Caution: this is not a blog specifically about dogs, dog training, or dog behavior. It is a blog I originally posted in my non-dog blog, but I feel that it is so important I must post it here as well.  This is the one time I will ask you to kindly hold your tongue if you disagree, since this is NOT a blog of a usual topic. I will hear you out in full if you watched the film, but do not comment negatively if you have not seen it from start to finish. I do not expect everyone to watch the film–it is the most violent film I believe has ever been made (and it is real). I do, however, wish everyone would, since KNOWLEDGE IS EMPOWERMENT AND THE ONLY PATH TO REAL CHANGE. Thank you. 

I recently watched the film “Earthlings” (www.earthlings.com) which is an award-winning documentary about animal suffering. I watched it for two reasons; the first is that I try to watch at least one documentary for every two or three feature films I watch, just to be sure I’m learning something, and the second is that I really feel that anyone who calls themselves an advocate for animals (which I do) should keep their hands in the truth about animal suffering. Though I did not learn much from the film, since I am already well-versed in how much animals are made to suffer for human means, I can’t get it out of my head. I have seen PeTA’s DVD “Meet Your Meat.” I have see horrific things happen to dogs in the name of training (most recently on National Geographic!). I have visted animal shelters and been present for euthanasia. I have seen undercover footage of circuses, not to mention first-hand accounts of animal suffering in that environment. I have even stood within the four walls of a puppy mill, smelled the stench, touched the filthy dogs, looked into their cloudy, hopeless eyes. So none of the footage on the film was brand new for me, but it was expertly filmed (most undercover footage fails to capture the expressions of fear, pain, and utter sorrow in the eyes of the suffering–not so of “Earthlings”), the narration (by Joaquin Phoenix) was superb, and the information was spot-on, not biased and emotional as one might expect. The film begins with the 3 stages of truth; 1. ridicule 2. violent opposition and 3. acceptance. How fitting, since vegetarians and vegans are mocked shamelessly in our society (have you seen the stickers? PeTA: People Eating Tasty Animals, and Vegetarian: Ancient Indian word for ”lousy hunter”) by those who know little of the truth, and if you try to show such people something like “Earthlings,” you will indeed meet a brick wall of violent opposition. Our society has yet to come to the third stage. “Earthlings” then goes on to explore all of the ways in which humankind exploits animals: as pets, as food, as clothing, for entertainment, and for research.

Pets

I am a professional dog trainer. I am certainly not opposed to keeping dogs as well-loved, well-cared-for companion animals. It is my work to spread humane and kind training techniques to the general public, teaching people how to live harmoniously with their dogs without the use of coercive, cruel “training” methods. But I recognize what a serious problem we have in the dog world, and that is overpopulation. I know dogs are killed by the millions every year in this country alone, and not just by humane euthanasia, but by horrific gas chambers (there is a scene of this in the film, as well as a scene of dogs being euthanized the more generally accepted way–by lethal injection) and even guns. The film documents superbly the horror that is puppy mills. What people do not understand is that these operations are LEGAL and DISGUSTING at the SAME TIME. They have a fantasty in their head that the footage and stories of puppy mills are about small, illegal, unusual operations. This is not the case. ALL puppies in pet stores come from these facilities, ALL online/newspaper commercial breeders (yep you can get your puppy via Paypal) are puppy mills, and unless the laws change they always will. People need to know what they are contributing to when they swipe their credit card for the squirmy adorable bundle in the mall shop window.

 Food

The use of animals for food is in no way a new concept. It has been said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians, and I believe the saying should change to “if everyone watched ‘Earthlings’ we’d all be vegans.” Like the puppy mill images, the images of slaughter and factory farming are not isolated cases. This is how it is, the majority of the time. People like to believe their meat was humanely raised and slaughtered, but that is simply not the case. The makers of this film managed to capture the slaughter of a cow in a the biggest Kosher slaughterhouse in America–and by doing so illustrated the blatant violation of Kosher laws in meat slaughter that is commonplace. This scene is one in the film that will stay with me, as it is more violent and disturbing than anything I have seen before. The film does what no animal rights film I have ever seen has done, it explains, step-by-step the slaughter process for all major sources of meat–cows, pigs, and chickens. It captures all of the brutal husbandry practices, right up to the animals’ excruciating final minutes. It is purely factual. No emotional rants or raves from the narration occur, and they are not necessary. The cries of pain and obvious suffering are plenty. I wish all people who wish to eat meat were required to watch “Earthlings.”

Clothing

A lot of people who wear leather are opposed to fur, and a lot of people who eat meat are opposed to fur, etc. etc. Fur farms are shown in the film, as is the slaughter and skinning of these helpless animals, produced only for fashion’s sake. Leather is the industry fewer people are opposed to, and even I was shocked to learn that most leather comes from cows purchased in India (where cow slaughter is illegal, and the people who purchase the cows ensure the cow’s former owners of their intentions of giving the cow a long and fruitful life). The treatment of these animals is, of course, brutal and violent, up till the bitter end. And for what? For clothing? Clothing can be equally functional when made of synthetic materials, and let’s face it, fur’s been out of fashion for anyone with a soul for a long time.

Entertainment

I have long been opposed to circuses and rodeos, and only stand stronger in my convictions after watching “Earthlings.” Humankind is a special kind, since they are the only ones who cause pain for sport, knowing it is pain. Rodeos are the prime example of this, and are nothing but savage displays of man’s egotistical need to cause suffering to other animals for “fun.” Other bloodsports like bull fighting are documented in the film, with narration that goes deeper into the facts behind this sport (like how the bulls are given severe doses of laxitives prior to fighting to weaken them). The lies circus animal trainers feed the public are almost humorously displayed, as everyone knows if elephant handlers were using positive reinforcement they’d have clickers and bags of treats, not long metal hooks and prods. A disturbing scene in which a new elephant handler is being trained (and the more experienced handler tells him “if you’re afraid to hurt them, get the hell out of this room”) will stay with me for a long time, as a positive animal trainer myself.

Research

One of the most brutal ways in which humankind exploits animals is through research, be it medical, cosmetic, or for other scientific ventures (even NASA does brutal things to apes in the name of space travel–like sending them to space and seeing how long they live). “Earthlings” does an exquisite job of documenting the savage nature of the scientist who chooses to experiment on animals. A scene in which a baboon’s head is cemented into a steel helmet that is then violently snapped at an unnatural and severe angle (all in the name of head injury research) is one of the most troubling in the film. The narration goes into the reasons this research is unnecessary and can even retard helpful research, making it tough to argue that such cruelty is for a greater cause.

I urge anyone, whether determined animal rights activist, animal welfare lobbyist, blissfully unaware, on the fence, or skeptic, to watch “Earthlings.” I guarantee no one will walk away from this film unchanged. As Woody Harrelson said, “A must see for anyone who cares enough to know.”

Advertisements