Throughout history many people have banded together to fight for the rights of those with no voice. The proper treatment of animals is an age-old topic of discussion. Even ancient Greek and Roman philosophers debated the place of animals relative to human morality.
What animals mean to others and how they should be treated has been widely determined by law. These laws, thanks to activists, have been evolving.
The Oxford Group
In the 1970s, a group called the “Oxford Group” was formed. It consisted of Oxford university post-graduate philosophy students who had adopted a vegetarian lifestyle and saw the relationship between humans and other animals as one based on exploitation. The term “speciesism” was coined because the group had pontificated the practice of assigning value to living beings based on which species they belonged to. This concept led to Australian philosopher Peter Singer, putting forward basic arguments about the ethical theory of utilitarianism. He demonstrated clear-cut similarities of women’s liberation to animal liberation.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a wide variety of professionals such as lawyers, doctors, psychologists, veterinarians, and even former scientific researchers who commonly practice on animals for test studies, join the cause. Thanks to this highly respected, articulate group, the topic of animal rights is now a common subject of study in philosophy departments of schools throughout the world.
Peter Singer went on to found the Seattle-based Great Ape Project which helped win basic rights for orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. This is one of the greatest accomplishments for animal rights, to date.
There are tens of thousands of animal rights activists and organizations around the world. Some recognizable names have gained momentum thanks to generous donors and familiar celebrity faces. While not all groups have the same exact beliefs as to what they consider animal rights to be, they all have one common goal, and that is to end the use of animals in research.
PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was founded in 1980 and made it into the public view in ’81 with the Silver Spring monkeys case. The highly publicized case dealt with experiments conducted on monkeys inside the Institute of Behavioral Research. The case ignited the only police raid to ever happen on an animal laboratory in the United States, and lasted a total of 10 years. It resulted in a 1985 amendment to the country’s Animal Welfare Act. It was also the moment that established PETA as an internationally known organization.
Today, a lot of PETA’s focus is on factory farming, fur farming, animal testing, and animals mistreated for entertainment purposes. The group has also seen its share of controversy. Ironically, they received the harshest criticism from feminists for using barely-dressed female celebrities in their anti-fur campaigns. PETA stands by its statement that no one is exploited in their shows of activism. They claim that their daring displays have made them one of the most successful cutting-edge animal rights organizations in the world.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was the first animal humane society to be established in North America and is, today, one of the largest in the world. It was founded in 1866. In the beginning, their mission was to improve the health and welfare of animals across the country. By 1912, the first animal hospitals had been built by ASPCA. Since the birth of these hospitals the organization has gained the ability to develop medical procedures for animals. With all of the innovations and new discoveries in medicine and technology, they’ve helped to save and positively impact countless animal lives.
For years, one of the ASPCA’s largest fights was against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The circus at one time had 45 elephants, most of which were born in captivity. ASPCA brought legal action against the companies for the alleged mistreatment of the Asian elephants that performed in their shows. A thorough investigation revealed an enormous amount of cruelty perpetrated on not only elephants, but also lions and other large cats. The case was eventually dismissed, and in response to the bad press resulting from the claims, the ASPCA was forced to pay $9.3 million to the owners of the circus. However, in January 2017, it was announced that after 146 years the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would be closing their doors for good.
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