Ever since Greenpeace started photographing pictures of baby seals being clubbed to death during the annual seal hunt in Newfoundland Canada and putting themselves between whalers' harpoons and their prey, the issue of humanity's relationship with the creatures we share the planet with has become an increasingly hot topic. The fur industry, cosmetic industry, soap companies, food industry, whaling industry, and companies that use animals in any sort of laboratory testing have all been subject to intense scrutiny, and forced to change their practices due to the activities of groups like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherds.
It wasn't that long ago when it was considered perfectly acceptable for a company to do whatever it wanted to animals when it came to testing if their latest shampoos would make your eyes water. Now of course no one would dream of putting out a shampoo or skin care product which didn't contain the magic words "NO ANIMAL TESTING" or variations on that theme or risk the ire of animal activists. Huntington Life Services found out what that mean as the campaign against them was so successful that it resulted in various corporations across the United States severing ties with it, and the company being forbidden from trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Like any other emotionally charged issue where people tend to check their brains at the door and have knee-jerk responses on both sides of the argument, finding anything approaching a fair and balanced look at the issue has been next to impossible. It hasn't helped matters that the government of the United States has rushed to protect the people that guarantee their elections each year by passing the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006 making activities affecting the profit-making ability of a business conducting animal testing an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act. Heavy-handed reactions like that aren't liable to create conditions conducive to calm and rational debates.
So I was delighted to find that the documentary feature film Your Mommy Kills Animals, just released on DVD, made a concentrated effort to be as unbiased and even-handed as possible. While it's obvious the makers have sympathy for the work done by certain organizations in regards to animal welfare, and they regard the prosecution of individuals charged and sentenced under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act as unconstitutional, they do their best to merely observe and report.
The film is not for the fainthearted or squeamish as it contains footage smuggled out of facilities where testing on animals is conducted, and other imagery of cruelty to animals. While it could be argued that including this footage detracts from their impartiality, it is part of the reality that the movie is documenting. They have done their best to keep those scenes to a minimum and keep them in context rather than exploiting the imagery for an agenda.
One of the first things the filmmakers do is differentiate between the two types of groups working in the United States to alleviate the suffering of animals. Animal welfare groups are primarily organizations that run shelters and rescue facilities for domesticated and companion animals (pets). Animal activists are the groups whose primary focus is preventing the use of animals in industry — factory farms, the fur industry, medical and cosmetic testing — and what they consider the exploitation of animals for entertainment purposes (zoos and circuses primarily).
The first part of the film is given over to explaining what exactly each group does, and the differences in their approaches to the issue of animal protection. The people who run the shelters and rescue facilities have as their primary concern keeping the animals alive and giving them a safe haven from a world that's treated them badly. Most of these facilities exist as chances of last resort for animals who otherwise would be put down by local or city-run animal shelters, or who have been abandoned in the wild by their owners.
These people come across as being just what you'd expect them to be – warm, generous, and compassionate humans who have devoted their lives to caring for animals. Something this movie makes abundantly clear is that in spite of the impression they might give to the contrary, the United States Humane Society (USHS) does not run or fund any animal shelters whatsoever. When you give money to them, none of it will find its way to your city-run Humane Society or shelter. In fact the impression one gets of the United States Humane Society is of an organization more concerned with its image than actually carrying out the business of saving animal lives.
While the animal welfare people come across as intelligent and caring individuals, the animal rights people aren't necessarily as easy to like. The tactics they use are pretty much the same as those used by the anti-abortion groups: demonstrating at employees' homes at all hours of the day or night, committing acts of vandalism at facilities that conduct animal testing, spraying graffiti, liberating the animals, all the way up to and including arson. Their goal is to foster an environment where these companies are unable to conduct business unless they cease animal testing.
Whether we like them or not, they have had a certain amount of success in achieving their goal of making it increasingly difficult for companies to conduct business in the manner to which they were accustomed. In fact it's their very success which caused the implementation of the new act mentioned earlier in this review. Of the first seven individuals who were charged under that act, six have been found guilty and been sentenced to anything from one to six years in jail and ordered to pay one million dollar fines; are all interviewed in this film and don't seem any more dangerous than you or I.
None of them were charged with actually carrying out any acts of violence, and none of them have taken part in any activities described earlier. They were all charged because of information that was posted at a website encouraging people to take action against Huntington Life Sciences, in spite of the fact there is no proof linking them directly to the website's publication. As a person in the film who doesn't agree with their tactics said, though, the most troubling part of all this is the fact that they were charged for advocating activities that anti-abortion groups, anti-homosexual and AIDS organizations groups, and the Klu Klux Klan are allowed to advocate or carry out with impunity. America's cherished constitutional clause guaranteeing free speech seems to be very selective.
You may have noticed that I've not mentioned People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in this review, and been wondering why a film about animal activism doesn't talk about them. First of all, PETA refused to be interviewed for the movie and so they weren't able to rebut any of the accusations leveled against them. It seems that people on both sides of the issue, form the animal rights camp to the animal welfare camp and the people who argue in favour of animal testing, can agree on at least one thing — an intense dislike of PETA.
While most people seem intent on preserving the lives of animals, or making their situation better, PETA has been steadily running up the highest euthanasia percentage among all animal rescue groups. In one year they put down 85% of the animals they took in from shelters instead of either housing them of finding them new homes. We're talking about healthy animals that would have lived years, but PETA decided that it's better to kill them than to keep them penned up. In general PETA is another organization that comes across as being more interested in their status and seeking celebrity endorsements then the welfare of animals.
Your Mommy Kills Animals (the title is taken from that of a "comic" that PETA hands out to children that shows pictures of a rabbit before and after its been skinned that repeatedly states "your mommy kills animals") does its best to give an objective view of the various organizations and individuals who are involved in advocating for a world in which humans treat animals with respect and dignity. While the movie makes no bones about the fact that it considers the terrorist charges brought against individuals within the animal rights movement unconstitutional and a dangerous precedent on the grounds of denial of freedom of speech, it does its level best to present as impartial a picture as possible. In the end it leaves it up to the viewer to make his or her own decision about the issue after hearing from everyone from mink farmers to Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherds, the anti-whaling group.
Unlike a number of current documentaries that are no more than propaganda for a filmmaker's pet issue, Your Mommy Kills Animals does its best to simply document the issue without prejudice.