When we first reported on PETA's request that the USA Network cancel its planned coverage of the Westminster dog show, readers had a lot to say about it. (So did filmmaker Jemima Harrison, whose documentary "Pedigree Dogs Exposed" prompted the BBC to drop Crufts, Britain's answer to Westminster, from its schedule.)
Many of you repeated the same concern: that PETA opposed all pet ownership and, if it got its way with Westminster, wouldn't stop there. "PETA is a radical group dedicated to ending all human ownership and use of animals as quickly as possible," said Susan Palius. "If PETA has their way, there will be no more dogs, cats, in ten years to have as our companions," Cheryl commented.
Lots of you shared your worry that PETA wanted to eradicate pets entirely rather than let them be "enslaved" by humans. To get to the bottom of that concern, we talked with PETA's Vice President for Cruelty Investigations, Daphna Nachminovitch. Here's a bit of what we talked about:
Unleashed: In a perfect world where all of PETA's goals had been achieved, would a dog (I have two rescue mutts) live in my house with me?
Daphna Nachminovitch: Yes! I have two rescued mutts, too (adopted from PETA of course). If you are a kind soul and would be one of the people rescuing dogs in trouble –- just as there are always wars, there are always animals in need of kindness! -- please adopt another one.
Unleashed: I know PETA is opposed to the consumption of animals for food or the use of their wool, skin, etc. for clothing, so I'm guessing an ideal world would have no need for "working" dogs to herd sheep, cattle, etc., or to be used for hunting. But what about working dogs that help people, such as guide dogs for the blind, assistance dogs for the handicapped, drug-sniffing dogs, etc.? I have a bit of background in dog training (using nonviolent methods) myself, and one thing I always marveled at was how some dogs, particularly the more intelligent and energetic types, really seem to go crazy if they don't have a "job" to do.
Nachminovitch: PETA is all for relationships of mutual respect and benefit between dogs and humans. Unfortunately, not all working dogs have such relationships. Working dogs are sometimes forced to do jobs that are considered too dangerous for humans and that are, therefore, obviously too dangerous for a dog, too.
There will never be a perfect world, but in the world we’re in now, we support some working dog situations and decry others. Hearing dog programs that pull dogs from animal shelters and ensure that they are in safe and loving homes have our stamp of approval; they live with the family for their entire life, they learn interesting things, enjoy life, and love helping. On the other hand, we oppose most seeing-eye-dog programs because the dogs are bred as if there are no equally intelligent dogs literally dying for homes in shelters, they are kept in harnesses almost 24/7, people are prohibited from petting or playing with them and they cannot romp and run and interact with other dogs; and their lives are repeatedly disrupted (they are trained for months in one home and bond, then sent to a second, and after years of bonding with the person they have "served," they are whisked away again because they are old and no longer "useful"). We have a member who is blind who actually moved states to avoid "returning" her beloved dog. We feel that the human community should do more to support blind people, and give dogs a break. A deaf person can see if a dog has a medical issue such as blood in her urine, a blind person living alone cannot, and so on.
PETA's president had a long working relationship with a program to supply police dogs from the DC Animal Shelter to the Metropolitan Police department because they were humanely trained, and enjoyed a home life with their officers. One of the dogs named after her, Kirk, was with an officer who was shot when President Regan was shot, and he retired with his officer.
Look for more of our conversation with PETA's Vice President for Cruelty Investigations in the days to come on Unleashed.
-- Lindsay Barnett
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Photo: A Staffordshire Bull Terrier competes in the 2008 Westminster dog show. Credit: Virginia Sherwood /USA Network.