Who hasn't seen and been moved by the TV ads from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showing sad, abused puppies that need a home? Who could tell from these that the ASPCA is a radical, ideological, even tyrannical organization?
Some background: More than a decade ago, the ASPCA joined with other animal-rights groups to sue Ringling Bros. as part of a campaign to keep animals out of zoos and circuses.
As justification for this radical position, the lawsuit alleged that the circus was abusing elephants. But a judge tossed the claim after finding that the plaintiffs were in effect turning the courtroom into a three-ring circus.
It turned out the ASPCA's star witness and plaintiff, Tom Rider, a former Ringling Bros. employee, had a flagrant conflict of interest: He was on the payroll of a nonprofit involved in the litigation.
The judge wrote in a 2009 opinion that Rider was “not credible,” and the jurist gave “no weight” to any of his testimony.
In a man-bites-dog twist, Feld Entertainment, the operator of Ringling Bros., sued the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and a troupe of other clowns — er, plaintiffs.
The case wasn't just showmanship. Last week, the ASPCA became the first and, so far, only defendant in the racketeering, conspiracy and lawsuit-abuse litigation to settle with the circus, to the tune of $9.3 million — a high price to pay not to have to admit any wrongdoing.
But the litigation is just a sideshow. The main attraction is the ongoing battle over the very presence of animals in zoos and circuses. In fact, under pressure from activists, the Los Angeles City Council is expected this year to consider a citywide ban on elephants in circuses.
The activists' agenda is laid bare by the L.A. initiative: It isn't about allegations that trainers behaved badly, it is about whether animals should be in zoos and circuses in the first place.
As the New York Times reported last month, “The fight over whether elephants should be allowed to perform in traveling shows is only partly about how they are treated: an endangered species, Asian elephants are part of a broader debate over how, and whether, humans should interact with wild animals” at all.
How radical are these groups? One lawyer involved in the Ringling case stated in an unrelated legal proceeding that her clients, several animal-rights groups, “would rather see the elephants dead than in a zoo.” This is the sort of self-defeating, anti-social, ideology-driven advocacy that is not uncommon among those who have decided that they — and only they — are the arbiters of what is ethical and moral in society.
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