For those who are owned by humans and, by extension, unprotected by legal rights, the realities of their daily existence depend largely on the personality and moral character of the person in whose care they are placed.
While animals used as workers are sometimes treated well by their owners, this is often not the case. Many are forced to undergo tremendously demanding and psychologically debilitating training, and even in situations where they are fortunate enough to be in the service of someone who cares for their well-being, the fact remains that, like children, they are not able to consent to the purpose for which they are being used.
For example, not only are working dogs completely dependent on humans, they are often not allowed to freely develop psychologically or emotionally, as many are constantly either being trained or obeying orders, and some are never allowed to engage in activities for their own reasons. In essence, many working animals are expected to be living machines. In certain cases, they are sent into high-risk situations and even to their deaths so that human lives will be saved; in others, they can be killed for doing what they were taught to believe was the right thing to do.
While our human population might benefit from the remarkable abilities and heightened physical senses of certain nonhuman animals when put to use in the context of aiding us in certain situations, it is simply impossible to justify the emotional, psychological and physical burden this places on individuals for whom these purposes simply cannot be comprehended and for whom our use of them very frequently ends up leading to very real physical and psychological harm that cannot be undone.
Dogs used by law enforcement are under constant stress, and their lives are frequently put at risk, not only because of the dangerous situations they are expected to endure as a matter of course, but sometimes even as a result of the actions of their handlers and other police officers. “Search and rescue” dogs often suffer from long-term exposure to toxins in the environment and as a result they can develop cancer, respiratory problems, and other health ailments.
When used for criminal work, dogs are expected to chase and attack suspects, effectively being used as living weapons or “impact weapons,” as referred to by the police. If a suspect is armed, a dog can be sent to bite and hold while the suspect is shooting, leading to dogs frequently being shot. Training and daily treatment depends on the purpose for which the dogs are being used. For example, “apprehension and attack dogs” are used to locate and subdue suspects and enemies. They are kept on a leash at all times, and wear a muzzle unless they are expected to pursue and detain a suspect.
To obtain dogs for law enforcement, police officers either buy them from specialized breeders and trainers or, more commonly, have their own kennel facilities known as “dog units” where those who are bred will subsequently be trained. Each breeding unit may have as many as 60 female dogs being bred, resulting in around 200 babies each year. Some countries also have cloning programs.
The dogs are either trained to meet all the expected criteria for use by the police units that trained them or they are sold to government agencies and institutions as well as private organisations (sometimes overseas). Babies are evaluated through a series of tests at different stages of their development. When they don’t meet all the expected standards during their training (or if they can no longer be used for breeding,) they are either sold or given away privately, relinquished to shelters, or killed via lethal injection. According to one source, about 98% of “trainees” become “disqualified” from training.
Training takes place either at a private training facility or with the onsite police trainers. Some dogs live in kennels at the police units, but most of them live in kennels at the property of their assigned handler (a police officer). Handlers are said to be with their dogs almost 24/7, but the dogs are not allowed to be treated with affection or behave any differently than during the “working” day. In order to keep being “police dogs,” they are expected to continue to meet high standards of “effectiveness,” always obeying the commands of their handler without hesitation.
With the exception of the times when they are being actively used for law enforcement, the dogs continue to be trained throughout their “working” lives, which usually span 6 to 9 years. During training, dogs are expected to be able to perform under stress and in loud or chaotic environments. They are not allowed to demonstrate shyness, sadness, or anxiety. Guns are fired, doors banged and car horns screeched, while apparently hostile people pretend they are trying to escape. Such simulations are done over and over again.
Training methods may include prong collars, choke chains, beatings, and forced submission by the seizing of their testicles. For these dogs, the whole world is a constant threat and their only relief is by obeying commands.
The number one cause of death recorded for “police dogs” in the US is extreme heat while locked inside a handler’s car. This is also common in the UK (10) (16). Death from heatstroke can also come about after being trained too harshly, or while tied outside in direct sunlight. No one really knows how many police dogs die from heatstroke every year, as law enforcement agencies aren’t required to report it. Other causes of death are many and varied, but the most common are gunfire, other accidents, being struck by a vehicle, stabbing, asphyxiation, assault, and drowning. Death in a car crash is also common.
If a dog is injured and doesn’t completely recover, if he becomes sick, or if he is aging, he will be “retired.” Up until the year 2000, police and military dogs in the US were routinely killed by lethal injection when they were deemed no longer fit for “service.” After 2000, Congress passed a law permitting “retired” military and police dogs to be adopted by their handlers. Some handlers are keen to adopt them, while others are not. Some adopt them only to abandon them to shelters down the line. These canine veterans are generally between the ages of 6 and 9 when they are retired, meaning they often require medical treatment to stay healthy. Many handlers aren’t willing to provide it to them.
Those who are not adopted by their handlers may be put up for adoption privately, killed by the police force with the excuse that they were not re-homed soon enough, abandoned or relinquished to shelters. There have been several documented cases where these dogs were found in deplorable conditions in shelters or even in dumpsters after having been starved, stabbed and beaten.
Some retired police dogs come across as “too aggressive” as a result of their attack training, and this commonly results in their being killed rather than being put up for adoption. Others suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their experiences during “service.”
In some cases, when dogs are put up for adoption, in spite of waiting lists of people wanting to adopt them, a great number of them are killed by lethal injection instead, including babies.
Dogs used by the military have been selectively bred for hundreds of years to have the desired behaviour and abilities to meet the military’s demands, but archaeologists suspect that humans have used dogs in warfare since they were first “domesticated” more than 15,000 years ago. In WWI, the casualty rate among dogs was so high that many units stopped using them, and about a million dogs were killed in action. These dogs carried medical packs to wounded soldiers, sat with those who were dying, and carried messages, food, and explosives to soldiers in the trenches. They pulled small vehicles packed with supplies. Sometimes they even transported wounded soldiers.
During WWII the exploitation continued, with dogs used as scouts to detect ambushes, weapon caches, or the enemy. Many were also used to locate mines. This task was so stressful that dogs could work no more than 30 minutes at a time. Mine detection training involved random shocks from underground, causing dogs to fear electric shocks from the earth at any time. Dogs in WWII were also the primary animals used in medical experimentation. After the war, the army killed their dogs via lethal injection, claiming they were too aggressive for civilian life.
Today, the U.S. military alone uses anywhere from 2,800 to 3,000 dogs in Japan, Hawaii, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa, and elsewhere, with 700 dogs just in Afghanistan. Two thirds of these individuals are used to detect explosives. In the Middle East, dogs endure extremely hot weather, including in sandstorms and on rocky terrain.
Just as in the past, dogs are still used as sentries, trackers, scouts, mascots, and for search, rescue, and mine detection. These dogs are classified under the U.S. and U.K. law as “equipment” despite the assigned ranks they are given, which is exactly what should be expected, since if their lives were respected at all they would not be there in the first place. Any decisions about their lives are based on their usefulness, and the financial costs to the military. Many are actively used 60 hours per week, and are “on call” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Nothing can protect a dog from nuclear, biological, chemical, or nerve agent attacks. Although research is being done to develop pills that will allow them to survive the latter, this is because a great amount of money (about $40,000) is invested in the training of each dog.
After dogs are born in a US base, “puppy development specialists” select only a few of them and try to mold them to accept their future training, which starts at around six months of age. Others are purchased from abroad between the ages of one and three. Training methods differ from base to base and from dog to dog, but in general they are a mixture of “positive reinforcement” and “aversive control,” which can involve aggressive and traumatizing methods. Allowing these dogs to play, tossing a ball at them, taking them for a walk with no commands, or letting them lie in the sun are considered luxuries that only a few handlers occasionally relent to.
After learning basic verbal commands and hand signals, training involves obedience and/or bomb detection. Later they are exposed to arms fire and exploding shells. Some are further trained for other purposes listed above, especially patrol, and detaining and attacking the enemy. Basic training lasts for 4 to 6 months, and they get “refresher training” afterward, almost every day. Only 50% of dogs pass the training stage. A large number of them are “disqualified” due to the extreme stress they exhibit when they are ordered to bite a human.
Setting aside their extreme and traumatic training, according to published research, dogs who are deployed to a war zone “are exposed to harsh environments and battlefield dangers that increase their risk of disease, injuries, and death.” Injuries are the primary cause of death, with the most common being gunshot wounds, followed by explosion blasts and heat stress. Diseases come second, most commonly gastric dilation and volvulus followed by pleuritis and sepsis. According to published research, 8.7% of case reports did not disclose the cause of death.
As a result of the strain caused by their extremely harsh treatment, even dogs who are not sent into battle have a higher chance of developing medical issues than they would normally. The most common conditions are tearing of their tendons, wearing out of their hips, aggressive spondylosis, and a high prevalence of cancer.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is reported in about 5 to 10% of U.S. military dogs who have experienced combat settings, but the co-founder of a rescue and rehabilitation group that tries to rehome the “retired” dogs of the military says that “almost every dog we get in has some sort of PTSD”. These dogs either become over-vigilant, jumpy, or unusually aggressive with their handlers, or they become shy and needy. They stop doing the tasks they were trained to do, or they avoid buildings and other areas they used to seem comfortable with. Although these dogs may receive treatment to make their symptoms less evident, according to specialists in canine PTSD, they can’t be cured because they can never forget what they’ve experienced.
After a U.S. law was passed in the year 2000, dogs who can no longer be used by the military may be adopted by their handlers. Prior to that law all “retired” dogs were killed. However, since a handler has to not only be willing, but also be retired and living in a suitable situation, the fate of the majority of these dogs is to either be left behind “somewhere,” dumped into kennels in the countries where their “service” ended, abandoned with unsuitable families, or simply killed.
In Afghanistan, between 2010 and 2014, many of the dogs with the US army were left in kennels for almost a year with no care or attention. In the end they were killed. The ones who were adopted were simply given to random civilians with no screening. Most of the unscreened owners were unfit to care for the dogs, to the degree that they were abusive or had small children who could not coexist safely with them. Some who returned to the U.S. were left in kennels for almost a year while suffering a lack of care and attention, whereas others were killed by lethal injection. Even when their handlers try to locate where the dogs have been dumped, the army makes it almost impossible for them to do so.
In the U.K., on average, half of all “retired” dogs were killed between 2009 and 2017. According to dog rescue charities familiar with the situation, old age and behavioural problems are just excuses to get rid of the dogs. A case that gained media attention was when Brus and Blade, who were guarding Prince William in the RAF, were immediately killed as soon as Prince William quit his service. An animal behaviour expert called their killing “euthanasia of convenience”.
Anyone familiar with the horrors of human slavery can no doubt imagine what it might be like for a nonhuman suffering the fate of being owned by an unfeeling master. Many working animals are expected to pull or haul unbearable loads to the point of debilitating daily exhaustion, and there is nothing to stop their owners from using physical violence to force them into subservience. This is the fate of many horses, donkeys, mules, oxen, and others who exist as living equipment on farms around the world.
In many parts of the world, oxen are still among the most common farm animals used for labor because of their large, powerful build.
Oxen working on farms are required to pull far more than even their strong bodies are built for, often as much as 12,000 pounds. They’re also required to work regardless of weather conditions. Under the harsh sun they run the risk of overheating. In wet conditions, they often contract illnesses.
In addition to daily hard labor in grueling conditions, oxen are often “trained” with negative reinforcements like whips and beatings, which continue throughout their lives. When they become too sick, old or injured to continue working, they’re slaughtered and their flesh is sold as “meat.”
Horses are commonly deployed as workers on farms, and are used to pull carts or plows at great expense to their wellbeing.
Horses used for labor are selectively bred for desirable traits such as strong hind leg muscles. Selective breeding practices lead to genetic diseases and shorter lifespans. These horses are more prone to becoming weakened and sickly as they age.
Medical treatment for horses is often expensive, so on many farms, horses don’t receive the veterinary care they need. This can cause them to develop to painful infections in their hooves and infestations of their mane. Depending on their age or ability to work, farmers may instead opt to slaughter the horse instead of treating the illness.
Many farmers live a contradiction, compartmentalizing their animal property according to arbitrary distinctions, including keeping “pet” dogs indoors, while forcing “farm” dogs to live outdoors or in barns.
Dogs are still common on farms across the globe, including in North America. They’re often forced to maintain high levels of energy for long days as they herd or patrol flocks of sheep or cows. They get very little rest and are forced to continuously traverse terrain not suited for their paws.
Because many farm dogs are required to live outdoors or in a barn, they’re highly susceptible to lice and fleas. Additionally, their coats are often not adequately cared for, causing them to become matted and dirty. Matted fur often leads to sores, lesions and mange.
Farm dogs also suffer from a lack of interaction. Dogs are social animals who rely on the companionship of humans or other animals. Denied the emotional and psychological comfort they need, and forced to work long days, farm dogs frequently suffer from anxiety or depression.
While it’s easy to assume that modern technology should have put an end to this archaic practice by now, the use of many different species of animals for transportation and hauling continues in certain countries around the globe, from Beirut to Barcelona to Boston.
Animals kept as cargo machines live short, hard lives. They’re frequently subjected to particularly inhumane treatment, provided with inadequate food and forced to work in stressful and often dangerous conditions.
Donkeys are sensitive animals with small, strong bodies. Some people keep donkeys for the purpose of hauling large loads on their backs. Others use them to pull heavy, often unbalanced carts through crowded streets, or in agricultural operations. Regardless of their purpose, these animals are forced to perform hard labor daily. Some donkeys are cross-bred with horses to create mules, who suffer from a range of genetic conditions, leading to significant daily pain.
Donkey taxis are a popular tourist draw in countries like Spain and Greece. These animals carry loads much heavier than is healthy, while being exposed to dangerous temperatures and conditions. They’re seen not as living creatures but as objects, and are often beaten, malnourished and suffering from mange. They’re used until they break. When they’re unable to carry tourists or loads, they’re frequently tied to posts and left to die from the elements.
Camels are highly evolved creatures capable of withstanding extreme natural conditions. But they are not capable of withstanding these harsh environments while simultaneously being whipped, beaten and ridden hard for long hours every day, without adequate sleep, food and water.
In many tourist attractions—particularly significant North African sites like the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt—camels are kept as tourist attractions. Camels kept for tourist purposes are subjected to overexposure in sweltering heat with very little shelter. They are forced to pull overburdened carts, or to give rides to people far too heavy for them to carry without physical risk. Their bodies decline rapidly and many die from exposure and overexertion.
Camels kept as workers are often sick and covered in lesions and sores. When they become too sick to be useful, they’re slaughtered to be eaten.
Elephants are social animals relying on complex relationships and communities. Tragically, these gentle giants are often used as a tourist draw in a number of different countries from Kenya to Thailand.
Elephants kept in captivity for the purposes of carrying humans or their supplies are forced to haul heavy loads on their back, live in cramped conditions and eat inadequate diets. They’re usually captured from the wild as babies. After being separated from their mothers, the elephants are tortured with bullhooks until they’re “trained” to respond to certain commands. Many are broken mentally and eventually, even these mighty beings break physically. Elephants used as tourist draws often suffer from serious spinal conditions, eventually leading to their early and painful death.
It’s all too common for people to keep dogs not as companions, but for more utilitarian purposes, such as to guard their home or property. Many people fail to realize (or, in many cases, care) that using a dog in this way is harmful to the dog, and that guard dogs are often subjected to intentional cruelty as part of their training, so as to generate an extreme fear of humans. This conditioning programs them to threaten or attack strangers out of fear, and as a result, they always remain on edge. Dogs who are trained to be aggressive are also more likely to be the target of other aggressive dogs, putting their safety constantly at risk.
Domesticated dogs are used to receiving shelter from humans, but many guard dogs are posted out in the open elements. They may be left without water in hot sunny conditions or all night during the coldest part of the season. In nature, wild dogs protect themselves from the elements by burrowing, but for chained guard dogs, there’s no easy way to protect themselves against the real physical toll taken by exposure to the elements.
Guard dogs are usually tied or chained to a post at the area they’re supposed to be guarding. While they’re tied they’re unable to exercise a full range of motion. This can cause dogs to get entangled and caught, especially if they perceive an approaching threat. The result can be anything from broken limbs to tremendous pain, or even choking to death.
Because guard dogs aren’t capable of leaving their post, if a threat does approach, the dog is unable to protect herself or flee. Armed intruders can easily injure or even kill a dog who’s unable to fight back. Even people who don’t have any intent to break and enter may antagonize a guard dog just for the fun of it, adding to the already high stress and anxiety of a dog “on duty.”
While guide dogs (and other animals used in service of the disabled) are generally not placed in life-threatening situations, their training can also be extremely demanding and there is nothing to protect them from being placed with human masters who are either cruel by intention, or simply insensitive to the physical or psychological needs of another thinking, feeling being.
Service dogs are often bred exclusively for the purpose of meeting the needs of their owners. This selective breeding causes many dogs to suffer from a range of genetic issues that can lead to significant physical problems, particularly as they age.
Many people who own service dogs are not able to adequately care for them, and the dogs end up suffering from neglect or inadequate nutrition. Others are expected to accompany their human companions to loud, stressful places like airports, bars and concerts, where their heightened sense of smell and sound makes such environments stressful and confusing.
Some people claim they need a “service animal” as a convenient excuse for owning an exotic pet. The individuals owned by such people are frequently subjected to mishandling as well as unreasonable expectations, and are often confused and frightened by situations they haven’t been prepared for.
Whether their handler isn’t physically capable of taking care of them or doesn’t care enough to, the health and wellbeing of all service animals is dependent on the integrity of the individual in whose custody they are placed. And even in cases when the relationship is genuinely one of love and mutual affection, the reality for service animals is that they are born and trained to put the needs of a master before their own.