Saturday, 22 January 2011

Animal Protection

I like dogs. I have been the happy and careful owner of a Taiwanese 土狗 (pronounced "too-goh") for over two years now; I picked her up as a three month old puppy on a busy road out near the Science Park in Tainan County. She's beginning to get a bit overweight now that we haven't been going to the beach regularly since the weather turned cold:

At my local park here in Tainan, where I have been regularly walking my dog for the past two years, there are now four mixed breed 土狗 dogs whom I look after. The first of these ("Picky" - 挑剔) arrived perhaps just over a year ago at the back end of 2009...

... with another two joining her sometime in the summer of last year, a female husky-土狗 mix who has become firm friends with my dog (and for whom I still don't have a proper name): ... and an off-white male 土狗 ("little white boy" I call him) who, despite being the apparent "runt" of the group (the other two always push him around) is always the first to bark at strangers and other dogs to protect his "property":

A male, a brown 土狗 has semi-officially become part of their group in the last two months, but I haven't taken any pictures of him yet. My reasons for looking after them (i.e. feed them and occasionally step in to protect them from some of the older, dog-fearing, dog-beating locals) are not just that I like dogs and animals generally, but that they are important for the physical and psychological health of my own dog - she needs other dogs of her size and age to play with, and the local Taiwanese people typically own chi-hua-huas, poodles and other small dogs with whom my dog simply cannot play because they are too small. It's a very mundane example of appearing to do something 'altruistic' for reasons of self-interest.

There are, however, far too many stray dogs in Taiwan - the problem is largely the result of the way in which disrespect for and irresponsibility (沒辦法, pronounced - "mei-ban-fa") toward domestic and wild animals is still deeply ingrained within some pockets of the broader culture. Not only have I heard many stories of Taiwanese people adopting puppies only to throw them away like trash once they become older, but I have seen such things done myself - I would need an entirely separate blog posting to deal with this issue more generally.

In addition to that, though, the thought of these dogs (my dog's friends) being surrounded by a culture containing human predators who would like to eat them in a fucking restaurant as if such a thing is civilized, just appalls me. But why is this? Is the reason why we eat grazing animals and mostly flightless birds, in addition to the easier economics of farming such animals, simply that most people are instinctively conservative about what animals, if any, they will eat? Assuming that is true, does this attitude come from an instinctive revulsion to killing other animals, or does it come from a difference in our application of aesthetic categories to animals? The herbivorous or omnivorous animals we typically raise and eat, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks etc are not what we would think of as "magnificent" are they? Conversely, carnivorous animals such as tigers, eagles, bears, crocodiles and perhaps even snakes and dogs - well we do typically apply this concept of "magnificence" to them (or something quite like it). That Asian cultures, such as the Chinese, seem to regard the eating of such carnivorous animals as "good for one's health" or as a sign of "high taste"... I don't quite know what conclusion to draw from this, except that, for some reason, I find it deeply repellant - but what, exactly, is that reason?

But in any event, do I think the eating of animals such as dogs and crocodiles and so on should be prohibited by the State? Not at all - the reflexive appeal to government in attempting to stop the appalling trade in dog meat is quite simply unnecessary. Today's Taipei Times contains an article by staff reporter Loa Iok-sin which demonstrates this in an amusingly apt manner:
"Animal protection activists yesterday accused government agencies of not being active enough in prosecuting dog slaughterhouses and dog meat restaurants."
The demand by this activist group, the Kaohsiung Concern for Stray Animal Association (KCSAA) (warning: horrible, manipulative, dirge music on flash at that site), for the government to intervene is the first thing that is reported here. The remainder of the article goes on to detail this demand for government intervention, the circumstances in which it was made, the "excuses" offered by the government for their lack of intervention (having to do with legal standards by which evidence may be obtained) and so on, until the very last paragraph where, after all that, we find this:
"...a representative from Taiwan Sugar Co’s assets management office, Huang Chin-tsung (黃錦宗), said that the company would immediately terminate its rental contract with Wang Tien-chih. The slaughterhouse and restaurant are on a piece of property rented from the company."
Stunning isn't it? A property rights based solution to this problem ought to have been obvious from the get-go - and for several reasons. First, it offers the only just way (i.e. one which does not involve State coercion) of thinking a way through to a solution; so long as Taiwan Sugar does not violate the terms specified under the contract by which it may be terminated, then the company are well within their rights to demand that Wang Tien-chih vacate their property. Personally, I would hope they give him a warning first: "no more dog meat!", but it is their decision to make, not mine. Second, a property-rights based solution like this can be thought through and carried out far more quickly, and with far less hassle than the laborious and expensive process of making representations to the Pingtung County Department of Agriculture or of trying to bring the case to the local courts. Third, this sort of solution requires and further encourages the use of rational persuasion rather than the mere bureaucratic application of coercion.

I should not have to point this sort of thing out. These beautiful animals, when under threat by those Taiwanese who want to eat them, haven't got time for you to go running around to the courts and local government departments. It is better to end this reflexive reliance on government and to assume responsibility for stopping these evil things from happening oneself.


  1. Food taboos are odd. A Chinese will eat dog, but thinks cheese is gross. The French eat horse meat. We'll eat alligator in America, but think horse is gross. There are whole religions that deprive themselves of the joy of bacon.

    When I win the lottery, I'm spending it all on an ad blitz to convince the Chinese that tiger is poisonous but the meat of the North American whitetail deer (aka hoofus ratticus) will let you rock her world all night long.

  2. "A Chinese will eat dog.. The French eat horse meat. We'll eat alligator in America..."

    And that's why you're all gastronomically inferior to us the English, who won't eat any such thing! ;-)

  3. Q: "Why did the English conquer half the planet?"

    A: "They were desperate for good cooking."


  4. My favourite:

    Did you hear about the Englishman with an inferiority complex?

    He thought he was the same as everybody else!

  5. "The herbivorous or omnivorous animals we typically raise and eat, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks etc are not what we would think of as "magnificent" are they?"
    "I find it deeply repellant...but what, exactly, is that reason? "

    Culture. Shouldn't the answer be obvious?

    *You* don't think of cows as magnificent but many Indians do. (And you've probably noticed that there are still a few Taiwanese who don't eat beef.)


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