Common Objections to Animal Rights Activism

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Common Objections to Animal Rights Activism

By Kris Lecakes Haley on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
July 2010

As advocates for the intrinsic rights of animals to live peacefully and free from the impositions bestowed upon them by humans, we may occasionally have our motives questioned. Most times, individuals have an authentic curiosity and ask us out of a genuine sense of interest and integrity. Let’s look at two of the most prevalent objections that can come our way and test some tried and true responses.

One common objection involves the “burning building” scenario: There’s a burning building with two bodies inside—one is a child and one is your dog. Who do you save? I usually answer this inquiry with another question: “Well, let’s think about this. Let’s say that there are two children in that building. Who would you choose?” The inquirer usually says, “I don’t know.” Then, I raise the stakes: “Let’s say one is your child.” Inevitably and understandably, the inquirer answers that her or she would rescue his or her own child. But my next question is critical: “Well, does that mean that you don’t value the life of the other child?” The answer is: “Of course not!” And then I explain to the inquirer that any time we are asked to make a decision about whom we would rescue from a burning building, our personal values always come into play. But that doesn’t mean we value the other life any less.

Here’s another common objection: Why are you wasting your time on animals when there are children starving? For some reason, there is a prevailing perception that people who love animals are not fond of children or do not care about human suffering. The truth is that the two issues have far more in common than not. There are three things to note about this objection. Firstly, the dichotomy presented is, of course, false—it is not an either/or situation. You can certainly work on helping humans as well as animals. Secondly, we all know that there are a lot of humans in dire need of help, but animals endure a massive amount of suffering (thousands of animals around the world suffer and die daily on factory farms alone) and have no way to speak up for themselves. The third and biggest point for me is that we all have a different calling. Animals need help, and someone must rise to the occasion.

The common thread between both objections is certainly speciesism; both are built on the assumption that an animal’s life is less valuable than a human’s. It is now common scientific knowledge that animals feel pain just as we do and that they are sentient and conscious beings just as we are. So the real question is: What exactly makes us more important?

We know that there will always be questions about why we decided to make the rights of animals a priority in our lives. There are many other objections that I could share, and most of them are probably addressed here. My main point is that we all need to avoid “fighting” for our honor when confronted with these objections. Instead, consider a respectful and tolerant approach that will, if you play your cards right, result in a profoundly teachable moment that just may give your objector something to mull over. And that would be a job well done!

What common objections to fighting for the rights of animals do you hear often?