A few years ago when I was renting in Vermont, a neighbor accused me of animal abuse because she didn't understand any of my methods of animal husbandry. She thought the deep bedding in the goat pen was "me being too lazy to clean it out" and I was cruel to keep rabbits in cages, dogs in crates, and I was poisoning the well water with the chicken poo in the yard from twenty chickens. She called animal control on me and when the officer came to inspect the farm he shook his head at my neighbor, telling me if all animals were as well tended as mine his line of work wouldn't be needed.
I think Joel Salatin put it best in his recent book Folks, This Aint Normal. An entire chapter “A Cat is a Cow is a Chicken is My Aunt” is dedicated to the recent abnormality of ridiculous levels of anthropomorphism mixed with a general agricultural ignorance. I run into this constantly, both on the blog and in real life. I never worry about leaving Gibson in the truck in Washington County, as ride-along dogs are common as ticks, but in Vermont I worry someone will be standing there writing a note on my door. I always want to laugh, because if they knew what a farm dog goes through in a usual day....5 minutes in a car with a cracked window is a joke. There's a good chance by the time I got to Manchester Gibson has cut himself on a sharp briar in the woods, got burrs in tail feathers, faced a horned sheep head on and barely avoided her headbutt, ran till he was ready to collapse, got covered in mud....and loved every minute of it. Waiting in the car isn't always comfortable, but its more boring to him than dangerous.
Compassion is good. Animal abuse is bad. These are things we can all agree on, but when righteousness and ignorance hit you full force is makes you very, very tired. Just because an animal isn't in a situation you would want to be in means it is being abused. Just because an animal isn't constantly comfortable (I am rarely comfortable and have yet to be accused of self-human-abuse) doesn't make it a victim. I am all for animal welfare and practice it constantly, but comparing our comfort level to livestock is silly.