Avoid the Swing and Miss
By Lianne Appleby
On any given day, if you’re so inclined, you can Google “animal welfare,” hit the “news” button and find thousands of postings from around the globe. That fact alone should be proof enough that the issue is noteworthy to the general public. But, if you sift through those articles, there are some that should be of equal concern to farmers, and others that will leave you scratching your head.
We’ve known for years that practices that seem standard to us are often alarming to the average person. But here’s a whole new ball game – the scenario in which even good news animal stories can be turned on their head. Enter the Oakland Press, and a small report on my beloved Major League Baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. Yes that’s right. The Tigers of Comerica Park – my Tigers – recently found themselves the target of severe reprimand related not to their sport, but to animal welfare.
Let me explain. In what was meant to be a fundraising event during spring training in Miami, star pitcher Justin Verlander and third baseman Miguel Cabrera posed for publicity stills. In these pictures, they’re holding the club’s namesake, tiger cubs, borrowed from the Dade City Wild Things Zoo. The fundraiser was for the tiger cubs themselves, whose home at the zoo was reportedly destroyed by a tornado in March.
Aww. How completely warm-and-fuzzy!
Well, not to about 1,100 Facebook users who, upon seeing the posted pictures, jumped on the shame bandwagon already started by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The IFAW, according to this news item, attempted to “shame the Tigers” for “fairly significant public safety and animal welfare issues.” Forget that they were trying to raise money for a replacement home for the tiger cubs; the IFAW said that the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club Inc. shouldn’t be supporting travelling animal displays, which turn a profit “showing off child animals that are disregarded – even killed – after outgrowing their usefulness to the entertainer.”
While the IFAW argues that big cats can kill people and that it’s not a game to handle them, I’m personally not sure that they’re on the right track here. I don’t see anything dishonourable about the logic behind the shoot (incidentally, the page was removed as soon after the condemnation began).
Apparently, I’m wrong. Probably biased because of my background and definitely biased because I’m a Tigers fan, what was irresponsible in the eyes of thousands of faceless social media users seemed “A okay” me. Yet, I can’t dismiss them as ignorant do-gooders. This group is increasingly influential and very vocal – and it’s not going away.
When we talk of “accepted practice” in farming, it doesn’t mean anything to Facebook Jane. If “cute-and-fuzzy” is no longer her first impression of a photo op with a tiger cub, it’s a warning to our sector that we need to think differently. We need to consider the perspective of our customers – and our opponents.
I don’t mean just with management either, I mean with how we explain on-farm practices. Defensive answers, given when questioned about animal welfare, don’t assuage our sceptics. And any ball club will tell you that it is easier to succeed when you have a supportive home crowd versus an empty stadium.