by a car. When pointing the fact that their dog could have been killed out to the owner, all I received was an indignant grunt. Oddly enough, the off-leash everywhere people don’t seem to give a shit.

Perhaps most important in all this is that, when I’m walking my leashed dog on a public street I have every right to expect other dogs we encounter will also be leashed. It keeps everything working smoothly. If I want my dog to play off-leash with others, I’ll take him to an off-leash park where I expect the other dogs to be off-leash. The flip side of this is that it’s not entirely uncommon for careless owners to bring dogs who should clearly never be off-leash, to off-leash parks. If owners know their dog has significant problems with other dogs, they shouldn’t have them off-leash. However, when both dogs are off-leash in an appropriate environment, negative encounters are far less likely.

Since I know my dog’s tendencies and issues, I’m not going to put him in a situation where he could cause problems for other dogs. All I ask in return is that maybe these clueless owners could just keep in mind that being off-leash is not just about their dogs.

The awkward relationship between the BC SPCA and meat

I’ve always had difficulty with the relationship our society has with animals. Most people I know feel real compassion when companion or wild animals are treated badly or hurt. We donate, run, walk, cycle, and do any number of things to help rescue them, and often go to our local SPCA branch to adopt a new friend who needs a home. For some reason we don’t generally feel the same way about food animals. My take is that standards for treatment of any animal should be exactly the same.

I suspect the difference is that, while we attach emotion to pets due to our forged bonds, most of us view a cut of meat as a product at the supermarket. We’d be horrified if homeless dogs were butchered and packaged in exactly the same way. I understand this dissonance and my point here is not to dissect it or criticise meat consumption with food choices being as personal as politics and religion. My understanding, though, is strained when it comes to supporting large nonprofit organizations whose mission it is to protect all animals. For this reason, I’ve given somewhat tenuous support to the BC SPCA. Despite my misgivings regarding their stance on food animals, I’ve always felt that helping abused, hurt and abandoned animals find homes is laudable work and should be supported. After today, unfortunately my support is over.

Again, this post is not about criticising the consumption of meat, as that’s a completely personal choice. What I’m referring to below, is at best a problematic gap in logic, and at worst hypocrisy with respect to all animals deserving of equal protection in the SPCA’s eyes, seemingly to make it easier to fundraise. I can just no longer support an organization whose sole mandate is the protection of animals, who also serves ethically produced meat (while admittedly providing vegetarian options) at virtually all events or fundraisers. Their somewhat self-serving distinction between animal welfare and rights allows them to pick and choose the level of protection and type of animal to which its afforded. Even if you eat meat, please just consider the following in light of what the SPCA is.

Protecting farm animals by serving meat?

It started with an innocent looking tweet promoting a BC SPCA fundraising gala on November 1st. I was actually originally interested in possibly supporting it, as I thought it might feature vegan, or at least all vegetarian fare. When I read the VanCityBuzz story the tweet linked to, the following passage in particular, caught my eye:

For the event, the animal welfare agency only approached chefs and restaurants that believe in sourcing food – especially meats – that are ethically raised. It’s a value that’s central to its SPCA Certified food program, which will be highlighted throughout the evening.

I’m glad this article highlighted the ‘sourcing of meat that is ethically raised’ because the SPCA’s own announcement, perhaps understanding the apparent ethical conundrum, makes no mention of meat.

After some tweeting to various recent followers and the SPCA, suggesting they ask the SPCA to take meat off this menu, the organization finally tweeted back to me, pointing to their position on serving meat at their events. The key passage from this page is as follows:

With respect to events, the BC SPCA has a policy that outlines that vegetarian (and where possible, vegan) options must be provided at all SPCA events and approved third-party events. The policy also stipulates that when animal products are served, they should be from farms that strive to provide the Five Freedoms, such as SPCA Certified or Certified Organic farms.

I did a lot of searching online and, where I found links to past events, any with food that I found were featuring meat on the menu. What I was left wondering is why they’d pass up an ideal opportunity to demonstrate real compassion for food animals. Wouldn’t it send a stronger message about animal protection to have an evening of all vegetarian or vegan fare? Vancouver now has some great options truly focused on sustainability and animal compassion. Did they even talk to Graze, Heirloom or The Acorn in planning this event?

As I said earlier, the crux of their argument is always that they’re an animal welfare and not animal rights, organization. I just don’t know how the SPCA can have such vastly different standards for companion and food animals. They all feel pain, fear and stress. You don’t have to be an animal rights organization (nor even support veganism) to advocate on behalf of all animals in exactly the same way. In truth, rights versus welfare is largely an emotional distinction. If the SPCA had consistent standards of care for companion and food animals, the difference would be meaningless. Even if the SPCA feels their food animal protection measures are appropriate and that ethical meat production is possible, why not plan events about their work with the least harm and suffering possible?

What do farm animals really want?

I don’t think any of us knows with certainty what an animal wants, but I doubt it’s to be raised and fattened just to feed us. And, don’t be fooled by the images in the promotional video below. Meat could easily meet ‘SPCA certified’ criteria and experience nothing nearly as positive as it suggests.

The fallacy of ethical meat

In asking whether they should be serving meat at their events, consider the term ethical meat, as the SPCA calls it. Sometimes you’ll see the term sustainable meat or humane meat. These are all roughly the same thing; industry labels to make consumers feel better about consumption. How meaningful the distinction is to each of us, again, comes back to how we view food animals personally, and the distinctions we make for them against companion animals. As awareness of large agri-business animal care standards grows, survival of the meat industry is dependent on people feeling as if animals were, at the very least, raised free range and organic before they were slaughtered.

On first blush, the SPCA appears to be doing something to help people purchase meat from producers who treat the animals humanely, and I don’t doubt that their efforts are well-intentioned at some level.

From their certification page:

To date, standards have been developed for Egg-laying chickens, broiler (meat) chickens, turkeys, dairy cattle, beef cattle (includes veal production), pigs and sheep. To meet SPCA Certified standards (derived from UK standards), animals must have freedom from hunger and thirst, pain, injury, disease, distress, discomfort and must be allowed to express behaviours that promote well-being.

So that animals meet the above criteria to be SPCA Certified, producers must ensure the following conditions are met. Never mind that no standards or inspection mechanism could ever ensure any animal – companion or food – is free from any of those things. The headlines below are the SPCA standards and below each of those are just the most basic of questions regarding their enforcement and specifics for me. When I consider each of them, I have simple evaluation criteria. If you wouldn’t expose your pet to the standard the SPCA is setting for food animals, is it humane or ethical?

  1. Egg-laying hens must be free from cages

    Battery cages Assuming this refers to battery cages, this still doesn’t address mass confinement. Chicks and hens can easily be free from cages and still crammed by the thousands into long metal barns (the kind you see all through the Fraser Valley), and this does nothing to address chick-sorting conveyer belts, debeaking and declawing. In fact, the BC SPCA wrote a lengthy piece on this very issue in 2012 and seems to be just fine with ‘free run hens’ in just such massive barns, or alternatively slighly more roomy cages. Even if you think these measures provide enough freedom, keep in mind that any intensive livestock operation barns will be dealing with ammonia, disease and other issues associated with confinement. Any confinement makes antibiotic-free chicken more difficult to produce, since the former requires the latter to fix its problems.

  2. Pregnant pigs must be free from confinement in gestation stalls and farrowing crates

    Pig gestation crates This one is interesting, as the industry is already moving to a new code of practice banning the use of gestation crates. The SPCA has hardly been at the forefront of getting this barbaric practice outlawed. And, particularly barbaric it is, as the gestation-farrowing crate continuum has often resulted in dead piglets, with mothers rolling over on their young while feeding them. In fact, this standard seems more like bandwagonism than leadership to change the status quo.

  3. Lameness in farm animals must be assessed and addressed

    Painful hoof How is lameness to be assessed and addressed? While it’s fairly easy to see if an animal is having trouble moving, it’s far more challenging to deal with it. What does ‘addressed’ mean? Bulldozed and buried? Ground up and fed back to other animals? Something else? Both of these are common practices for animals that are no longer of any use. If your dog had a limp you’d likely take her to the vet and try every possible treatment you could afford. The solution for food animals is far more economically compact.

  4. Animal environments are designed to promote comfort and healthy social interactions

    It would be nice to know what this actually means. What are the standards for each breed of food animal? Pigs, for example, naturally develop separate socializing, nesting and potty areas, and have very complex social lives. I’m not sure how any confinement system could possibly address that, but assuming meat production isn’t going anywhere, I’d truly love to see it.

  5. Animals must not be fed antibiotics, ionophores or hormones for growth enhancement

    Inspections are to be carried out annually. Is that enough to determine that animals are being raised as humanely and healthily as possible? Are the producers given a lot of advance notice for inspections, or are they random? Doping cyclists were pretty good at providing clean samples when they knew when ‘random’ would occur.

  6. What about veal?

    Typical veal crates This is my extra question about the most gaping void of logic I see in their standards. I note they’ve drafted standards for veal, but don’t deal with the issue in their specifics above. How are they ensuring veal aren’t confined? By its very definition, veal production demands intense confinement for calves, since the tender flesh cannot be produced if the animal is allowed to move.

I wanted to see specifics on the above standards, but I’d have to be a producer and sign up for an account. While certified organic meat must meet at least some standards, including annual inspection, there is no oversight that I’ve been able to find, that verifies free-range (outdoor) and free-run (indoor) animals. Frankly, if an animal can even see daylight, its post-slaughter packaging may well have a free-range label. There is no rigour that I can find demonstrating this standard is enforceable in any meaningful way. Read more on the humane farming fallacy from Liberation BC.

And finally, at its simplest, when food animals are being raised only to be fattened and killed, can you really call it ethical? I can’t. For $200 a plate, in particular, apparently the BC SPCA can. At least when your marketing/fundraising efforts and your advocacy/protection efforts are at odds, it’s easier to do when you decide some animals are more important than others.

Darby; a dog’s life in pictures

I’ve been grappling with something for ten months. It was August of last year when Darby was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, and only a couple short weeks later when we put her down. I had intended to write a retrospective post about her life, and started to do so a few times, but I could never find a way to cover eleven years properly.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that, where a dog is concerned, pictures speak much louder than words. In the gallery for each year below, click any image to scroll through it in an overlay.


We adopted Darby in early 2003 at 14 weeks of age. What likely sticks out amongst the mosaic below is the ear(s). At first both stuck up and then one flopped. She was left with the distinct right spiky ear for the rest of her life. At one point in her first year while we still had to crate her when we weren’t home, she pulled a duvet into her crate and emerged from a cloud of down feathers when we let her out. I wish I had a picture of that


As evidenced by these first two years, Darby loved water … and playing … and games. Grabbing another dog’s ball, giving a friendly paw cuff and running away was one of her favourite things to do to other dogs when she was young. You’ll see that we had a small redirection harness for walks. It wasn’t just in her build that she resembled a small horse, as we often thought the only thing missing was hooves. She was as strong as an ox and built like a pony. She was fast and loved to run and you could literally feel the ground rumble when she was galloping your way. We also started a decade-long tradition of putting a silly santa hat on her during the festive season.


The galleries for 2005 and beyond get smaller. This one in particular, while small, has some of my favourite pictures of her. Specifically, the two with her massive tongue hanging close to a foot from her mouth really speak to the exuberant young dog she was at the time. As well, I think the picture of Connie and Darby snuggling, and the one of Darby trying to eat my head, both just give me the warmest of feelings. She was a lovable goof in every sense of the term.


As there are fewer photos of these years, I’ve blended them together. Around mid-life, at age 3-7, you’d think a dog would begin to mature. In Darby’s case you’d be wrong and we were still wondering as late as 6, if she was ever going to grow up. I’ve tried to include some different things in this gallery. Still some hats and santa get-ups. One time when we had friends over, you can see how she’d just lay on the ground and let small children roll around on her. I’ve never seen a dog with a more beautiful temperament. She was never cranky, nor can I ever remembering her snap.

You can see the mature appearance starting to show in her face during mid-life. She was beginning to really enjoy lounging more as she hit these years, on the few designated pieces of furniture she was allowed on. She’d also begun covering her snout with her paw like a cozy when she was lazing and sleeping.


Not getting old yet by any means, a little grey was creeping into the snout fur at this point. While she was always excitable and could get wired on a moments’ notice, she was beginning to slow down a little as she hit 8-9. There was more sleeping and her life had a slower pace to it. This gallery goes from snow in February 2011 to Christmas 2012. There’s still the requisite santa pictures, but I think this may be the only time we tried a Rudolph nose on her. It didn’t last long. I particularly like the closeup pictures of her sleeping with the intense pic of her waiting for a car ride sandwiched in between.


While we had no idea early in the year, given how healthy she’d been, we’d only have a little over eight months of 2013 with Darby. The last six pictures below, including any where she’s wearing a red harness, were taken after we knew we’d be putting her down shortly. Late August and very early September (and in fact, right through Christmas) were brutally tough weeks in our house.