Is It Wrong to Buy Animals to Save Them from Suffering?

Many animal rights activists understandably oppose purchasing animals from abusers as a form of rescue. Putting money into the pockets of exploiters who will simply abuse more animals accommodates the status of animals as property and facilitates the business of exploiting them. In this view, purchasing one or more suffering chickens from a live poultry market or a feed store, for example, is unethical.

I mostly agree, but also ask whether animals who cannot otherwise be saved should be abandoned because they are in an economic situation that defines them as property and merchandise. Does this not make these innocent victims pay the ultimate price because they happen to be defenselessly branded as objects for sale?

Once years ago, we tried unsuccessfully to get the owner of a farmers market in Northern Virginia to let us have their “spent” hens and roosters who were living behind the market in a filthy shed, unseen by the public, to produce fertilized eggs for customers. Sneaking inside we saw that the birds were suffering. We ended up writing a check to the owner in order to get them out of there and into our sanctuary, where they lived happily for years. They too illustrated the cruel conditions they came from including the fact that they had to be bought to save their lives. In the 19th century, people bought many slaves their freedom, and today, adoptive parents must pay for their children as part of the adoption process, just as adopters of shelter animals must pay adoption fees.

chicken wants out
Live hens bought and sold in San Francisco market
alemany_bird_in_bag (43K)

Of course there’s a difference between paying money to a caring agency versus to an animal abusing enterprise, but the question is whether, in all cases, to abandon an animal to a horrible fate as “merchandise,” versus liberating a fellow creature whose only hope of escape is you or me.

By the same token it may be asked: Is it ethical to sell animals or the products of their bodies such as eggs or molted feathers as a way to help fund a sanctuary or rescue operation? To this question my answer is No. I doubt very much that the Abolitionists who purchased the freedom of African-Americans from slavery also sold them to benefit the cause of freedom.

Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns