Thursday, 26 May 2011

Petition Bump

We posted this back in April but it deserves a bump now that it's fallen off the front page:

Say No to Cruel Cosmetics

This is a campaign from the BUAV to get the EU to adhear to it's 2013 deadline for outlawing the use of animals in cosmetics testing within the EU. The EU is not confident that suitable alternatives to animal testing will be ready by 2013 but we say that safeguarding the cosmetics market in this manner is deeply unjust given the cost to the animals. Please join us in saying that we, as a society, do not need yet another shampoo or make-up brand and we reject the use of animals in developing these unnecessary products. There has been too much injustice in the past, lets move on and move away from it.

Please remember that whatever happens, your choices as a consumer are the most powerful. Sign the petition but please vote with your wallet as well. Choose cruelty free brands such as Lush and those that are BUAV approved (look out for the bunny logo!). There are so many gorgeous, vegan, cruelty free cosmetics and toiletries avaliable in stores and online.

Monday, 23 May 2011


My comment on an article about neglected pets on The Guardian website:
I'm dissapointed at the number of "who cares?" style comments. This story is about avoidable abuse, exploitation and neglect that is caused by apathy, misinformation and a lack of proper research. It doesn't matter whether the victim is a goldfish, a rabbit or a child - it is avoidable and inexcusable. Why does it matter that you don't care about a rabbit? I don't particulary care about footballers but if it transpired that they were often abused or exploited by their managers, I'd be concerned. This story isn't really about rabbits - it's about how selfish, blinkered or ignorant people make decisions that cause harm to others.

There are many problems in the world, as a number of commenters have pointed out. So what? Why do we have to 'ration our compassion'? A concern for plight of abused children (for example) doesn't give anyone an excuse to neglect their companion animals. If you can't look after an animal properly and don't have the sense or decency to do some serious research into the creature you wish to keep, then don't get it. Simple as.

All my companion animals live well. The first thing I do when adopting a new animal is research, research, research. I have the feeling I am in the minority, however. I worked for a major UK pet retailer for a number of months. The sheer number of customers who come in and either refuse to take advice or do research into the animals is shocking. Many just want the smallest, cheapest enclosure and want to feed the cheapest food. They want a fun toy and are totally unprepared to look after a living, sentient being. This is so prevalent that the actual advice that you get in pet shops is affected. The upper management know that most customers don't want a big committment or to spend a lot of money. They encourage staff to make the whole process seem easier than it really is, offering substandard advice and stocking cheap, tacky and inadequate equipment for the animals so that ignorant, selfish customers are not put off by the higher prices associated with large, good quality enclosures or properly formulated feeds. Sometimes the staff are not aware of how much the advice they are giving is 'dumbed down', especially if the staff are not experienced with animals or inclined to do their own research. I remember joining the company as a keen aquarist - I was very quickly told to shut up and toe the company line, or I could lose my job. I was repeatedly discouraged from giving proper advice and every day I had to make decisions that I knew put animals into abusive situations. Unless I wanted to lose my job, I had to enable animal abuse. It's as simple as that and the sad thing is that most of the other staff just nodded along with it. Most believed that the company was right because their advice was 'expert approved' and refused to take on board infomation to the contrary. My manager even believed a number of factual falsehoods and refused to listen when I explained that (for example) ammonia is not a kind of bacteria (very relevant to fishkeeping!). I eventually left in disgust.

Caring about humans doesn't mean you shouldn't care about animals. If you get a companion animal, please research widely into its needs and please adopt from a shelter or rescue. The pet industry is a horrible thing; animals churned out like cheap toys, the conditions are cramped and often unclean, the animals are taken away from their mothers far too early, often given a terrible diet and many will never see a vet if they are sick. All of this before the animal reaches the pet shop. We have no right to do this to sentient beings just because we want a living toy or an 'unusual' gift for someone. Pet overpopulation is completely our fault, as a society. We are the reason so many animals languish in shelters or get destroyed because they are unwanted, abused and badly trained. We are the reason that so many 'owners' don't know or don't care about the animals they keep. Please help those who are already in 'the system' and don't pay breeders and shops to produce more. This goes for all animals, from goldfish to geckos to cats to dogs.

If you don't have time for an animal or have 'better things to worry about', then that's fine. Don't get the animal. Neglect doesn't show that you have important things to do in your life, it doesn't show that you have your prioreties straight. It doesn't show that you have common sense, or don't get worked up about the little things. It shows that you're selfish and irresponsible.

Friday, 13 May 2011

On Goldfish

A recent post from Practical Fishkeeping caught my eye, so I thought I'd write a little bit about goldfish.

Goldfish make the perfect low maintainence pet. They are sold by almost every aquatic retailer and the equipment they need - tanks, bowls, decorations and food - are widely avaliable. They are small and don't live very long, but they are easy to replace and their life cycle is a great way to teach children about life and death, or to provide a fun companion for someone who doesn't want a long-term committment. They can be kept anywhere in the house - little aquatic paradises nestled onto coffee tables, kitchen counters and bedside tables. A great gift for someone who has everything. When the time comes to flush yet another ex-fish down the toilet, we'll feel a little sad but won't let it trouble us too much. After all, it's only a goldfish.

At least, these are the myths we tell ourselves. The reality is rather uncomfortable and something quite a lot of people don't seem to want to hear.

The fact is, goldfish are one of the most abused 'pet' animals in the world. They are sold in their millions, widely avaliable from pet shops, garden centres and fairs. They are bred in factory-like conditions, churned out like any other product to be packaged, shipped around the world and eagerly sold to well meaning people who don't know the first thing about how to look after an aquatic animal. They are often kept in bowls or tiny tanks. Only the luckiest get a filter to keep their water clean. Many languish in water that doesn't get changed from one week to the next, slowly dying in their own filth. We can't see the filth, apart from perhaps a little poo on the gravel but it's there. Invisible, lethal ammonia that turns the clear water from fresh to toxic in just a few days. These beautiful animals barely grow, kept in tanks that are just too small for them. They get stunted and eventually die from a horrific combination of organ failure and poisoning. If they're really unlucky, they'll get some kind of ailment such as ulcers or fin-rot. Most will simply die young and unblemished, to be replaced by another unlucky creature who is unlikely to make it out of its infancy.

Because, you see, 3 weeks or 3 months or even 3 years isn't 'old' for a goldfish. If only I had a pound for every person who assured me their 'old' fish was doing brilliantly, at a mere year or two of age. The fish that did brilliantly until it died and they wanted  someone to sell them a replacement. The fact is that goldfish can (and should!) live well into their teens and it is certainly not unheard of for them to live until they are 20 or even 30. They are also not 'small', despite the fact that most of them are sold when barely bigger than a large marble. Those cute, 'mini' goldfish that the retailer assures you will never outgrow the chic tank that is 'just perfect for the coffee table' are just babies. Tiny, helpless babies that should grow to between 8 and 24 inches long, depending on variety. Many don't get beyond a couple of inches before their poor living conditions overcome them and they die a slow, pointless death. Goldfish mis-information is so engrained in our collective conciousness that most retailers, books and even dedicated goldfish care websites won't tell you just how big they can get, how long they live, how messy they are and how much room they need. A quick Google search for 'goldfish care' comes up with page upon page of total rubbish.

These are the goldfish 'facts of life'. Mass produced for an immoral, profit driven 'pet' market. Sold by people who are poorly trained, apathetic or told to keep their mouths shut about proper animal care by their management. Destined to live in small tanks with poor water conditions. Destined to suffer and then die young. All because the consumer is too selfish or too ignorant to even think about researching their needs. All because animals are treated like commodities, like things.

We were no better, Avalanchian and I. As children we had goldfish in bowls and it didn't strike us as odd that the poor things didn't live very long. We were sad (I remember crying when my 'Phoenix' died) but that's just how things were. As far as we were concerned, this was normal. This was 'nature'. It was only when I wanted to start keeping goldfish again as a 21 year old that I actually did a little research and realised how wrong we had all been. How wrong millions of people around the world still are.

Now, Avalanchian and I have three rescued goldfish, although only one of them is gold. Actually, he's not even fully gold. More a medley of metallic colours. They live in a 4 foot long tank that holds some 300 or so litres of water, which they share with some rather unconventional tank-mates - a ruby shark, two Chinese algae eaters and an elusive bristlenose plec. Their aquatic home is rather wild, full of fast growing plants and a lot of hair algae. Nonetheless, the water is cool and clean, providing a stable haven for the fish. We have other tanks around the house, full of happy, healthy fish and amphibians. I sometimes lift the lid on a tank and breathe in the earthy, fresh smell of tropical life. I remember the smell of my old goldfish bowl, back when I was a child. I remember that distinctive odour that I assumed was normal, that I never questioned. Sometimes that smell haunts me.

Please, don't pay for someone to abuse animals for you. Don't buy animals from shops and don't take them home as prizes from the fair. There are so many animals - from fish to dogs to horses - that need forever homes with someone who will research their needs and make a committment to them. So many advertised for sale or adoption, from rescues, shelters and regular folk who find they can't look after the animals anymore. If you buy an animal from a shop or a breeder, you're just perpetuating the cycles of abuse and neglect. Animals are not toys, not ours to do as we please with. They're not decorations, distractions or designer accessories. They are sentient beings who deserve respect and who should not be treated as things.

Meet Samwise, Merry and Red:

If you have fish or are thinking about keeping them, check out the Tropical Fish Forum (don't worry, it has a coldwater and goldfish section) and Practical Fishkeeping

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Disconnect of Ricky Gervais

Today, I got this in an e-mail from the League Against Cruel Sports:

Ricky Gervais, anti-bullfighting? Good man! However, something was bothering me.

"Bulls should not be used to fight for our entertainment"

"... tens of thousands of bulls are still being maimed, tortured and killed for 'entertainment' each year"

"It's crazy that our money has any part in sustaining this cruelty"

All this coming from the man who said:

"The roast dinner is the king of dinners. And the king of roast dinners is the Christmas dinner. There'll be organic, free-range roast turkey. There will be little cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, there's no doubt about it. Roast potatoes. I will have one Brussels sprout, and eat it like a good boy. And peas. And really caramelised cooked parsnips and turnips so they're like crisps and really thick …"

This duality stikes me as somewhat perverse. One moment he is asking me to help alleviate the suffering of 'tens of thousands' of animals that are killed unnecessarily for entertainment, sport and pleasure and the next moment he's claiming that a good animal roast is the king of dinners. So it's not OK to kill an animal for sporting entertainment but it is OK to kill an animal because you enjoy chomping down on it's corpse? However, to be fair to the man he does recognise the disconnect. Sort of. He admits to a sqeamishness about animal flesh that means he is only comfortable eating food that doesn't have a close resemblance to the animal it once was. He makes exceptions for poultry and 'disguised' meats (so, sausages wrapped in bacon?) that don't look as though they could jump up and gambol around his table. One gets the impression that vegetarianism has a serious allure for him, if only he could bring himself to give up on animal flesh. So why hasn't he? It seems as though, contrary to his insistence that it is wrong to kill animals for entertainment (and one presumes that extends to other pleasures, otherwise it's a deeply arbitrary distinction), he doesn't have a problem with animals killed for the pleasure of eating them. What he does insist, apparently, is that the animals lived a good, free-range life and were killed humanely.

I'm sorry, Ricky, but there is nothing humane about animal exploitation. You can't breed, fatten and kill with kindness. Using animals for food necessitates devaluing them to commodities, to products. They are bought, traded, owned and sold with the profit of the vendor and the pleasure of the consumer in mind. It may be true that the animals don't know what their fate will be and can live a relatively 'good life' in sunlit pastures (if 'happy meat' propaganda is to be believed) but this isn't some humane idyl of happy animals and caring consumers, this is simply exploiting the fact that the animals are not aware of their coerced future to justify exploiting them in other ways. It's OK, because the animals are happy while they are alive, don't know they're going to die and will be killed quickly? I presume this kindly sentiment doesn't extend to humans. I can only imagine the shock and outrage that would be caused if some farmer stated he was using humans as commodities, to be sold as slaves and killed for food. Would this be justified as long as the people in question didn't know of their fate and felt their living conditions were adequate for their needs? What if they were just too stupid or brainwashed to realise they were not free? Or maybe it would be OK if they just didn't care about being free, preferring to stay where they would be warm and well-fed?

Whether you are comfortable with the idea of humans being compared to non-humans, the point remains that we don't grant our fellow humans basic rights and freedoms simply because they are intelligent or philosophical or able to express their preferences in a language we understand. We grant them rights, the most basic of which is not to be used as a thing or a commodity, because they are individuals who are aware of their world and able to form preferences (however basic) for what happens to them. They are someones and it doesn't matter if they are stupid, ignorant, unattractive or disliked. They are someones, not somethings and we (should) treat them as such.

Surely, surely this extends to animals as well?

Ricky, I hate bullfighting as well. I hate the idea of an animal being used as a mere thing for pleasure or entertainment. And that is why I am a vegan. It is not enough to require humane standards of care or to campaign vocally on a few instances of animal abuse that are rather divorced from our everyday lives. If you are serious about animal rights, please respect them and that means starting with the most basic right any sentient being can have - the right to be seen as a someone and not a something, an individual and not a tool, a free being and not a commodity.

Please, Ricky. Go vegan.