By Wayne Pacelle
Our treatment of animals is a challenging and sometimes confusing moral issue. A deep reservoir of empathy and a capacity to understand the vulnerability and pain of others motivates many good works. In addition to helping other people, humans have an emotional connection with other species - with dogs and cats in our homes, and with animals facing cruelty or crisis. We are a nation of pet lovers and wildlife watchers, and we have laws against malicious cruelty.
Then why would an animal-loving society need so much philanthropy and volunteerism to help and advocate for animals? It turns out there's a flip side to our relationship with other creatures. We also raise billions of animals in extreme confinement on factory farms, raise or capture fur-bearing animals in spite of having synthetic or natural fiber coats to keep us warm, and raise millions of dogs in puppy mills even while shelters struggle to adopt out healthy animals. We, as individuals and as a nation, struggle with the boundary between cruelty and economic interest, between caprice and necessity, and between callous disregard and careful use.
It's within our power to reach for a higher standard and find ways of doing business that do not leave a trail of animal victims in our wake. It was the United States, after all, that docked the whaling boats, replacing them with a fleet of new ships meant for watching whales.
Among lawmakers in New York, momentum is building in support of several important bills. In the 2012 session, the Legislature passed a bill to strengthen the state's laws against animal fighting. Another measure to prohibit the sale of shark fins generated significant support, but more work will need to be done to pass it in 2013.
Representatives will also have an opportunity to crack down on abuses in puppy mills and to restrict imports of nonnative animals to be bred and killed at private hunting preserves. Wild pigs, for example, continue to be raised throughout the state at captive hunting preserves, threatening the environment, agriculture and public safety. These facilities stock semi-tame animals in fenced enclosures to be shot for guaranteed trophies.
We can and should marshal the creativity of the human mind to find better ways, in other industries, to generate income without causing so much needless misery to animals.
Ultimately, a conscious concern for animals is necessary for our moral progress and our economic success. A civil society must synch its economy with its values and ideals, and opposition to cruelty is among them. Animals are not a backdrop of our own story; they are at the center of the whole drama, and how we treat them is one of the great themes of the human experience.
Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and author of "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them."