“Why do you care so much about animals?”
My four year old grandson asked me at the breakfast table: an earnest question, and no time to prepare an answer.
“Because I have come to see them, to know them. They have feelings.”
Unsaid: How could anyone not? Witnessing so much suffering by animals at the hands of human beings over the past few years, it just seems to grow. The respect for other forms of life, those less understandable, just keeps expanding. The traits I have come to appreciate: the beauty of an underwater mollusk, the grace of a deer, the leaping ability of the cat, the loving, friendly quality of the pig, the gentleness of a calf, the amazing abilities of an insect or a fish. There is so much graphic evidence about the mass extinction of animals that anyone who cares even slightly can now witness enough horror to become convinced. How could anyone not?
Ruby Roth, in her children’s book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, says, “When we treat animals respectfully, we practice world peace.”
Seeing Ourselves As Part of the Natural World
At the root, it is about how I see myself within the context of all other life in the universe. To truly practice peace, we must treat the earth with respect, too. We do what we can, recycling, composting, walking, living simply. We make mistakes, but we try. We do not see the earth as ours to use or dominate, but rather see ourselves as part of the earth, part of nature (no matter how destructive our species has become). Respecting animal life is about peace, absolutely. It is also about recognizing others, in various forms, and their right to life, too. It does not matter their size, whether a tiny bug or a gigantic whale, the life force that exists within each animal is significant.
I remember an argument I had with my father when I was very young. Arguing against my “sensitivity” towards animals, he asked me whether I thought the life of a cat was as important as the life of a human being. “To the cat or to the human?” I retorted. He made a lot of money out of the blood and sweat of animals as owner of a racing stable of thoroughbreds. Growing up on the racetrack, one witnesses many unfair contracts. Many of those horses run their hearts out all their lives, then get sent off to slaughter when their bodies are no longer able to earn a profit — hardly an equitable exchange. My father’s entire family goes elk hunting every year – I witnessed that at three years of age. The uncles made us little kids stand by the dead animals; I thought it was horrifying. Still do.
Early Experiences with Knowing Animals
Then there was my grandmother, who used to raise chickens. I heard stories about killing animals, how she used to drown kittens when they became too plentiful, as soon as they were born. I heard that she killed the chickens by wringing their necks. Those stories so horrified me that I was always a little afraid of this fierce slender woman with her charming Danish accent. Yet my own mother was more of a soft heart for animals. We seemed to rescue any number of cats and dogs over the years, and I can recall her becoming overwhelmed with tears when her little dog died. She even said yes to a little dog that was going to be euthanized, even though it fell far, far short of being as cute as my pleading friend promised it was. Those animals gave me someone to love, and they loved me back, at a confusing time I desperately needed someone to acknowledge me. Seems only fair that I would see animals in return, see them as persons, as individuals.
Yet it is only since I have become vegan that I see animals with new eyes. While my respect for all species has increased, so has my understanding of the injustice we human beings have unleashed against them. Why do I care so much about animals? Because we share in this life, together. Because of a yearning for peace, justice, ahimsa, nature, life. Because I have come to know them. Because I respect them. Because I continue to recognize my own speciesism and do my best to eradicate it. Because I want to see life on this planet continue and I want to see natural habitat preserved. And, because it is the right thing to do.