Breeding Ignorance


We are all used to raising (and hearing) great outcry over sensational issues involving animals.

Shark-fin meat industry, civet cat fur, baby seal clubbing and leatherback turtles gagging on stray plastic bags; all excellent targets for the animal lover in us to take aim at. We go all up in arms, sign online petitions and share gory pictures on Facebook to raise awareness against such cruelty to God’s beautiful creations.

It’s all fine and commendable for us to be defenders of nature on such large scales. However, many of us are oblivious, or more worryingly, turn a blind eye towards more obscure injustices that happen right under our noses daily.

We have the tendency to sometimes only see the big picture, forgetting about the rest of the details that make the entire gallery. Through years of social conditioning, we develop myopic vision and become accustomed to placing high levels of emphasis on big-story issues, yet forget or ignore equally pressing but less-publicised issues right in our midst. As a result, many of us jump on popular bandwagons and are unable to, ironically, see the trees for the forest.

A great example of this phenomenon is the (still growing) pet farm industry.

Pet farms began taking prominence a long time ago when men started to progress from “having enough to just meet basic needs” to “being able to afford luxuries”. One of the many “luxuries” that developed, over time, is keeping pedigree breeds as pets. It is as much a fashionable status symbol as it is human nature to want perfection in their belongings; in this case, their kept animals.

Economy dictates that where there’s a demand, there will inevitably be supply. Pet farms started mushrooming, with each new entry into the industry running on a more cost-effective, efficient and profit-driven model than its predecessor.

Perhaps the initial waves of pet farms started out with genuine animal lovers who began breeding a particular animal (for love) and selling the surplus offspring when they began to overproduce (for profit). Over time, the industry evolved to include entirely gains-driven non-animal lovers who are in it purely for the money. These are businessmen who have no qualms in maintaining their “factories”, i.e. animals kept purely to continually breed, in miserable living conditions and, when they reach an age when production rates decline or stop, are mercilessly shoved to the streets or worse, killed.

These are also businessmen who would have no qualms in “destroying” new-borns who probably do not fit the “acceptable” look or size of that particular breed. Worse yet would be those who just throw away such “rejects” onto the streets, backlanes and/or alleyways because in their minds, there’d be “some animal lover who would save them”.

From a purely economical point of view, the businessmen’s actions are justified: maintaining breeding animals or its offspring that stands little chance of being bought are not cost-efficient. They take up precious resources like food and space. In order to meet bottom line and ensure revenue-to-expense ratio is kept healthy, cold (cruel) decisions would have to be made. As a result, animals are treated as pure commodity. Keep assets, reduce liability. Simple economics, really.

Now, pet farm owners only create half of the problem. The other half is perpetuated by pet shops, selling the bright-eyed, sprightly and cute offspring created by pet farms. You see them in almost all commercial centres or shopping malls, shops displaying their finest “products” in glass cages, waiting to be bought.

In an ideal world, all supply would meet demand perfectly. But we are not living in such a world. In ours, equilibrium is maintained by wild fluctuations between over-supply and over-demand. When demands are high, pet farms step up their production, halting only when there is over-supply. And the cycle continues.

So what happens when there is over-supply? See the countless amount of strays on the streets, in the alleys and around food outlets scavenging for food? That’s what happens. They get thrown out on the assumption once again, that there’d be “some animal lover who would save them”. The weak amongst them would perish, whilst the strong will breed and create new generations of strays.

This is why the problem with strays can never stop. No matter how much effort is put into “saving” them, the problem cannot be eradicated as long as pet farms continue to operate and pet shops continue selling pets. It is a vicious cycle.

Now, can we legislate to ban all pet farms completely? Sadly, the answer is no. Any piece of legislation that dreams of even seeing the light of day needs lots of financial backing, public interest and political pressure. Once again, as the opening paragraphs of this article suggests, only big issues attract such attention. The argument against making pet farms illegal would most likely be unfair restraint to a type of business.

At best, pressure groups may be able to push for stricter rules to be implemented in order to regulate or control the minimum standards for pet farm operators. But as a practising lawyer, let me be the first to tell you that laws are usually made to be bent or flouted (if the benefit for doing so outweighs its costs). Any legislation tightening the practise of the pet farm business would, by analogy, cause as much effect on the industry as pouring salt into the ocean.

So how do we make a difference then? It’s quite simple, really. Do not buy your next pet. Adopt instead.

Save strays from the streets. Medicate them, neuter/spay them and give them a new lease of life in a loving home.

As was mentioned earlier, pet farm is a business. The biggest impact you can make is to hit the pet farms where it hurts most: their wallets. Remember the supply-demand link that was highlighted earlier? Applying the principle, if we can substantially reduce the demand for pet shop-ready pets, there would be less incentive for pet farms to continue in the industry (existing ones) or even start up (newcomers). One by one, shops not turning in sufficient profits will go belly up and close down. The domino effect will cause pet farms to go out of business too.

The benefit is two-fold. Whilst reducing the demand will decrease the amount of pets being produced and sold, adopting existing strays and abandoned animals will also make a direct impact upon the stray population. Less strays on the streets equals reduced explosion of stray breeding. Over time, with less animals turning into strays, compounded by increased amount of strays being taken off the streets, we would be able to minimise, if not eradicate completely, the current stray situation we have on our hands.

This is not an overnight solution. This may not even be a fruitful solution if not enough people support such a cause. But just because a solution seems hard to achieve does not mean we shouldn’t go for it. Just because a problem doesn’t seem as sensational or attention-grabbing as say, the plight of dwindling pandas in China or tigers in India, doesn’t mean it we should not be thinking about it. Through the operation of ‘chaos theory’ (go read it up instead of having every information spoon-fed to you), every little change, no matter how small, could bring about significant impact.

So the next time you are tempted to hold placards and rally against the skinning of minx in Tibet, stop and look around your neighbourhood to see if you can find strays. Save them instead. The next time you are tempted to share another gruesome video of dogs being electrocuted alive to be eaten in Myanmar, go down to the shelter and adopt a pet. Make an actual difference instead of just making noise (for a change).

And even if actually taking on the responsibility of providing for another life is too much for your busy lifestyle to handle, then the least you could do is walk away (as a boycott) when someone asks how much is that doggy in the (pet shop) window.

P.S. – In case any of you are wondering whether I “walk” the “talk”, let it be on record that I come from a family who has taken in, sheltered and gave a new lease of life to 3 strays dogs (all mongrels) over the past 14 years, with each of those years rewarded with undying affection, fun and love (one of whom, Owen, passed away recently at the ripe old age of 14). As of 1 month ago, I personally took in a stray kitten who was left inside a paper bag in a field to die (his 2 other siblings did not survive unfortunately). He is now living the biggest adventure of his life; happy, well-fed and scuttling about the house as I type this.

This post is a tribute of sorts in memory to Owen (the dog) and a warm welcome to Oreo Bartholomeow Balestorm (the cat).



Yu Jian

ONG YU JIAN is a lawyer by profession (in Messrs Raj, Ong & Yudistra), animal lover by passion. He is a 30 year old Penangite who loves football, movies, music and having a pint or two and a laugh with the lads at the pub. A staunch believer that all men and animals were created equal, he believes in the power of the scribe (or keyboard) to give voice to the segment of community that cannot speak up.

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