Animals and Animal Rights 

What is it and what’s wrong with it?

Factory Farming:

Much of the debate on animal rights stems from the food industry. Twenty-first-century meat industry animals are “grown” in factory farms where they are pumped with growth hormones and antibiotics so that they will become as large as possible, as quickly as possible. This goes for milk and egg production, too. Two out of every three farm animals in the US are factory-farmed. These animals reach their maximum potential rapidly, which means that factory farmers are able to produce twice the amount of livestock and twice as much dairy.

They live their short lifespans in horrific conditions and are fed foods not natural to their species (e.g. meat and a wide variety of toxic waste products). Factory farming (where most of us get our meat) contributes significantly to global warming and pollutes water and soil. Because factory farms operate on such a large scale, food regulation and safety are big issues. Many people have been sickened due to inadequate or nonexistent inspections of factory-farmed meat by government agencies all over the world. Recalls of meat (and industrially farmed produce) are common, especially in the United States.

The statistics on factory farming are alarming!

Animals in Medical Research:

Each year, hundreds of millions of animals all over the world suffer and die in cruel experiments deemed “medical research.” Most experiments performed on animals are conducted with the intent of finding the causes of, and treatments for, human diseases. Test animals—which include cats, dogs, rodents, rabbits, non-human primates, fish, birds, livestock, and reptiles, among other creatures—are almost always kept in the uncomfortable confines of too-small cages, enclosures, or tanks while undergoing experimentation.

Scientists try new drugs—some of which prove to be harmful and/or fatal—in so-called “safety” or “toxicity” tests on animals to check for any potential side effects that may affect humans. The problem with such tests is that animals do not react to most drugs in the same ways humans do. Studies have shown that around 92% of new drugs passed as “safe” in such animal toxicity tests prove to fail as safe in clinical trials on humans.

Another type of research on animals is disease research, in which scientists try to recreate human illnesses in animals so that they can study the trajectory of the illnesses and find cures. The problem is, animals usually do not suffer from the same diseases as humans, and if they do, they typically do not experience the same types of symptoms. Animals are deliberately infected with deadly viruses, irradiated to the point of developing lethal cancers, surgically mutilated, and injected with toxic chemicals. Brain damage is deliberately induced in monkeys to search for ways to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain diseases. Some animals are subjected to horrendous treatment like food deprivation, solitary confinement, and immobilization so that their bodies may only perform functions atypical from natural animal behavior: essentially, they are tortured in the hopes of being driven “crazy” so that researchers may study conditions like depression and schizophrenia in humans.

Much like traditional disease research on animals, scientists are now breeding genetically modified (GM) animals. These creatures are bred with myriad augmented gene sequences and mutations in an effort to mimic different human genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, asthma, obesity, cancer, and Down syndrome. Again, a major problem is this: a substantial number of genetically modified animals do not get the same disease symptoms or react to drugs in the same ways as humans. 

Animals as Entertainment:

Another issue of animal rights stems from the exploitation of animals in the entertainment industry. In particular, the use of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) as entertainment at marine entertainment parks has come under fire in recent years. Instances of dolphin and whale “suicide” as well as attacks on marine mammal trainers by animals, especially orcas, have become increasingly common in recent years.

Besides cetaceans, other animals—including “circus animals” like elephants and tigers; animal actors that appear in films and advertisements, animals like donkeys or camels who give “rides” or are used in “games” or “contests,” horses who pull carriages, horses and dogs used in racing, animals used in fighting “sports” such as dogs or bulls or roosters, rodeo animals like bulls and hogs, wildlife or game animals that are hunted for “sport,” and animals used in other exploitative situations in which they are forced to work, fight, or be displayed as “entertainment” to people—are often subjected to short, sad lives all for human enjoyment.   

Homeless Pets:

An estimated one billion domesticated animals currently live in shelters or roam the street. Most of these animals will end up euthanized, will live short and sad lives in the confines of a shelter enclosure, or will die on the streets. Feral cats and feral dogs, as well as strays abandoned by their owners can pose a risk to people, pets, and wildlife, sometimes showing aggression and carrying disease. Every year, it is estimated that outdoor cats (both ferals and pets) kill between 1.4 and 3.4 billion birds and 15 billion mammals per year. Since they are often unneutered or unsprayed, the population of feral or stray animals can quickly skyrocket in any given area, placing an enormous strain on its environmental resources.

What’s been done?

Factory Farming:

PETA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals works to promote animal rights for domestic, farm, and free-living creatures. The group lobbies on behalf of creatures that typically do not have a voice in legislative decision-making. Other groups, such as the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), work on behalf of livestock and poultry, promoting veganism and fair treatment of animals. The Humane Society produces reports on farming, investigating instances of animal mistreatment worldwide.


Animals in Medical Research:

In the United States, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—enacted in 1966—is the only federal health law that works to protect animals in research, and is enforced by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This law (meant to provide regulation for the care and use of animals in research, testing teaching, exhibition, transport, and sale), however, is flawed; providing only minimal protection for certain species while excluding others such as rats, mice, and birds bred for research (a cohort of creatures which make up 90-95% of animals in laboratories). The law also excludes cold-blooded animals and farm animals bred for food, fiber, or agricultural research. For the less than 10% of all other animals in laboratories, the law sets minimal standards for housing, feeding, handling, veterinary care, and sometimes psychological well-being. Though the USDA may find facilities not in compliance with the AWA, often penalties are simply small fines; slaps on the wrist which only perpetuate the medical industry’s cycle of abuse on lab animals. Most often, the USDA’s inspections are too infrequent or inadequate to provide proper protection for animals subject to medical testing.

Also in the US, the federal Public Health Service Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (under the federal Office of Laboratory Welfare) works to protect animals in the National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded research through recommended policy only, not actual laws. While the NIH has the power to inspect animal research facilities, it relies on self-reporting, a strategy which is flawed.  

In response to these problematic policies, activist groups such as the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) (based in Boston, Massachusetts), work to replace laboratory animals with modern alternatives to animal testing that are “ethically, humanely, and scientifically superior.” Learn about their campaigns that advocate legislation/policy change, scientific research, public outreach, education/medical training, and rescue/sanctuary. Another group seeking to help laboratory animals is the Animal Welfare Institute.


Animals as Entertainment:

Activists groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society fight for the rights of cetaceans using nonviolent protest tactics. In recent years, the group has mobilized against using cetaceans in the entertainment industry and against illegal whaling, which has been banned by the International Whaling Commission. Feigning “research,” many countries deploy whaling fleets for monetary gain, selling whale meat, organ, fat, and bones illegally.


Animal rights advocacy:

Many advocacy groups fight the industries purveying animals as entertainment. Below is a list of a few such groups:

Carriage Horses: NYCLASS

Circuses: Born Free USA

Dogfighting: The Humane Society

Greyhound Racing: Grey2K USA Worldwide

General Animal Rights: the Nonhuman Rights Project, PETA, Karuna for Animals: Compassion in Action, Inc., Animal Rights Coalition

Homeless Pets: The American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty, or the ASPCA, works on behalf of animal rights mainly for domestic animals. The ASPCA strongly supports “no kill” community coalitions committed to reducing the number of cats and dogs at risk of being lost, abandoned, or surrendered to shelters in communities all across America. Many dedicated pet rescue groups rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome stray cats, dogs, and other creatures. Such groups include the Villalobos Pitbull Rescue Center (Lousiana), the North Shore Animal League (New York), and Project Sage Horse Rescue (New York).

To help ensure pets live in proper, lifelong, loving homes, many animal rights organizations promote accessible/affordable spay and neutering services, practicing TNR of feral cats, promoting adoption of homeless pets, educating potential pet owners on the responsibilities and the process of selecting a well-matched pet, using microchips and visible ID tags to help reunite lost animals with their owners, and providing ongoing training and assistance to pet owners so they may live successfully with their furry, scaled, or feathered friends.

What can you do?

 -Eat less (or no) meat, eggs, or dairy.

-If you do eat animal products, eat organic, locally grown meat, eggs and dairy, from local farms that allow their animals to live truly "free range” and under conditions that are “Animal Welfare Approved.” Check the labels of any animal products that you consume.

-Report instances of animal cruelty and abuse. Instances of animal neglect, cruelty, or abuse should be reported to the ASPCA or like-minded The Humane Society of the United States.

-If you have the time, resources, and commitment necessary, adopt or foster a pet!

-If you can’t have a pet, but like animals and want to help, try volunteering at a local animal shelter.

-Check out this Humane Society guide on how to help a stray pet or PETA’s guide on what to do if you find a feral or stray animal.

-Check out Alley Cat Allies’ guide to the difference between feral and stray cats.

-Visit an “Animal-Free” Circus!

-Take action to help animals being exploited by circuses by writing to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to confiscate all ailing animals in the possession of the Ringling Bros. Circus.

-Tell animal research funding agencies to stop experimenting on animals by clicking here.


learn more here


10 Reasons to Adopt, Not Buy by Danielle Hanna, Global Animal (2013)

Advocates Gather for Miami Seaquarium’s Lonely Orca Lolita by Elizabeth Batt, Environment (2013)

Animal Overpopulation: What’s the Solution to 600 Million Stray Dogs? by Joanna Zelman, Huffington Post (2011)

Are Chicks Brighter Than Babies? by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times (2013)

A Whale of a Business: PBS Interview – Richard (Ric) O’Barry (1997)

Feral Cat Allies Gather For First National Conference by Amy Worden, (2013)

Should You Eat Chicken? by Mark Bittman, The New York Times (2013)

Tracing Germs Through the Aisles by Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times (2013)



Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement by Peter Singer (2009)

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (2010)

Behind the Dolphin Smile: One Man’s Campaign to Protect the World’s Dolphins by Richard (Ric) O’Barry (2012)

Death at Sea World: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby (2013)

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (2010)

Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals by Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton (2013)

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz (2010)

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall (2010)

The Jungle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Upton Sinclair and Introduction by Eric Schlosser (2006)

The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals by Peter Heller (2008)

We Animals by Jo-Anne McArthur (2013)

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy (1996)


Films (Warning, some are graphic)


Blackfish (2013)

Earthlings (2010)

Fast Food Nation (2006)

Grizzly Man (2005)

Jane Goodall: My Life with Chimpanzees (National Geographic, 2010)

The Cove (2009)


video clips (Warning, some are graphic)


A Better Life for Egg Laying Hens (The Humane Society of the US, 2012)

April 4: Stray Animals Day Official Video (Stray Animals Day, 2011)

Dolphins: Personhood and Rights (Thomas White, 2013)

Feral Cats (The Humane Society of the US, 2012)

Informational Video on Factory Farming and Animal Rights (, 2013)

Inseparable Beagles Survive Years of Animal Testing: Tails of Survival (The Pet Collective Cares, 2013)

To Animals, It’s Not Entertainment (PETA, 2009)

Veganism: It’s More Than a Diet (Jayme Liardi, 2013)