Being treated like a dog is bad. Being treated like a pig can be worse, say advocates with the Humane Society of the United States. They're protesting Wednesday at the Monmouth SPCA in Eatontown to support a ban of gestation crates in New Jersey.

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The practice involves placing brood sows in metal-and-concrete casings, about two feet wide and seven feet long, where they spend their lives producing offspring but never moving. According to Matthew Dominguez, Public Policy Manager for the Humane Society's Farm Animal Protection Campaign, it's common in the industry but little-known outside of it.

"In the United States, over five-and-a-half-million breeding sows are confined in a space so small they can't even turn around." It's done, he says, "to stack more animals in a smaller space without regard for animal welfare."

The sows are artifically inseminated, he explains, and spend their gestation period inside the crate. When they give birth, they're switched to another cage to nurse the brood. After several weeks, the piglets are shipped to finishing farms to be raised for slaughter while the sows are placed back in the crates.

"Whether you're a meat-eater or a vegetarian," says Dominguez, "we all believe in our heart of hearts that animals - including farm animals - deserve to be treated with decency and have a life worth living."

New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) sponsored a measure to ban gestation crates in New Jersey. Bill S-1921 would have required breeders to leave enough space for movement. The companion Assembly measure, A-3250, drew 17 cosponsors.

Governor Chris Christie issued an absolute veto to the Lesniak bill. In his response, the Governor cited the Legislature's 1995 decision to place the setting of standards for "humane raising, keeping, care and treatment of domestic livestock" to the state Board of Agriculture and Department of Agriculture.

He went on to note that the Legislature specified compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act, allowing for opinions by stakeholders and ensuring accountability before standards are adopted.

Christie also supported his position with those of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, neither of which objects to the practice.

"Dogs and pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures," Dominguez says. "And yet, dogs and cats...are protected by the animal cruelty statutes. If you were to immobilize a dog or cat for its entire life in a crate like this, it would be animal cruelty in the state of New Jersey."

Humane Society advocates are encouraging pet owners to bring their dogs and cats to the rally that starts at 5:30 PM at the Monmouth SPCA, 260 Wall Street, Eatontown.