Recent reports (RSPCA, UK and ASPCA, USA) show that animal cruelty is increasing across the world. This is bad news for humans. It goes to show that man is losing touch of being human. Several possible reasons have been identified for this growing trend, but lax laws appear to be the most significant one among them. This seems to be the case in Sri Lanka where animal protection laws are grossly outdated (Avanthi Jayasuriya, Colombo Telegraph, 7 Feb 2018). A complete overhaul of the laws is long overdue. They need to be modernized and expanded to bring in line with current realities facing animal wellbeing. Regulatory measures are necessary to not only prevent animal cruelty and abuse but also to conserve animal species and preserve the country’s animal heritage. It is common knowledge though that no matter how robust and well intentioned they are, laws mean very little if they are not backed up by proper mechanisms to implement them. This applies to any set of laws meant to keep order and justice. Lack of adequate infrastructure is a major factor that frustrates law enforcement. For example, the endemic problem of impunity for crimes against animals is largely a result of weak enforcement capacities.
To create and maintain a sustainable animal welfare program on a national scale can be a challenging task. It will require heavy funding and a significant amount of human and material resources. To give an idea, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) based in the USA which is recognized as the world’s largest animal welfare organization has around 6.5 million members and supporters with a revenue of US$ 65 million per year. The operating cost of PETA is estimated at about USD 50 million per year. These are huge numbers, but they have to be taken in proper context. In reality, the required funds will have to be worked out on a case by case basis considering the severity of the domestic problems on hand and the level of service that can be offered, essentially a cost – benefit analysis. In some cases, it may turn out that a comprehensive animal protection program is not a viable approach. In such cases some degree of prioritization will be required. For funding and support, animal welfare groups usually rely on volunteers, non-profitable organizations as well as the private sector and all levels of government. But the problem is funds from these sources may not always be readily forthcoming.
Public participation is a crucial part of the law enforcement process. Traditionally, public involvement in animal wellbeing is very thin especially in the developing economies. The problem is found to be more acute in situations where there are constant social-economic conflicts. Under these conditions animal issues tend to become less of a concern for the ordinary citizen and therefore for the government as well – a sort of generalized desensitization sets in. One way of drawing public attention is through continuing education aimed at spreading awareness about animal issues. For such campaigns to be fully effective they must reach a wide audience as possible including for example, school children, educators, policy makers, politicians, celebrities, and the ordinary citizens.
There are several areas in which animals are exposed to severe pain and suffering. These are well documented and plenty of published material is now readily available to the public (PETA – Google search). The food industry tops the list. Some of the harsh offences are committed here, for example, poaching, whale hunting, live shark finning, stalking and slaughtering conscious animals. The clothing and fashion sector is a major consumer of furs and skins, and a shameless contributor to animal cruelty. Another big offender of animal wellbeing is the pet industry. This sector needs close scrutiny and control. Appropriate legislation is required to ensure a complete ban in the trade (import-export) of animal body parts such as ivory, bones, decorative artifacts, shark fin, furs and skins. Among other notable abusers of animals are the laboratories (cosmetics and medical) and the entertainment industry (e.g. blood sports, racing, public performances). Animal bestiality is another disturbing occurrence which is often overlooked by the public. This is an offence that needs to be clearly defined and legislated for. In a democratic country breaking the law is a punishable crime. Harsh offences need severe punishments that carry long prison sentences and/or heavy fines.
The most worrying aspect is related to the fact that the animal industry today is big business. Its commercial interests are bound to clash with animal wellbeing. The industry has enormous political and economic power to defend its own goals. It can readily reach the deep pockets of people with self-interests among lawmakers, law enforcement, policymakers, customs authorities and the entire animal protection apparatus. This explains at least in part, why it is so hard to bring regulatory changes to animal welfare. Such moves by big business have placed huge odds against animal activist groups in realizing their progressive agendas. It is well known that in big business there is no such thing as morality and ethics, what really matters is legality. Weak laws containing flaws (loopholes) such as omissions, imprecise language and definitions, are breeding grounds for most big businesses.
Public attitudes and behavior towards animal issues must also change. People who are most inclined to support animal wellbeing are those who have a developed sense of compassion. Compassion (different from empathy) can be described as an emotional feeling for the pain and suffering of another being and motivated to help alleviate the pain (see Paul Bloom “Against empathy” – Google search). It is a trait that has to be developed and perfected through right thoughts and practice, and it goes beyond traditions and religious beliefs. By the way religion (God centered belief sets) is actually a hindrance to animal wellbeing. Religions have caused immense damage by creating a sharp divide between animal species (animal versus human) where animals are considered to have no emotions and no intelligence, and that animals do not feel pain and suffering. These are baseless archaic beliefs that have no standing in this age of science and reason. Interestingly, none of the mainstream religions (God centered) have preached compassion towards animals. On the contrary they seem to have an obsession with blood. It must be emphasized that religious beliefs and culture are no excuses for animal cruelty.