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Genesis 1 (NIV)


26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Man is set in dominion over animals. The Bible tells us so; nature and experience confirm this truth. But along with man's place of authority, God also placed a corresponding responsibility, a task of stewardship. As such, animals are an integral part of our lives. By federal law, we even have designated 1,250 animals as endangered because of their scarcity and importance in our environment.

However, some people's take on how exactly humans ought to manifest this stewardship can border on the absurd. Game show host Bob Barker, a long-time advocate (and rightly so) for the responsible ownership of pet cats and dogs, last week endowed a $1 million fund at the Duke Law School to study “animal rights law.” This gift is the most recent in a string of such endowments by the popular host of “The Price Is Right.” In a society already beset by lawsuits, Barker's encouragement of litigation ultimately threatens to undermine the sensibility of his sound advice at the end of every episode, “Have your pet spayed or neutered.”

And some people treat their pet as if it were their own four-legged child. Others even confide secrets to Fido, certain that the dog understands perfectly what the owner reveals. There may be a bit too much attachment if, for instance, you believe your dog is reading your mind, or if you plan vacations specifically for your pet. Even airlines are getting into the act, as Israel's El Al Airlines in 2001 became the first international airline to introduce a frequent flyer plan for animals. Such actions may be relatively harmless, if a bit strange. But others, such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), don't want to rely on such benign measures. ALF thinks no animal should ever be confined. So, they have forcibly released from legitimate confinement as many as possible. The FBI said the ALF has committed 600 crimes in recent years. Some activists have made disturbing headway in restricting our military from conducting training exercises to test weapons systems where animals were concerned. They have used such laws as the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to limit how troops can use their bases for training. The Marine Mammal Protection Act is being used to block the Navy from using anti-submarine systems that are employed to detect the quiet diesel submarines,which are part of the armed forces of North Korea and Iran. Because the anti-sub equipment might “harass” whales and sea lions, deployment of the modern sonar system has been delayed for years. As lovely and graceful as deer are, we know they are trampling over our cities' lawns, as well as our woods in increasing numbers. Unless harvested, almost any animal species that multiplies in overwhelming numbers will begin to starve to death. Deer have nearly quadrupled in the past generation. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that deer are destroying the nation's forests by eating seedlings,thereby preventing regeneration.

In the case of some animals – such as bears – they can maraud, kill livestock and terrorize. New Jersey's Fish and Game Council voted earlier this year to permit the first bear hunt in 33 seasons. In their frantic search for food, the bears were breaking into houses and attacking residents. One couple was killed by a black bear. But the position of many contemporary animal rights advocates, self-righteous as some are, appears questionable when we look back in history. Bird lovers, on the other hand, have legitimate concerns. Of the 485 animal species reportedly to become extinct since 1600, nearly a quarter of them have been birds. Undoubtedly the most notorious case of man's mistreatment of virtually any species – even including the slaughter of the buffalo in the late 1800s – is the slaughter of the Carrier Pigeon. This is a dramatic example of what happens when man clashes ignorantly with nature. Carrier pigeons once comprised a third of all birds in the U.S. Early explorers wrote of “infinite multitudes” as much a mile in width taking hours to pass overhead.“ But by the early 1900s, no wild passenger pigeon existed. In April 1873 in Saginaw, Michigan, a continuous stream of the birds soared between 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., it was reported. Their roosting sites were enormous; covering five by 12 miles with so many nesting in a single tree their weight broke the branches. Some estimates were that passenger pigeons numbered in the billions. When western Michigan was running out of lumber as its main resource, it took advantage of passenger pigeons as a cash crop. During 1874 one county alone shot, trapped, and sent over one million birds to markets in the East, according to Clive Ponting's A Green History of the World. Even these unbelievably vast flocks of birds (which seemed inexhaustible) could not last. Animals will always be a joy – and in some instances a problem – depending on how we perceive them and treat them. We ought to focus on sensible solutions for managing wildlife and practice personal responsibility over our pets. Do we need a new generation of lawyers to protect “animal rights”?

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Tait Trussell is the former managing editor for Nation's Business magazine. He was also vice president for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.