For once, it’s easy to support People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

It usually isn’t. Here in Wisconsin, almost everyone has some ties to agriculture, and the idea that animals deserve near-human rights is enough to send chills down the spine of anyone who enjoys a frequent burger or brat.

PETA is best known for throwing red paint at perfectly harmless models and helping SeaWorld orcas sue for their 13th Amendment rights. So when a significant number of University of Wisconsin-Madison students voice their support for this organization, they must have a very good reason. I can’t say for sure what this reason is, but I have a suspicion: Cats are cute.

Even I, an avowed dog person, am willing to admit it. And the pictures PETA released of cats in UW’s laboratory experiments with machinery on their heads are difficult to look at. It’s hard to imagine what kind of scientific breakthrough would justify drilling holes in orange tabby ‘Double Trouble’s skull and paralyzing half his face.

But what frustrates me is that so many people will look at the photo, feel sympathetic and go right to the kitchen to heat up a factory farm-produced hot dog without thinking twice about it. The reason for this is obvious: From an early age, we are taught to be kind to pets while we ignore where our meat comes from. This is a good way to stop children from becoming serial killers, but there’s no logic behind it. What makes a cat morally different from a pig?

Pigs are smart animals, at least as intelligent as cats. And yet according to PETA almost all of the 100 million pigs killed in the U.S. each year are raised in crates too small for them to even turn their bodies. In some situations they are tortured and beaten.

Perhaps the worst part of the pig industry is that the environment they are raised in. It is filthy, loud, bright and goes against every one of these animals’ instincts. Pigs are by nature social, sensitive and mobile. It’s hard to call the conditions they are raised in anything less than torture.

We ignore this because it’s almost impossible to face. When we eat brats, we don’t concern ourselves with the pigs or cows that they were made from. Why would we? If nothing else, it would ruin the cookout.

I do not advocate vegetarianism or veganism (although I respect those who do). I enjoy meat as much as anyone. I grew up on a small farm, and I felt no guilt when a cow or sheep became a burger or brat after spending most of its life free and happy. The idea of extending human rights to animals is absurd.

What I do support is granting animal rights to animals.

Anyone who feels a pang of sympathy for the cats experimented upon at UW must grant that these animal rights exist. They include freedom from unnecessary pain and the freedom to spend what time they have on earth raising their young, rooting around in the dirt and behaving in the way they choose. These are similar to the freedoms they would experience in the wild. Even if factory farms must exist in some form, they can be made more humane and less egregiously cruel.

Would the student body have reacted so strongly if PETA had shown them pictures of piglets in agony? I suspect not, but they ought to. Having helped raise pigs, I know that they are just as capable of experiencing pleasure and pain as cats. Sure, they’re uglier and make much worse house pets, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat them with the same sympathy.

Angus McNair ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in English and journalism.