Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taking it All In, One Animal at a Time

If you're a believer in Animal Rights and Veganism, like me, then chances are you probably came to these beliefs as a result of your sensitivity.

I have a theory that most proponents of Animal Rights and Veganism are extremely sensitive people. Even the ones who seem dogmatic, or who rely too excessively on guilt-tripping, or who come across as too self-righteous, even a lot of those people are extremely sensitive, although they may not seem like it.

Unfortunately, this sensitivity - this heightened awareness of the suffering of others - comes with a price. The price is that we, the ones who feel an empathic rapport with the sufferers, tend to internalize everything we see or hear.

When Lennox the dog was euthanized the other day in Belfast, Ireland, who among us didn't feel the pain of his loss? Here was a dog who had a forever family and a forever home, yet he was killed by the authorities because of the type of dog he is.

Meantime, countless animals who never generate headlines are being euthanized every day. A Facebook friend of mine, who regularly posts pictures of cats for adoption at area shelters (especially ones up for adoption in the New York City area) spent all afternoon and evening (well into late at night) yesterday posting the pictures of cats who had been euthanized at the New York shelter. Without exaggeration, I'd say that by the end of the day there must have been about sixty to seventy pictures of these cats posted, for hours and hours, on my Facebook newsfeed.

Snowball (rest in peace)
Each cat appeared to be scared or vulnerable or upset in some way. They were all colors, all shapes, all sizes. Young and old. Male and female. Every kind of cat you can imagine. All of them were assigned names by the shelter: Bootsie, Wee Wee, Oscar, Dottie, Venicia, Amelia, Felix, Snowball.

Snowball (pictured here) was gray and white, a male cat. He appears somewhat disoriented. He was fifteen years old, so compared to the other cats (many of them a year old or under), he had lived a relatively long life. He was roughly in his 80s in human years. But what an awful way to go, even for a senior citizen:  alone, unwanted, with your remains mixed with the other remains of countless other cats euthanized the same day.

All cats deserve to be loved. All cats deserve a forever home. Yet these poor cats met a quiet and premature death when a needle full of fluid ended their lives.

I'm the kind of person who goes slightly crazy when I see these pictures. I go slightly crazy when I see videos of factory farm animals being slaughtered, or lab animals being tested, or seals getting clubbed, or pigs or sheep being taken aboard planes or ships and hauled off to other countries to be slaughtered in places that have even fewer regulations than Europe and North America. All of the bad news gives me the shakes. I start feeling fidgety. I have a hard time focusing.

And I definitely feel ashamed of my species.

When I disappear from blogging for a while, often it's because when it comes to animals, so much of the news is bad. And it's not just that the news is bad; it's that I internalize all of it. I take it all as deeply as I can. It gives me nightmares and makes daily tasks difficult to do.

Human beings, when you think about it, have gargantuan, sweeping and monstrous crimes to answer for. A friend of mine once said that the few Beethovens, Shakespeares and Van Goghs we've produced aren't worth the suffering humans have caused.

And yet, here we are, in the driver's seat, at the top of the food chain. And no matter how much the conscientious protest, this is the bitter reality of our world.

We can point to victories in recent years in the fight against cruelty and exploitation. But compared to the catalogue of mass murder, the victories are minor.

This post may sound like a rant, but it's not intended to be one. It is more a way of reaching out and telling the world how I feel each time I learn about the suffering of my fellow sentient beings. Being a vegan isn't enough. Donating money to great causes isn't enough. Leafleting and protesting aren't enough. And it is true that small numbers of people can bring about changes (to paraphrase Margaret Mead), but those changes are small compared to the monstrous cruelty that exists.

A.J. Muste, peace activist
But, in the last analysis, what else can we do but stand up for what our consciences tell us is right? It is an existential decision. It reminds me of when the aging anti-Vietnam war activist A.J. Muste (1885-1967) used to picket the White House during the early stages of the war. Muste, who was in his eighties by the mid-1960s and had spent his life fighting for peace and social justice, walked back and forth with a sign, day in, day out. Sometimes he was with a small crowd of kindred spirits. Often, he was alone. At one point, the uniformed guard came out and said, "Why even bother? What you're doing is not going to change the policies of this government." To which Muste replied: "I'm not trying to change the policies of this government. I just don't want the policies of this government to change me."

That may not seem like enough.

But if you think about it, it's all we've really got.

There. I feel better. Thank you for hearing me out!


  1. I agree with your friend...our crimes outweigh our virtuous acts by an incalculable factor. And...I agree with you...we must do what we can no matter if it is too little. are we different than the monsters?

  2. Even I go crazy if I watch those videos about the animals in the slaughterhouses. Sometimes I find it hard to sleep. So, it is better for us not to watch them. Those videos are for those ignorant people who are not aware of what is on their dinner plate.

    I know a story similar to that of A.J. Muste. Once a huge tide caused a lot of fish to fall on the shore. They were almost dying. Then, a little girl came and started throwing them one by one back to the sea. A man who was just passing by, remarked, "There are hundreds and hundreds of fishes. You can't save them all. You are hardly making a difference." After he said this, the girl threw another fish and said, "I made a difference to that one."