The Neolithic Period, or New Stone Age, beginning about 10,000 BC was a period in the development of human technology, which introduced farming and produced the “Neolithic Revolution”, a progression of behavioral and cultural changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals. During this time, the appreciation and respect for animals led to their domestication, animal agriculture and animal husbandry.
The birth of an animal welfare ethic also began with the Neolithic era , a mutually beneficial arrangement between people and animals. This bond between humans and animals lasted for thousands of years, but eventually began to unravel during the industrial revolution, and later, the technological advances of the 20th century. The assembly line aesthetic allowed animals to be placed in environments that increased production, yet severely harmed existence and well-being.
In a less rural and agricultural, even more urbanized and technological Eastern Shore, how do we define acceptable levels of animal welfare? With only a fraction of the population now living on farms, and with agricultural operations becoming more and more concentrated, the contract between humans and animals is nearly severed. Given this disconnect the dialog and theory of animal welfare is more important than ever, especially when it has to do with domesticated animals, whether pets or farm animals.
Animal abuse can be the result of negligence (failure to act properly) or harm that results from deliberate acts of cruelty, like leaving a dog chained outside for extended periods of time. Deliberate acts of cruelty include torture, beating or maiming animals, which result in severe pain, injury and death to the animals involved. Look, we’ve all seen it, and we’re all aware of it—the question is whether we will continue to tolerate it. The ultimate goal should be to end all animal suffering through direct action in town and in all of Northampton County.
Certainly, through citizen action and county ‘animal control’, as a society we should not shy away from conducting rescues of animals that are being abused. As much as I admire the radical measures employed by groups like Animal Liberation Front, this is not the answer in Northampton. We know that there are a lot of disparate groups and individuals that care and are working hard; however, it is time to pool resources and work collaboratively with government institutions, law enforcement agencies, and all the other animal protection organizations, and communities to improve conditions on the ground for our animals.
We understand there is some competiveness, and some in-fighting among certain animal welfare factions, but fundamentally, as our responsibility to animals suggests, we must work together to ensure that their lives have value, that they are free from hunger, thirst, pain, fear, but more importantly, free to live life to the fullest in a proper space full of social interaction.
Northampton needs its own shelter
In Cape Charles, the Planning Commission is currently exploring what the town can do relative to animal welfare, whether or not it can more closely align town ordinance with Virginia cruelty laws. Moving the debate into the political arena, making it a fundamental part of the public policy discussion is an important step. The same thing needs to occur in the county. Improving conditions for animals in Northampton is as much political as it is social, and real change will not occur without a political solution. What that means, is that the citizens of Northampton County must begin working towards a county-centric solution to its animal welfare problems. The combined Accomack-Northampton shelter is wonderful, and does great work, but it is completely overwhelmed—it just does not have the capacity to handle all the business of both counties. Realistically, as well as symbolically, Northampton needs its own shelter. I understand, bringing something like this up now is bordering on the ridiculous and insane (with the county ready to run a $3 million deficit), however, from the animal rights, animal welfare sector, this must become a core part of the agenda.
Sound animal protection ordinances which incorporate essential animal welfare values also need to become part of the public policy framework that describes our county. Public awareness through political advocacy can, over time effect public policy—that is, until animal welfare is recognized as ‘important’ to the community, funding for items such as a new shelter will never be appropriated. All the disparate groups need to come together to form a unified political voice to begin the long, and sometimes tedious work required to create real change on the ground.
The work of the Cape Charles Planning Commission on animal welfare, which seeks to establish a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals, is an important first step. However, it is just the first part of a glacial process that hopes to one day to establish a socially just community for all. We need to create the world we want to see–think critically, and act responsibly.