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Ethical Treatment of Animals (July 2015): Movement History, Status, and Prospects

By Walter Hogan and Eric Owen

Movement History, Status, and Prospects

The contemporary animal rights movement often is said to have been launched with the 1975 publication of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, now in its second edition.[1]  Earlier endeavors in support of animals were evident, particularly in the Victorian era, accompanying the antislavery, suffragist, and child welfare movements.  The founding of the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in 1866 was a landmark of the nineteenth-century animal welfare impulse in the United States.  In The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, Norm Phelps offers a very long view of the history of animal protection.  As Phelps relates, concern for animals can be traced back at least to 600 BCE.  Over the following centuries, many thinkers engaged with the question of human-animal relations, laying a foundation for the modern movement.  Kathryn Shevelow’s For the Love of Animals provides an account of the origins of animal welfare concern in eighteenth-century Great Britain.  It is filled with portraits of unconventional men and women who broke with contemporary acceptance of “blood sports”; founded the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals); and agitated for the world’s first animal protection legislation.  For the Prevention of Cruelty by Diane Beers chronicles the history of the movement in the United States since the mid-nineteenth century.  This book shows the long roots of the ongoing dispute between animal rights activists and those promoting humane welfare without radical change.

Several recent books survey the contemporary animal protection scene.  Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, by Mark Hawthorne, is a matter-of-fact handbook by an experienced animal welfare advocate.  This guide does not condone violence, but does support rescue operations.  It includes a chapter explaining current animal law in the United States.  Muzzling a Movement, by Dara Lovitz, describes the chilling effect of recent anti-activist legislation, particularly the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which lumps animal rescue activists with post-9/11 terrorists.  Lovitz includes the text of this legislation and also provides background information on the vested interests and money behind the push to single out animal liberation actions for harsher penalties.

In Confronting Cruelty: Moral Orthodoxy and the Challenge of the Animal Rights Movement, sociologist Lyle Munro interviewed grassroots activists in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and found a great deal of ideological consensus.  Munro applies social movement theory, observing that while some issues tend to drive wedges between welfare proponents and the radical abolitionists, other issues, such as genetic engineering, may one day unite both wings of the movement, along with environmentalists, consumer advocates, and health advocates.  In contrast to the publications of grassroots activists, Wayne Pacelle’s The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them presents the viewpoint of a “mainstream,” well-endowed, and highly visible animal advocacy organization.  Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, details many varieties of animal abuse and critiques laws, practices, and even particular organizations that support animal use practices opposed by his organization.  Recommendations for action, including “Fifty Ways to Help Animals,” are provided.


[1] Peter Singer.  Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals.  2nd ed.  New York Review of Books, 1990 (1st ed., CH, May’76).

Works Cited