MONEY Second Career

3 Secrets to Launching a Successful Second Act Career

Adele Douglass created the first U.S. humane certification program for farm animals raised for food Robert Merhaut

Adele Douglass built a non-profit that protects millions of farm animals and gives farmers a new marketing niche.

After a three-decade career in Washington devoted to animal welfare issues, Adele Douglass thought she knew a lot about how bad their mistreatment could get. Still, she was shocked when she began to look closely at the conditions of farm animals in the U.S.

She discovered chickens being raised in cages so overcrowded they couldn’t raise their wings, pigs unable to turn around in tightly packed pens, and animals left unsheltered against outdoor elements.

Douglass decided the best way to improve the conditions of livestock was to push for change herself. So in 2003, at age 57, she quit her job as a non-profit executive for an animal rights association and launched her own organization, Humane Farm Animal Care. “The more I knew, the more appalled I got, and the more I wanted to do something myself,” says Douglass, now 67. “Legislation was not going to solve the problem. It took 100 years for the Humane Slaughter Act to be passed.”

Douglass figured out a way to engage farmers and consumers on the issue—by addressing their growing concerns over eating meat from animals being fed antibiotics. She developed Certified Humane, which is the first certification in the U.S. that guarantees farm animals are treated humanely from birth to slaughter. To get this certification, farmers must allow animals to engage in natural behaviors, provide appropriate space for roaming, and food free of antibiotics or hormones. Farmers who are Certified Humane can market to natural food shoppers and get higher prices for their products, Douglass says.

Humanely raised food appeals to American families of all income levels. “Young mothers want to feed their families good food. Poor people don’t want to feed their families junk” says Douglass.” Following humane practices also improves the environment, since fewer animals raised on more space creates less pollution.

To fund the organization, Douglass cashed in her $80,000 401(k) account. Her daughter, who had encouraged her to make the move, gave her $10,000 and worked at the organization during its first few years. Douglass also received grants from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and The Humane Society. In the first year of operation in 2004, 143,000 animals were raised under the organization’s standards.

Today 87 million animals are in the program, and the non-profit has three full-time employees and two part-timers. Fees for certification and annual inspections cover about 30% of the organization’s costs—the rest comes from donations and grants.

Douglass shares this advice for others hoping to launch a second act career:

Make a plan before you exit. Douglass spent years researching the issue before quitting her job. She was able to get off the ground in just one year because she modeled the certification program after an existing similar program in the U.K. called Freedom Food.

Leverage your contacts. Douglass has a deep list of connections, from animal scientists and USDA officials to fundraisers and academics, as well as contacts in the animal rights movement and veterinary profession. “I had the contacts, knowledge and experience which gave me confidence I could do this on my own,” says Douglass.

Cut personal expenses. Though Douglass’ salary isn’t much less than what she earned in her previous career, her compensation is a lot more volatile. She has willingly taken pay cuts in recent years. Douglass says she hasn’t had to change her lifestyle much. But she reduced her biggest expense—her home—by downsizing to a smaller place, which made it easier to adjust.

At 67, Douglass doesn’t envision retiring. Now living alone, with three adult children and five grandchildren, she says her family is one of her greatest joys. But her work remains an enormously satisfying part of her life too. “Sure, there are days when I am tired and frustrated. But I am doing something that benefits people, animals and the environment. I feel really good about that,” says Douglass.

Adele Douglass is a 2007 winner of The Purpose Prize, a program operated by Encore.org, a non-profit organization that recognizes social entrepreneurs over 60 who are launching second acts for the greater good.

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TIME Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court Upholds a California Ban on Foie Gras

Forbidden Foie Gras Goes Underground At California 'Duckeasies'
A worker performs "gavage," or force feeding, on ducks in the preparation of foie gras at Hudson Valley Farms in Ferndale, New York, U.S., on Sunday, July 15, 2012. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Haute diners in California will have to do without

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld California’s ban on foie gras, refusing to hear an appeal against the state’s kibosh on products made by “force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond a normal size,” Reuters reports.

Foie gras, French for “fatty liver,” is made by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese, a process that animal-rights activists have described as cruel and unethical. The birds’ unnaturally enlarged livers are then harvested for high-end dining.

A Los Angeles-based restaurant group, a foie gras producer in New York, and a group of foie gras farmers in Canada had challenged the ban, calling it a violation of federal protections barring states from interfering in interstate commerce, Reuters says.

The ban was passed in 2004 but went into effect in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

[Reuters]

Read next: The Case Against Eating Ethically-Raised Meat

TIME ebola

360,000 Sign Petition to Spare Ebola Patient’s Dog

Spanish Nurse Tests Positive For Ebola
'Excalibur' barks from the balcony of the private residence for the Spanish nurse who has tested positive for the Ebola virus on October 8, 2014 in Alcorcon, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

"Excalibur" is at the mercy of Spanish officials, who want to euthanize the dog after one of its owners contracted the disease

Animal lovers have protested, tweeted and petitioned by the tens of thousands to stop Spanish officials from euthanizing an Ebola patient’s dog.

The outcry began shortly after the patient’s husband, Javier Limon, posted a YouTube plea to animal lovers to help spare the life of “Excalibur”. NBC News reports that Limon has been placed in isolation in a Madrid hospital ever since his wife, nurse-aide Teresa Romero Ramos, became the first person to contract the virus outside of west Africa while caring for a Spanish priest who had returned from the region.

Limon said in the recorded appeal, “I’m in the hospital and I’m sending a call to all the population for them to help me save my dog, Excalibur, who they just want to kill just like that without following any proper procedures.”

There have been no documented cases of dogs spreading Ebola to humans, or vice-versa, though other animals may become carriers.

Animal lovers protested outside the couple’s apartment in a southern suburb of Madrid on Wednesday, where Excalibur had been holed up alone with a bathtub full of drinking water and 33 pounds of dog food, Limon told Spanish daily El Mundo. “Murderer,” several shouted at health workers who had arrived to disinfect the apartment.

Protesters also launched a petition to spare Excalibur which has gathered more than 360,000 signatures to date and flooded Twitter with pictures of their own pet dogs signs reading, “#SalvemosaExcalibur.”

The campaign has intensified amid conflicting reports of the dog’s fate in local media, best summed up by the El Mundo headline “¿Dónde está Excalibur?” The most recent update posted by Limon on Facebook says the dog has not yet been taken away by authorities.

 

TIME animals

Is a Chimpanzee a ‘Legal Person’? Court Set to Decide

Tarongas Animals Receive Christmas Treats
Lisa Maree Williams—Getty Images

Could determine if a chimpanzee has a legal status akin to personhood, thereby making its captivity unlawful

A New York appeals court will begin hearing a landmark case on Wednesday that could determine if a chimpanzee has a legal status akin to personhood, thereby making its captivity unlawful.

Animal rights lawyer Steven Wise filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee kept by a private owner in upstate New York. The lawsuit alleged that keeping the chimpanzee in captivity was unlawful, because a chimpanzee was not merely a possession of the owner, but rather “a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.”

As such, the case called upon the court to grant Tommy the status of “legal personhood,” thereby extending the fundamental human right of habeas corpus, or the right to not be unlawfully imprisoned, to a primate.

The case grabbed headlines, including TIME’s, for its ambitious attempt to blur a longstanding legal distinction between humans and animals. The organization pressing the case, the Nonhuman Rights Project, has stated that the case will not end with Tommy: “Our goal is, very simply, to breach the legal wall that separates all humans from all nonhuman animals.”

TIME Japan

Japan’s Annual Dolphin Hunt Has Resumed

Fishermen in wetsuits hunt dolphins at a cove in Taiji
Fishermen hunt dolphins at a cove in Taiji, western Japan, on Jan. 20, 2014 Adrian Mylne—Reuters

The slaughter made infamous in the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove is still happening

The Japanese coastal village of Taiji has begun its annual dolphin hunt again this month, CNN reports.

The hunt, which runs from September to March, has long been the focus of outrage among environmental activists and was even made into an Oscar-winning documentary in 2009 called The Cove.

However, locals in Taiji, a town in Wakayama prefecture with a population of 3,500, say that hunting dolphins and whales is crucial to the region’s economy.

They appear to have the support of the Wakayama prefectural government, which declined CNN’s request for an interview but referred them to a statement on its website that calls dolphins and whales a legitimate marine resource.

“Located far away from the centers of economic activity, the town has a 400-year history as the cradle of whaling, and has flourished over the years thanks to whaling and the dolphin fishery,” the statement says.

Environmental organizations like Sea Shepherd, which has been broadcasting a live feed of the hunts for the past five years and running a robust social-media campaign against them, say the dolphins are tortured and treated inhumanely before they are killed.

The dolphins are captured and killed using a method known as “drive hunting,” which involves boatmen banging metal poles to cause deafness and disorientation in the dolphins, who then swim away from the boats and straight into the killing cove.

“Once netted into the cove, the dolphins are literally wrangled and tethered, often sustaining bloody wounds … The dolphin hunters use large metal rods to penetrate the spinal cord,” said Melissa Sehgal, Sea Shepherd’s campaign coordinator for the Taiji project.

Sehgal said the dolphins do not die immediately but are left to bleed out or drown in their own blood, a practice she described as “barbaric.”

Although most of the marine mammals are killed and sold for meat, a few choice specimens are captured. Captive dolphins can reportedly fetch over $100,000 from aquariums.

Sea Shepherd estimates that over the past three hunting seasons, there have been nearly 2,600 dolphins killed and a little under 500 taken captive.

[CNN]

TIME Companies

So Long, Shamu: Southwest, SeaWorld End Ties

Southwest Airlines debuts Penguin One in celebration of 25 years
Southwest Airlines debuts its newest specialty plane, Penguin One, in celebration of 25 years of partnership with SeaWorld on June 20, 2013 Stephen M. Keller—Southwest Airlines/AP

The decision comes amid animal-rights backlash, but the two companies insist the break is "mutual"

Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment will be ending their 26-year relationship, a decision that comes a year after a documentary film raised questions about the theme-park chain’s treatment of whales.

In a joint statement released on Thursday, the two sides described the decision to end their decades-long co-marketing scheme as “mutual.”

“The companies decided not to renew the contract based on shifting priorities,” read the statement, explaining that the airliner would focus on expanding into international service while SeaWorld is eyeing new opportunities to grow in Asian and Latin American markets.

The press release made no mention of the pressure both companies have faced since the release of the film Blackfish last year. The documentary focuses on the alleged mistreatment of SeaWorld orcas and the violent deaths of several trainers working with the animals.

A petition posted on Change.org calling on Southwest to terminate its relationship with the Florida-based amusement-park chain garnered 30,000 signatures. Attendance at SeaWorld parks dropped 4.1% in the last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The three Southwest aircraft painted to promote the amusement parks will return to the company’s traditional livery by year’s end.

TIME Pets

The Problem With Pit Bulls

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Pit Bull Square Dog Photography—Getty Images/Flickr Select

It's horrible that KFC kicked out that 3-year-old girl, but let's focus on the real problem: pit bulls were bred to be violent

The social media universe became furious at KFC this week after an employee reportedly asked a 3-year-old victim of a dog attack to leave one of their restaurants because “her face is disrupting our customers.”

Read a response to this piece from the American Pit Bull Foundation.

But it wasn’t KFC employees who broke down the door to Victoria Wilcher’s grandfather’s house and mauled the toddler until half her face was paralyzed and she lost the use of one of her eyes. Three pit bulls did that.

Pit bulls make up only 6% of the dog population, but they’re responsible for 68% of dog attacks and 52% of dog-related deaths since 1982, according to research compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, an animal-news organization that focuses on humane work and animal-cruelty prevention.

Clifton himself has been twice attacked by dogs (one pit bull), and part of his work involves logging fatal and disfiguring attacks. Clifton says that for the 32 years he’s been recording, there has never been a year when pit bulls have accounted for less than half of all attacks. A CDC report on dog-bite fatalities from 1978 to 1998 confirms that pit bulls are responsible for more deaths than any other breed, but the CDC no longer collects breed-specific information.

Another report published in the April 2011 issue of Annals of Surgery found that one person is killed by a pit bull every 14 days, two people are injured by a pit bull every day, and young children are especially at risk. The report concludes that “these breeds should be regulated in the same way in which other dangerous species, such as leopards, are regulated.” That report was shared with TIME by PETA, the world’s largest animal-rights organization.

The little girl’s grandfather shot and killed the three dogs that attacked her, and both he and his girlfriend are facing child-endangerment charges. KFC has donated $30,000 to the girl’s family to help with her medical bills, and more money keeps flooding in. But so far the outrage has been directed at the rude KFC employee, not at the growing problem of pit-bull maulings.

As pit-bull attacks become more and more common, they’re getting increasing attention on social media, but not always in support of the wounded children. In March, a Facebook petition to save Mickey, a dangerous pit bull in Phoenix, got over 70,000 likes. Mickey was facing euthanasia for mauling 4-year-old Kevin Vincente so badly that he cracked his jaw, eye socket and cheekbone. Kevin is facing months of reconstructive surgery, but more people were concerned with saving the dog than helping the boy. Mickey’s Facebook page has now become a social-media landing page to save other dogs that are considered dangerous.

Clifton says he’s seen an unprecedented rise in dog maulings in recent years, as more pit bulls enter the shelter system. Between 1858 and 2000, there are only two recorded instances of shelter dogs killing humans. From 2000 to 2009, there were three fatal attacks involving shelter dogs (one pit bull, one breed similar to a pit bull, and one Doberman). But from 2010 to 2014, there have been 35 shelter dogs who fatally attacked humans. All but 11 were pit bulls.

Supporters say pit bulls are getting a bad rap. Sara Enos, founder and president of the American Pit Bull Foundation, said that it’s wrong to blame dog attacks on pit bulls, because it’s the owners who are to blame. “It really boils down to being responsible owners,” she said. “Any dog from any breed can be aggressive, it matters how it’s treated.” And, as TIME reported in 2013, pit-bull owners all over the country are trying to rebrand the breed, insisting pit bulls can have a softer side when treated humanely.

Many pit-bull advocacy organizations, including BAD RAP, did not want to comment for this story. But there is a growing backlash against the idea that pit bulls are more violent than other dogs. “There is not any breed of dog that is inherently more dangerous,” said Marcy Setter of the Pit Bull Rescue Center. “That’s simply not true.”

But critics say that pit bulls are inherently dangerous no matter how they’re treated, because violence is in their DNA. “Why do herding dogs herd? Why do pointing dogs point? They don’t learn that behavior, that’s selective behavior,” says Colleen Lynn, president and founder of DogsBite.org, a national dog-bite-victims group dedicated to reducing dog attacks. “Pit bulls were specifically bred to go into that pit with incredible aggression and fight.”

“Every kind of dog is neglected and abused,” Clifton agrees. “And not every kind of dog responds to the neglect and abuse by killing and injuring people.”

But there’s another root cause of the rise in pit-bull attacks, one you might not think of: Hurricane Katrina.

Pit bulls are especially popular in Louisiana and Mississippi, and many of the volunteers responding to Hurricane Katrina found themselves saving stranded dogs. Most of the pit bulls they saved had been kept inside and behaved well around the rescuers, Clifton said, because they knew their survival depended on it. The dogs who were rescued were good pit bulls, he says, and “the real badasses, the ones chained outside, were drowned.”

Clifton said that many of the volunteers, who had very little experience with dog rescue, became attached to the breed and involved in pit-bull advocacy. And that helped galvanize the pro-pit-bull movement in the wake of Michael Vick’s 2007 dogfighting scandal. That movement helped encourage more people to adopt pit bulls as lack of sterilization caused the population to grow.

“If you need a marker in your head for when pit bulls got out of control, it’s 2007 with Michael Vick,” Lynn says. Vick’s high-profile trial for dogfighting and cruelty to animals roused a growing sympathy for pit bulls, which led more people to adopt them and bring them into their homes.

Dogbites.org

“We need to get used to mauling injuries, because we’re going to be seeing a lot more of them,” warns Lynn. “Each of us will know a mauled, disfigured child by a known dangerous breed of dog. There will be one in every school.”

But what can be done about the growing number of pit bulls? Some say the best solution would be breed-specific sterilization, which would curb the pit-bull population and reduce euthanasia in shelters. Most dogs of all breeds are spayed and neutered — about 80%, by Clifton’s estimation. But only 20% of pit bulls are sterilized, partly because the population that owns pit bulls tends to resist the spay-neuter message. He notes that there are a number of free sterilization programs for pit bulls, including one run by the ASPCA, but that even the largest programs aren’t sterilizing enough pit bulls to reduce the number of shelter intakes.

Lynn agrees that breed-specific sterilization laws are the most humane and efficient way to deal with the situation and avoid having more dogs euthanized. “If you want to hit that ‘no kill’ status, you better do something about the pit-bull problem.” Pit bulls currently account for 63% of the dogs put down in shelters, but only 38% of the admissions. Lynn says that all pit bulls should be sterilized, except those that come from licensed breeders.

Even PETA, the largest animal-rights organization in the world, supports breed-specific sterilization for pit bulls. “Pit bulls are a breed-specific problem, so it seems reasonable to target them,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president of cruelty investigations. “The public is misled to believe that pit bulls are like any other dog. And they just aren’t.” Even the ASPCA acknowledges on its website that pit bulls are genetically different than other dogs. “Pit bulls have been bred to behave differently during a fight,” it says. “They may not give warning before becoming aggressive, and they’re less likely to back down when clashing with an opponent.”

Opponents of sterilization argue that it can be difficult to determine which dogs are pit bulls, and that breed-specific efforts are unfair to certain dogs. “When you discriminate against a breed, you’re also discriminating against good dogs as well,” Enos said. Setter of Pit Bull Rescue Central opposes breed-specific sterilization because she says it’s ineffective, because the laws don’t target irresponsible owners.

But Nachminovitch said PETA stands by breed-specific sterilization as a common-sense solution to what has become a human-safety issue. “These dogs were bred to bait bulls. They were bred to fight each other to the death,” she said. “Just because we’re an animal-rights organization doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about public safety.”

Updated: The original version of this story referred to reports that a girl who had been mauled by pitbulls had been asked to leave a KFC restaurant. KFC, which initially apologized, now says two investigations have yielded no evidence the incident actually took place.

TIME Australia

Animal-Welfare Groups Hopping Mad Over Canberra’s Kangaroo Cull

Eastern gray kangaroos graze near Canberra Élodie Raitière—AFP/Getty Images

The Australian Capital Territory wants to reduce the number of kangaroos hopping about town for environmental reasons. But animal-rights groups are challenging the cull in court, saying the science isn't conclusive just yet

The old cliché about kangaroos hopping down the streets of Australia happens to be true in the national capital Canberra. Set 150 km from the east coast, among vast eucalyptus forests that are heavily prone to drought, the city’s parks, gardens, golf courses and sports grounds have proved irresistible to the iconic marsupial that is featured alongside the emu on Australia’s coat of arms. In fact, some of Canberra’s nature reserves boast the highest densities of kangaroos on the continent.

“Seeing kangaroos in urban areas is one of the best aspects of living in Canberra,” says Tara Ward, a legislative drafter with the Department of the Environment. “It’s one of the top things tourists want to see here because they don’t have to go for long drives to see our native animals.”

Yet interactions between humans and kangaroos can easily turn sour. In 2009, a kangaroo crashed through the window of a Canberra home, terrorized a family and gouged holes in their furniture until it escaped through an open door. In 2010, a footballer was knocked unconscious when he ran into a kangaroo in a Canberra park, while another man received deep gashes to his legs last year when he collided with one on a front lawn during his morning jog. “We both got a nasty fright — and of course when kangaroos are startled they lash out,” the victim, the capital territory’s minister for territory and municipal services Shane Rattenbury, said at the time.

In seeming contradiction to the philosophies of the Australian Greens party he represents, Rattenbury is now spearheading Canberra’s controversial kangaroo cull. Introduced in 2008 to prevent overgrazing, this year’s shoot puts over 1,600 eastern gray kangaroos in the cross hairs. “The primary goal of the conservation cull is to maintain kangaroos at sustainable densities to minimize the impact of heavy grazing on other native fauna and flora,” explains the Territory and Municipal Services website. “High numbers of kangaroos can eat down the ground-layer vegetation so it is no longer able to provide food and shelter for small animals.”

Australian National University conservation expert Professor David Lindenmayer says the science behind the cull is solid. “These woodlands were designed to have major predators like Tasmanian tigers, dingoes and Aboriginal hunters that were the key processes of population regulation,” he says. “And now we have significant amounts of extra water and grass, so it’s a double whammy.”

He adds, “Herbivore overpopulation is not just happening here, but in the U.S. and Patagonia with deer and with other species in different parts of the world. So for animal-welfare groups to say there is no evidence of it happening is like people saying there is no evidence of climate change. The data is very strong.”

Yet one of those welfare groups, Animal Liberation ACT, has thrown the demand for evidence-based environmental management back in the Establishment’s face. Earlier this month, the group’s lawyers, the Animal Defenders Office, persuaded a judge to grant a stay against the kangaroo cull on the basis that the government has failed in its duty to prove the kangaroo cull had improved biodiversity over the past six years.

“They have not collected any baseline data or monitoring data on the conditions of other species on the reserves they say they are saving,” says legislative drafter Ward, who moonlights as a volunteer with the Animal Defenders Office. “If the government wants to go and kill more than 1,600 healthy wild animals, we have to be clear that the science is impeccable before we let them do that.”

“And remember, those 1,600 deaths don’t take into account the joeys that have to be brutally dispatched by shooters after they’ve killed their mothers,” she says. “Part of the applicant’s contention is that it is impossible to carry this out without cruelty being involved.”

David Nicholls, a 70-year-old farmer who spent his whole life working in the bush — two years as a “roo shooter” — agrees. “You try to get clean head shots but it’s difficult because kangaroos are very jumpy — the slightest noise or change in the wind startles them,” he says. “You tell me which Olympic shooter can achieve 100% clean shots every time, even in perfect conditions? The clean-head-shot theory is a myth.”

The hearing to indefinitely end Canberra’s kangaroo cull commences on Thursday and concludes on June 2. In a bid to cool tempers, Rattenbury’s office has announced plans to use the drug deslorelin to neuter 500 eastern grays on a trial basis — the largest neutering drive ever performed on kangaroos. But with costs projected at $830 per animal — three times what it costs to shoot them — and data showing deslorelin can cause cancer, the trial isn’t expected to go mainstream anytime soon. “And even if it does work, those nonbreeding animals will continue to eat large amounts of food throughout their lives,” says Lindenmayer.

“The reality is this debate is not about science or the environment. It’s about people’s value sets,” he says. “Some people look at the world from a purely utilitarian viewpoint; others have a strictly bioethical position.”

TIME Animal Rights

Don’t Feel Guilty About Eating Animals

Yum. Want it? Then eat it.
Yum. Want it? Then eat it. Getty Images

Like it or not, you're a carnivore. You can eat meat or you can pass it up, but either way, spare yourself any moral agony — a new study confirms our brains are hardwired to justify such decisions to ourselves

If a cow could eat you, it would. It wouldn’t give a hoot about your feelings. It wouldn’t kill you quickly or humanely and it certainly wouldn’t worry about whether it was right to make a meal of you in the first place. It would ask itself one question: Am I hungry? If the answer was yes, you’d be lunch.

In that one way, at least, the carnivorous cow would be smarter than we are. The hard truth is, we eat meat, we love meat, and our bodies are built to digest meat. It would be nice if we could pick the stuff off the trees, but we can’t. So apologies to goats and pigs and cows and chickens and fish and lobster and shrimp and all the other scrumptious stuff that flies and walks and swims, but you’re goin’ down.

That, of course, is the primal, flesh-craving part of our brain talking. But other parts—our softer, cuddlier, morally tormented parts—are consumed by guilt over taking a life to make a meal. The only way to reconcile our minds, to say nothing of our menus, is either to go vegan—try that for a week—or to convince ourselves that despite the critter murder we effectively endorse every time we tuck into a pork chop or a chicken salad, we are still somehow decent, somehow good. That takes some fancy ethical footwork.

The main dodge we usually rely on is the “animals can’t think so they never know what hit them” excuse. That may well be true when you get below a certain point on the cognitive scale. As no less a figure than Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer—whose 1975 book Animal Liberation launched the animal rights movement—told me in an interview a few years ago: “I think there’s very little likelihood that oysters, mussels and clams have any consciousness, so it’s defensible to eat them.”

That case gets harder to make as you climb the critter ladder, and even chickens—as sublimely dumb a bird as ever lived—must have at least a dim light flickering upstairs, never mind pigs or even octopi that exhibit complex behaviors and a certain cleverness. But as a new study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science shows, we’ve found ways around that problem too.

In a series of experiments and surveys, a team led by research psychologist Steve Loughnan of the University of Melbourne confirmed that while people across a broad range of cultures agree that the more mindful an animal is, the less defensible it is to eat it, we have a convenient way of deciding which critters think and which don’t. If you like beef, you’re more inclined to believe cows can’t think; if you eat only fish, you’re likelier to see cattle as conscious, while the salmon on your plate was probably a non-conscious nincompoop.

That handy reasoning even works in an ex post facto way. Loughnan found that a subject who had just eaten beef and was then asked about cow consciousness tended to rate it low, while someone who had just eaten nuts gave cows more credit. We justify food even after we’ve already consumed it. We do something similar with any animal that either through charisma or companionability has achieved a sort of most favored fauna status. So a hamburger is fine, but a horseburger? We’re not barbarians. Ditto shark fin versus dolphin fin soup, and turkey versus, say, eagle for Thanksgiving.

None of this ethical expedience is necessarily a bad thing; indeed it’s a necessary skill for a species with a conscience like ours trying to make its way in a morally ambiguous world. But we shouldn’t pretend it’s more than expedience. The vegetarian’s truth is no more legitimate than the pescetarian’s or the red-in-fang carnivore’s. We can all agree that gratuitously subjecting animals to suffering is a bad thing, and it’s the rare human who could look at unnaturally fat chickens or pigs in cages or crates that barely allow them to move without thinking that we’ve gone terribly wrong somewhere. Still, in most cases, we make our own peace in our own way with what’s on our own plates. Pay your own check and the meal is up to you.

TIME Animal Rights

Mickey The Pit Bull Gets His Day In Court

pni pit bull
Mickey, a pit bull, at West Valley Animal Care Center in Phoenix, Ariz, on March 11, 2014. Mickey attacked four-year-old Kevin Vicente. Michael Schennum—AP

Judge will decide whether dog that severely mauled a four-year-old boy should be euthanized, after supporters of the pit bull launched a social media campaign to keep it alive

A court will decide this week whether or not Mickey, a pit bull who attacked and severely injured a 4-year-old boy, should be put down.

Kevin Vincente was mauled by the dog after straying into the pit bull’s yard in February. The attack left Vicente with a broken eye socket and jaw and he needs multiple reconstructive surgeries. One of the adults who witnessed the attack filed a vicious-dog court petition that kicked off the case, which will be presented in front of judge in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Animal rights activists are supporting Mickey, and have started a social media campaign to save the dog from being euthanized. The Facebook page, “Save Mickey,” has over 61,000 likes and supporters have made a YouTube video. Supporters argue that the babysitter who was watching Vincente wasn’t doing a proper job, and that both the dog and the boy are victims. “This is not Kevin versus Mickey,” attorney John Schill, one of three attorneys representing Mickey said in the court petition, the Associated Press reports. “Having Mickey killed is not going to take away Kevin’s pain or injuries. The only thing this is going to do is kill a poor, innocent dog.”

But the injured child is also receiving support, with people sending him donations and gifts. Flor Medrano, a friend of the Vincente family told the Arizona Republic the family doesn’t understand the support for Mickey. “We feel sad because they care more about Mickey. They’re saying that it was Kevin’s fault because he was spoiled, and they don’t even know Kevin. And they don’t even know the dog, either,” Medrano told the Republic.

The Maricopa County Animal Control and Care Center is currently holding Mickey, and workers at the center told the Associated Press that they are getting several calls and visitors to see the dog. Mickey is being kept separate from all the other dogs at the center and away from the public.

[AP]

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