Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

How Much Is That Puppy In the Window?
distributed 5/4/01 - ©2001

I learned some new words recently -- the sort of words that I wish I didn't need to encounter.

A good friend of Eco-Justice Ministries talked to me about "Puppy Factories" or "Pet Mills." Those are the names given to purely commercial operations that breed dogs (and other animals), with the offspring generally being sold in volume through pet stores.

When we ask, "How much is that puppy in the window?" we usually don't ask about, and don't see, the horrible conditions that produced the puppy. The reports that I've seen (at talk about the inhumane and short-sighted practices of these operations -- practices that maximize profits, and minimize care for the animals:

  • dogs crowded into small cages, with poor sanitation and minimal food and water

  • no screening for genetic or other health defects, so the puppies are often sick

  • no socialization, caring touch or loving treatment for either puppies or mature dogs

  • non-stop breeding of females, with dogs killed as soon as they are no longer fertile
These large-scale breeding operations for pets sound frighteningly similar to the way chickens are treated in some factory farms -- crammed into cages for their entire lives, pumped full of chemicals. There are even stories of removing the beaks from the birds so they don't peck each other to death.

One doesn't need to be an "animal rights extremist" to be horrified by this sort of treatment. To treat living beings so crassly, to objectify them as "things" and see only their financial worth, is morally wrong.

My short definition of eco-justice is: "Thou shalt not exploit what God has made." There's lots of room to talk about the definition of "exploit," but what happens in puppy factories and industrial chicken farms certainly is exploitation. It is an unfair using of another creature for personal gain.

These exploitative situations needs a multi-faceted approach. There need to be personal choices (don't buy pet store puppies; do buy "cage-free" eggs), legislative efforts for better animal cruelty laws, and education campaigns to inform the public about what happens behind the scenes. But each of those approaches requires a prior moral conviction: that humans have an ethical responsibility to treat other species justly.

The church has a vital role in laying the groundwork for that moral stance. The church teaches about humanity's place and purpose in creation. The notion of "dominion" has often been at the center of that teaching, and the understanding of "dominion" has often been shallow and uncritical.

The profoundly good news is that a growing segment of the church is rediscovering biblical and theological themes that modify and contradict the dominion perspective. We are articulating and claiming beliefs that recognize the worth of other creatures.

Congregations and denominations come to different decisions about moral and legislative questions on animal rights. As always, churches cover a wide range of theological and ethical perspectives. But the simple fact that we are treating puppy factories and chicken farms as serious moral questions is a positive indicator about a shifting sense in the churches about humanity's relationship with the rest of creation.

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One piece of how religious communities are addressing humanity's place and purpose in creation ties into current issues in science and public policy.

With the guidance of the National Council of Churches of Christ, interfaith groups in seventeen states are involved in campaigns to face the crisis of Global Climate Change. These state-based efforts involve theological and ethical reflection, study about scientific and economic issues, political advocacy work, and strategies for energy efficiency on individual and congregational levels.

The human impacts on the Earth's climate represent one of the most dramatic and complicated moral issues of our time. Through this well-organized campaign, churches across the US are being helped toward faithful reflection and effective action.

This broad interfaith effort is a wonderful example of how churches can fill their unique and important role in our society.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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