Photo: Mom and puppies at Austin Pets Alive.

Last month, the City of Austin passed a sweeping new law to enshrine lifesaving protections, including the right of rescue. Based on several provisions of the Companion Animal Protection Act, model legislation from the No Kill Advocacy Center, the new Austin ordinance requires the municipal shelter to notify rescuers, the former owner (absent evidence of neglect or cruelty), and the finder, offering them the ability to save the animal to prevent killing: http://bit.ly/2OjsxTM.

There are a number of other important, far-reaching provisions, but perhaps none more important than this: for the first time anywhere, a major U.S. city has enshrined protections for visibly pregnant moms and their full-term puppies/kittens.

Not only does killing healthy, full-term in utero puppies and kittens violate the No Kill philosophy, it is a way to obscure statistics. Because they are not yet born, even when they are sentient, able to live on their own, removed from the mother during a spay surgery, and killed one by one through an overdose of barbiturates, their deaths are not recorded. They are rendered invisible. Their bodies carelessly thrown in the trash. Even when not individually killed, when a mother is spayed, the puppies and kittens die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate. The new law prevents the municipal shelter from spaying a mother, and killing the puppies/kittens, as a condition of placing her with a rescue partner. But it was not without controversy.

A spay and abort elsewhere: the puppy deaths are not recorded. They are rendered invisible. Their bodies carelessly thrown in the trash.

Criticism from the Left

The law was opposed by some who suggested that doing so amounted to legal recognition of ‘fetal rights’ and an implicit acknowledgment that “life begins at conception.” Others who have made the same claims on social media, suggested that doing so is a “slippery slope” to the undermining of human “reproductive rights.” Such a view is facile and not just because fear mongering and “slippery slope” arguments are logical fallacies. The comparison itself is a false equivalency.

Unlike human women, pregnant dogs and cats are not given a choice. For human expediency (rather than their benefit), animals are forcefully cut open in a risky procedure they do not and cannot consent to and, because of the pregnancy, has a higher risk of complications and even death than a regular spay. During the spay and abort, their offspring are suffocated or poisoned. Moreover, this is not a situation where those offspring allegedly have no place to go (though that is often used as a mere pretext for killing and, even if it weren’t, would not excuse it). The ordinance mandates these protections only when rescue is available.

Finally, the notion that the Austin provision amounts to legal recognition that “life begins at conception,” as one opponent wrote to the City Council, is erroneous because the provision only applies to visibly pregnant dogs and cats, not when the puppies or kittens are conceived. It is further limited because it requires a rescue group willing to take the pregnant mom.

Photo: Mom and puppies at Austin Animal Center.

Criticism from the Right

On the other end of the political spectrum, some Facebook commenters responded to the news of the new law with the claim that it is both hypocritical and wrong to expend energy and resources to save unborn puppies and kittens while humans are suffering and/or human abortion is legal. In addition to the false equivalency noted above, such an argument assumes that caring about animals somehow detracts from other concerns. This is a misanthropic view of humanity which suggests that compassion and empathy are in limited supply and must be doled out in a miserly fashion, rather than felt, and expressed, as need demands.

There is no victory in the history of the moral enlightenment of humanity in which some people did not lament the amount of attention that was paid to an issue because they regarded it as less important than their own. In its day, prejudice is often seen as a virtue. But it is exactly this attitude that animal suffering is somehow less important than human suffering that enables the violence that befalls animals in the first place. If some people do not want the plight of animals at the hands of some humans to dominate public concern, then they should wish for a world where such outcomes are no longer permitted.

In addition, bemoaning expressions of empathy and compassion is not only counterproductive to the cause of animal protection, but to all causes that demand greater compassion and empathy. Love, however it manifests itself, should always be welcomed as it can only make our world a kinder, gentler place filled with people who are intolerant of cruelty and violence.

Onward and upward. Not left. Not right. But forward…

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