Got Milk?

A lot of locals are (rightfully) all worked up this week over news that a dog-sledding operation in Whistler had one of their employees shoot 100 dogs, because business was too slow to need all the animals.

Out of the buzz from this story has come a dialogue about why we’re outraged by how these dogs were treated, but still okay with factory farming operations that mistreat orders of magnitude more animals each year in the name of dinner.

Arguments from many sides have come up, including one from people in agriculture who recognize that food animals can’t be killed in the traumatic manner these dogs were, because it would ruin the meat. Which is true. McDonald’s wouldn’t have spent millions working with Temple Grandin to re-engineer their supply-chain if it weren’t good for the bottom line.

A frightened cow, pig or chicken is one with adrenaline coursing through its blood, which makes the meat bitter. Which is unacceptable, especially considering how heavily engineered current food breeds are to mild (some say flavourless) meat.

In truth, these dogs were treated much more like the male offspring of dairy animals, than food animals.

A basic lesson in biology for those who think milk comes from jugs at the supermarket: In order to give a quantity of quality milk, dairy animals (much like their human equivalents) must give birth. And because we haven’t figured out how to breed 95% female offspring in any mammal, about 50% of those offspring are male.

The luckiest males come from hearty breeding stock and are kept around for a few years to mature and breed. The next luckiest are killed humanely at birth or turned into ethically-raised veal. Unlucky boys are kept in unsuitable veal pens and fattened up for a few months before being dispatched, and a huge amount are drowned or bludgeoned to death immediately after birth.

Penelope Trunk recently got herself a couple of free goat kids exactly because of this.

This is another unfortunate side-effect of purpose-breeding ruminants: dairy animals have terrible yield for meat, and meat animals don’t give the quality or quantity of milk to make them worth keeping for dairy use.

These dogs suffered the same fate as those dairy boys. They had become a financial liability (feeding, housing, heath) to a business when they weren’t able to generate revenue. In theory, I don’t actually have a problem with the dog cull. But I have a BIG problem with the apparent lack of effort taken to re-home these dogs (a much easier task with a husky than a holstein), and then the inhumane way they were killed.

Bottom line: when animals are also assets, things get messy. And when we start thinking of them as machines rather than mammals it’s all too easy to do the wrong thing. It’s also clear that being so far separated from the source of our food makes it much easier to turn a blind eye and allow the “wrong thing” to continue.

Any time we interact with animals, from a food or tourist perspective, we owe it to them to ensure their working conditions are at least as humane as we’d demand for any sentient creature: free from threat, disease, undue stress and danger.

And if you consume dairy, you are not saving any cute baby cows by taking an ethical stand against veal.

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4 thoughts on “Got Milk?

  1. Donna

    I’m confused: Who’s to say that people aren’t pissed about that, too? Granted, my general boycott of dairy products is because it makes me sick more than the humane aspect, but I’m not precisely a fan of animal cruelty in any form.

    My biggest problem with the husky cull is the fact that NO effort was made to rehome the dogs. This is BC, it’s EASILY do-able. We have so many no-kill shelters & rescues — something that simply isn’t possible in most states. 100 dogs is an awful lot, but it’s do-able. HugABull rehabilitated and rehomed (with help from other rescues) 23 pitbulls from a cruelty seizure last summer. Of the 49 Vicktory dogs (from the Michael Vick seizure), 48 of them were successfully saved. And these were fighting dogs — well trained sled dogs would have been a cinch compared to that.

    This was a cruel, heartless waste, pure and simple. There were easy alternatives that wouldn’t have been any more fiscally problematic than slashing their throats. And they didn’t even try.

  2. Renee

    Donna: I think the issue is that people who happily drink milk are suddenly up in arms about something that is, in effect, the same in terms of net suffering (less, actually, since this was sort of a rare occurrence – but people drink hundreds of litres of milk a year).

    There should have been an effort to find homes for the dogs, I agree, but it’s frustrating that people suddenly care when it’s a dog but not when it’s thousands of pigs and cows, every day, a cruelty they themselves are contributing to by their very purchasing habits, and something within their power to stop.
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  4. Nicole

    Great post. My initial reaction was fairly similar. The dog cull was awful, and it wasn’t done properly at all. BUT, these were sled dogs. I’ve had a lot of contact with sled dogs, and it’s very important to understand that these ARE NOT pets. They’re working dogs that have been raised with other dogs (not people). They are raised in ways that bring out all of the innate dog traits that we try to breed/train out of dogs. Most importantly, their natural hierarchical system is allowed/encouraged to establish, which means that they fight, aggressively, to be dominant. Indeed, a good sled team is one in which every dog knows its place within the hierarchy, so they run hard and competitively. I’m very comfortable around dogs, including (especially) big dogs. I know how to communicate with them and handle them. I am AFRAID of sled dogs. They do not know how to communicate with humans (with the exception of their handlers, but even then, there are very distinct boundaries). So, unless these animals were adopted out to other sled dog facilities, they wouldn’t have found homes. Actually, I think putting one of these dogs into a home would be cruel in its own way. So, I’m not saying that the dogs should have been culled in the inhumane manner that they were. Certainly there are ways of euthanizing dogs that are less cruel. But, it’s unlikely they would have/should have been adopted out. Also, yes, your comparisons with agriculture are very valid.

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