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minnesota: weak laws
KEY MESSAGE: Animal governance is in its infancy. Minnesota has no State laws to regulate the dog and cat breeding industry; local ordinances vary widely between counties and cities and are often not enforced.
There are a variety of reasons for why Minnesota and other states have been slow to protect animals and regulate the dog and cat breeding industry.
An understanding of politics
Politics is key. Understanding the lawmaking process is critical to creating laws that protect animals.
If legislators throughout Minnesota, for instance, do not hear directly from constituents (those living in their voting district) who support animal protection efforts, they may not consider this an issue of importance so no action is taken. This is particularily true of Minnesota House and Senate committee chairs who determine whether or not a bill will get a hearing; if a bill is not heard in committees, it does not proceed further in the legislative process for that year.
In Minnesota, devoted citizens (mostly volunteer) have been able to successfully work with legislators to help pass animal welfare laws, though much more work is yet to be done. Nonprofit animal organizations are highly supportive but many lack the resources for full-time advocacy — in addition to providing shelter, rescue and care for thousands of unwanted animals.
States Julie E. Lewin in Get Political for Animals: “From coast to coast, state laws and local ordinances affecting animals remain appallingly weak, even those applying to dogs and cats, … We [those who care about animals] must become political for animals, so we can win the really strong laws and ordinances that would release animals from pain. Such laws and ordinances have powerful opposition. Yet they are winnable — if we organize our support into voting blocs — that is, political organizations for animals — in our towns, cities, counties, and states.… There are lawmakers who care about animals but without a voting bloc organization to protect them on Election Day and to pressure lawmakers, they can’t do much or win much.”
The need for revenues
Revenues required to inspect and enforce breeding facilities is also a common point raised by the opposition.
All legislation, no matter what issue, requires resources for implementation. Past breeder legislation (introduced but not passed) allowed for licensing fees for the hiring of inspectors; unfortunately, the opposition was still threatened by any fees which would cut into their profit margins.
In addition to licensing fees, other innovative revenues sources are possible, if legislators are willing:
A shared understanding that animals feel pain and can suffer
A final, deeper, cultural reason for why animal protection laws are met with opposition goes to a basic question of pain. Can animals feel pain and suffer?
Odd as it may sound, a statement made centuries ago still shapes opinions today. In the 1600s, Rene Descartes, a famous French mathematician, scientist and philosopher, declared that animals could not feel pain. Descartes “incorrectly believed that only humans have pineal glands, just as, in his view, only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain, and Descartes's practice of vivisection (the dissection of live animals) became widely practiced throughout Europe until the Enlightenment.” (Wikipedia) His belief and declaration stuck in the minds of humans, and, even today, in the 21st century, explains why some people treat animals inhumanely — as if pain, due to neglect or abuse, is not a factor to consider.
Descartes’ view has been proven false, scientifically. In 2007, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) stated in the AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs & Cats: “Historically it was thought that animals did not feel pain or that they perceived pain differently than humans.… It is now well established that animals and humans have similar neural pathways for the development, conduction and modulation of pain. According to the principle of analogy, because cats and dogs have neural pathways and neurotransmitters that are similar, if not identical, to those of humans, it is highly likely animals experience pain similarly.”
The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) supports this: “Many years prior to the establishment of the IVAPM, the control of pain was entirely secondary to the control of disease in both human and veterinary medicine. The obvious consequence, of course, was a great deal of unnecessary discomfort and suffering. The good news is that there has been a clear shift in philosophy toward recognizing pain as both a symptom and, in some cases, a disease entity in its own right. As a result, patient comfort, i.e. timely, appropriate and effective management of pain, is included among the primary goals in compassionate health care.” (IVAPM, 2005, Treating Pain in Companion Animals)
This debate of animal pain and suffering and whether the law is involved is not new. In the 18th century, philosopher Jeremy Betham framed the issue about animals and law in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Betham stated: “The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but, "Can they suffer?"