As the greatest power on this earth of all time, ever, we hold enormous sway over the animals that stand below us in the cosmic order of space and time. They turn to us for food, shelter, love, and spite and desire to be left alone. To stand alone at the top of a tree, to gaze down upon us with no sense of any order but this: Man is one of many, and one above. We alone can fire a bullet from a hundred yards and snuff them out. Our tractors rip the ground fast as avalanches, tear everything away, scrape out the trees and hollow out the rocks. We stand alone above the world. Our command was not to rule, but to serve as stewards here.
And here we are, each with our different ways of keeping animals. There’s even a numbering system in the butcher shops, declaring the way the animal was treated and quantifying it. Factory farms, with animals piled into crowded silos, or crowded pens, jostling in a crowd, is obviously the lowest. The best is to let the animal roam free and be an animal. I imagine hunting wild animals is the best way. Take only what you need and leave the rest, and take them with a clean kill shot in the moment of their life where they are ignorant and blissfully wild.
Also, the way you keep your animals, your personal flock or pack or partnerships, is regulated. We look upon each other and try to create a baseline – let’s call it welfare rating 1 – for the keeping of dogs and cats. Shelter from the rain, a tag, and food. Untreated diseases are not legal, generally. Barking in the night is frowned upon in the more civilized spaces. There are less rules in other places, perhaps. Dogs are traditionally used to guard us and hunt with us. They keep us safe from the wild things that don’t obey the master’s command.
The bare minimum standard is enough for many people. They call it their culture to leave their dogs chained out in the yard, gnawing at bones and sticks, mindmute and angry and ready to hurt anyone who approaches their misery.
Dogs are born to love. No matter what you do to them, they will still love you. They are the ultimate vessels for human misery. Animals can not bear witness with words. If they run away, they will never speak to law enforcement. They are the very lowest place of society, and have no power to call their own, no vote, no voice, and when they are chained in the yard, locked in there, all they can do is bay a little, wordlessly at the indifferent world around them until someone here’s them crying.
Standards change with time. It used to be legal to beat your wife. The Rule of Thumb comes from this. The standards of wife-beating were felt, by the general public, to be detrimental. The law shifted, then, and the rule of thumb was created. A man could not beat his wife with a stick that was wider than his thumb. Even today, just a hiccup of generations later, this law is a ridiculous nightmare of pain and misery. It used to be the minimum.
The arc of history, as they say, always bends towards justice.
Once standards are created, it is the beginning of the shift towards justice. We all decide what the minimum is, and that minimum will be perceived as lower or lesser. We will begin to move away from that minimum standard, as a group, because we do not want to do ill to our fellow creation.
Things with eyes and souls that look up at us with such longing are, in fact, our equal. They have been separated from the pack of wild dogs, and bred and integrated into the uplifting influence of civilization. It is inevitable that when technology integrates into the minds and neural nets of living things that dogs will be uplifted before mankind.
Ergo, the minimum standards will always drop away as the goalposts shift. No one wishes to be cruel to animals. A balanced approach – an animal welfare rating of 3, for example – will become the new minimum in the minds of society, eventually. This, too, will drop away.
To stay on the right side of history, and to get ahead of the changes, favor the ethical treatment of animals that aims for the higher welfare status. Saying the words, “I uphold the minimum standard applied by law” makes you sound like a jerk, because apparently the absolute minimum is enough for you with living creatures, who hope, love, dream, and feel. Minimal standards are not enough.
Aspire to improve the life of other creatures, for whom you are responsible. They have such small lives, but it is the only life they get to have, and we know better than to treat them like objects or tools or mere machines. Ultimately, we get better machines out of them when we treat them better, anyway. The food is tastier and more nutritious from ethically-raised animals at the upper end of the welfare scale. The working dogs are more loyal, more reliable, and easier to train, when the animal that lives to love is allowed to feel love back.