Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Crazy Lizard Lady

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Recently, I witnessed about a dozen 12-year-olds poking at what appeared to be a small animal on the ground with large boards and sticks, about three or four doors down from my front yard. The kids were screaming and laughing about whatever the animal was doing in response to their poking him. I went down and asked them to stop it, thinking I might be able to protect whatever small animal it was. To my shock, it was a beautiful tropical lizard, rather large, who was reacting to the prodding by thrashing about. The kids yelled, “It has no head, it has no head!” and sure enough, something had happened to this poor creature and the head was absent. Nonetheless, the body was still quite active. No one knew where the head was or what had happened to this animal; one of the boys said it had been there the day before.

What To Do With a Headless Lizard

I quickly went home, put on gloves, and brought a cardboard box down and removed the remains of the lizard to the box. This stopped the squeals of the kids (although my grandson said it would be all over school the next day, this tale of the living headless lizard). The lizard’s body remained still and whatever life remained in it quietly ebbed away.

I immediately called our local wildlife rescue, whose emergency number I keep in my contact list. I think the woman answered thought I was deranged, because she told me to call reptile experts to see if lizards can live without a head. My questions was more along the lines of stopping any immediate suffering, although without a head, I wasn’t sure what would receive any pain sensations. But that lizard’s body had some fight in it when I approached the scene, and the children had witnessed it.

I felt sick after witnessing the kids’ giddiness in dealing with the injured body of the lizard. One girl was trying to kick the lizard to the grass at the side of the walk. I know she meant well, but it seemed so disrespectful to this once beautiful animal. I asked her, “Would you want someone kicking your body aside if you were the one injured?” The truth is, no one knew what the kindest thing would be; not one of us ever had to deal with a beheaded body before. I rather hope this is not something that will ever occur again, either.

Becoming the Crazy Lizard Lady

I think I have now become the Crazy Lizard Lady of the neighborhood. My grandson quipped that if you want to rescue animals, this is what you get — sometimes, the animal is a headless lizard that no one quite knows how to help. The lizard posed no threat to anyone; with no head, he was unable to bite, or fight, or get away. But the pathos of what seemed to be a living body detached from a thinking head was frightening to the children, and they reacted by screaming and inquisitively investigating the body’s response to stimuli. The  lizard’s body never moved once he was peacefully put into the box but I admit I found the whole ordeal unsettling. It triggered the helplessness one often feels in combatting the human supremacy and speciesism that reduces life to death to commodification.

This large lizard appeared to be an exotic breed, not a local animal. The exotic pet trade results in unnecessary deaths for millions of animals. In fact, right here in the DFW area, the nation’s largest rescue of exotic animals took place two years or so ago, from reptiles to mammals to insects to birds. Over 26,000 animals were confiscated, and some 500 different species of animals were involved. With the help of local rescue workers and the SPCA of Texas, 22,000 animals survived the move and subsequent care. How very tragic to see a beautiful member of a species of lizard reduced to a frightening spectacle on the sidewalk, far from what may have been his or her native home. And how sad for these children to be so unaware of the plight of these animals even as they are being divested of an opportunity to appreciate them. This strange experience left me in despair, both for the individual animal and his wasted opportunity for life, as well as for the children that will inherit this shrinking world of wildlife and biodiversity. We were all left wondering who or what claimed the head of that lizard, what his story was, and how he came to be on the sidewalk on the route home from public school. The headless body seemed to epitomize the daily disasters we in the animal rights movement find all too familiar, a physical embodiment of human detachment from the natural world that results in tragedy, every minute of every day.

My Not-Forgotten Friend, Tarra

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Over twenty years ago, I had friends that lived in the canyon behind my home. Up the winding road, outside of town, they had a cozy property with a pool, making it ideal for summer parties. Next door lived a young woman about my age who cohabitated with many captive animals. She seemed to be attracted to tropical species, and I remember feeling badly for the beautiful birds and other small animals living in cages in that canyon in California, far from their native homes and original families. The area was awash with native life, in particular a variety of flying bugs, that survived well in the dry, high heat of summer and the cold, bitter temperatures of winter there — hardly suitable for tropical beings. I never knew if they were all rescued or had been acquired, but I did find out that the woman living there had ties to the Moorpark College Exotic Animal program. I remember envying her life among the animals. Not only were there several dogs and the caged animals, but there was a magnificent Burmese elephant named Tarra.

A Connection That Claimed My Heart

When I first met Tarra, she showed off by crushing soda cans with her trunk, then dropping them and checking me out with her whiskery snout.  She was a lovely, gentle being who had to use great restraint when walking among us fragile, relatively tiny humans,and I was the tiniest of them all, weighing barely 90 lbs and reaching up to five feet tall if I stood very straight. We walked down to the creek, and Tarra sprayed us all and enjoyed the water.  She was oh-so-careful about moving among us non-elephants. When it was time to go, she claimed my heart by standing on my sandals so I could not leave. I felt the same way.

Later, when her caretaker was out of town, my friends and I were charged with watching Tarra. I remember her running away from us once, toward the road, terrifying us lest she run into traffic, get injured, or cause an accident. But she was only romping, enjoying the sun, and relishing giving us a bit of a chase. She had a lot of spirit then. It seemed sad to me then and still does now that this magnificent herd animal was living in such an alien, inhospitable land, alone, away from her clan, without much to do for entertainment or that gave her consolation or joy. I had no idea that in the wild she would be traversing many miles per day with the company of her herd. It was only recently that I learned how hard her entire life had been. She had been torn from her mother at only one year of age, then left in the back of a truck for the year following that, and finally taken for use in entertainment by the young woman I mentioned earlier in this post. Tarra had to work for her living, and she roller-skated and painted her way through the years. Tarra found her way to an elephant sanctuary, where she famously became best friends with a canine. Her beloved dog friend, Bella, recently died, leaving Tarra bereaved.

Looking for an Old Friend in All The Wrong Places

I tried to find Tarra several times before, but I was looking in the wrong places. I had seen the viral video (above) on YouTube of Tarra the elephant who had befriended a dog, but that elephant lived in Tennessee and Tarra had been a California girl, like me. A recent search, inspired after witnessing the sad spectacle of elephants in a forced parade through a European town, gave me the determination to find Tarra this time. It is comforting to know she is in a place where she no longer has to entertain humans, and where she can live with others of her species. Although for Tarra, she seems ahead of all of us when it comes to non-speciesist living — species hasn’t mattered too much. She has always been able to see beyond our exterior to the person beneath the skin and fur.

The Indecency of Eating Eggs: Industrial Waste

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Jordan Wyatt, Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals

Those beautiful, downy little newborn chicks, freshly hatched from their prenatal calcium carbonate home, are amazing beings. They come fully equipped with a most sensitive beak which will allow them to hunt for food, two strong legs with claws for scratching the earth, and a body full of tiny feathers which will eventually grow into beautiful plumage to protect the new little life from the elements. They have the ability to make the most pleasant chirping noises, so their mums may find them if they lose their way. They will have the ability to be aerodynamic, to live peacefully in community, and to be part of a family. They will require little on which to live, just a few things scratched from the earth and a humble kind of shelter. They are born into an hierarchy that may seem archaic through our anthropo-centric lens, but the paternal rooster looks after his flock and finds them food, calling to them, making certain they eat even before he does himself. The mother hen is protective of her brood; they stay close to her for warmth and safety.

The Brief Life of a Hatchling

Because some human decided to steal their eggs and lived to tell of the deed, billions of their brethren are snatched from their natural lifecycle and used in the cruel and profitable egg industry. The babies are hatched into plastic trays, without a mother to help them learn to grow, to talk to them, comfort them, and help them learn their place in the world. They are then put on an industrial conveyer belt, and anyone of them who is suspected of the crime of masculinity is tossed down an industrial chute, to become industrial waste. They are either sent to a mascerator that grinds them from life to lifeless mass, or puts them into a trash box where they slowly suffocate as more and more of their fellow roosterlings are tossed down the same chute. Imagine putting a puppy or a human infant into a wood chipper – this is what is happening to the newborn male chicks in the standard practice of the egg industry. This is happening to some of the most harmless and endearing creatures on earth, little downy beings that are often portrayed in the nurseries of our own infants, symbols of innocence, gentleness, and vulnerability.

The Waste of Industrial Farming

Any practice that includes the use  of others against their will, the theft of the infants of other species, condemnation to either a life in a toxic environment, continual assault on their bodily integrity, slaughter while fully conscious while hanging by their legs, or instant cruel and painful death as a brand new hatchling  –  any such complete disrespect should be condemned for what it is. It is an insult to the natural order and to all things decent.


Today’s Victims

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

One day when I was a young schoolgirl, I was home from school sick with the flu, when the television show I was watching was interrupted by a sudden announcement: “Caryl Chessman is now in the death chamber, the cyanide pellets have now been dropped.”  And a few moments later, “Caryl Chessman is dead.”  This was the first time I was aware that the State of California was killing people, and it was many years before I would learn that Mr. Chessman had been given a stay of execution, but it had been too late as the pellets had already been dropped. I still recall, though, the chilling and horrifying realization that this was being broadcast about an actual human life. I wished I had gone to school sick rather than be part of the dreadful day. While in prison, Mr. Chessman wrote four books, all national bestsellers. Mr. Chessman maintained his innocence throughout his twelve years in prison. There had been only circumstantial evidence against Mr. Chessman.

Violence Breeds Violence

On June 16, 1944, then 14 year old George Stinney became the youngest person to be executed in the U.S.during the twentieth century. Young George was taken into custody after the disappearance of two little white girls, ages 8 and 11. Within an hour, and without counsel or family present, the 90 lb. Mr. Stinney confessed to the murder of the girls. Listen to recollections here from family members of both the accused and the victims. There was no physical evidence presented against him and the jury only took ten minutes to deliver a guilty verdict. Due to the volatile racism of the era, the African-American family of George Stinney fled South Carolina, leaving young George to face un unjust system all alone. George came from a small, loving family and was reportedly a good student.

Many people around the world are mourning the recent loss of Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted of the murder of a policeman but most of those who testified against him later recanted. There was no physical evidence against him. Police had circulated his photo, making it unclear if those who identified him saw his photo or saw him at the crime scene. Jurors stated that they would have never voted for conviction had they known then what they later learned. The Supreme Court of the US denied Davis his last chance at life, and at any form of justice. Amnesty International, NAACP, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI and many others supported Mr. Davis in his quest for life and justice. Impersonal state agencies, far removed from the individual, decide whether that individual will live or die.  There was doubt about his guilt. With the advent of DNA, we have learned that our system of criminal justice is seriously flawed, with one person after another being found innocent of their alleged crimes. Despite overwhelming evidence that Mr. Davis was an innocent man, despite the lack of any physical evidence tying him to the crime, despite the doubt of his guilt, Mr. Davis was nonetheless executed by the State of Georgia at 10 PM on September 21, 2011. For many people, his death was also the end of any semblance of trust in a failed US criminal justice system, one that appears more concerned with control than truth or justice. What we know for sure is that Mr. Davis was a human being who wanted to live. Troy was also reportedly a good student from a loving family. He was, like George Stinney, also black. Minorities are over-represented on Death Row. So are poor people.

Convicted of Being Different

Over in West Memphis, Arkansas, three young misfits were convicted of murder, once again without physical evidence, nearly two decades ago. These boys were white, but they were markedly different from the rest of their community. One was somewhat Goth in appearance, wearing black and listening to heavy metal, all three were adolescents. When three little boys disappeared and were late found murdered in a grisly fashion, the boys who appeared different were easy targets. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., commonly known as the West Memphis Three, spent half of their young lives imprisoned due to a shoddy criminal justice system. They were recently released, free of all charges, yet with the stigma of being felons to remain on their shoulders. Damien Echols was on Death Row and the other two men were serving life sentences when there were released. Filmmaker Joe Berlinger made two documentaries about the plight of these three young men and a host of celebrities supported their release. “Free the West Memphis Three” was emblazoned on tee shirts supporting the men. (You can watch Paradise Lost, the documentary about these three, online.)

I now live in the State of Texas, which is known for the high number of executions. Texas executes the mentally ill, too. In 2000, one mentally ill prisoner asked to be executed under a full moon in exchange for waiving his right to appeal, and thus Larry Robison, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was executed on January 21, 2000. And mentally retarded individuals have also been included in these ghastly statistics, too.  Johnny Paul Penry, with an estimated IQ of 56, did not understand why he was going to be put to sleep but thought it was “a cruel thing to do.”  When our current Governor, Rick Perry, was debating other Republican contenders for the nomination as candiate for the President of the United States recently, the crowd at the Reagan Library burst into rousing applause at the mention of his execution record, a higher number than any other governor in the modern era, interrupting the moderator before he could complete asking a question of Governor Perry. Death is popular in some quarters, it seems. The US joins China, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as nations that execute their citizens. As a deterrent, capital punishment has failed.

Mourning the Lack of Justice

For those of us fighting for years for justice for Troy Anthony Davis, this is a time of mourning; for those of us fighting for justice for all the innocent, regardless of species, today is yet another day to mourn the violence in the world.

Violence is not the answer; violence is what needs to stop.

End the death penalty.
Go vegan.
Stop the needless killing.

A House Divided

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

As a rookie foster provider for two feline brothers, I plunged in with all the best intentions and little knowledge of what to expect. I had agreed to take these two displaced persons into my home on a very temporary basis, as they are both declawed and young, while our resident feline is getting up in years and is fully armed with claws. I knew it was not an ideal situation, but since the only other option appeared to be dropping them off at the local animal shelter with a high kill rate, I opened my front door to two very anxious and terrified little guys.

Lesson Number One: Allow Time for Transitioning

The first few days were a nightmare; they had been dropped off without collars or tags, without medical records, and without carriers.  One hid under the couch, one hid behind the bed. They hissed constantly and appeared positively terrified. Litter boxes, along with food and water, were place within easy distance so they could come out at night when the house was quiet. I hoped they would join with one another for comfort, but they never left their spots for days.  I had to confine our cat, Skitter, in a room until they could be retrieved from their hiding places. Finally, I used food to seduce the beneath-the-couch resident into the lair of his brother in the bedroom.  Once they were contained and reunited, things began looking up considerably.

They continued to hiss at one another, to the point I grew concerned. My grandson, age 5, assured me it was normal. “I am often quite terrible to my brother but I still love him. I think it is normal.” Of course, he was exactly right – they were just scared and being declawed kitties, had to sound as scary as they could to protect themselves. Litter boxes and other equipment were arranged in the bedroom and they were set to adjust to their foster home. There are two large windows with low wide tables under them, in their bedroom, perfect perching places for inquisitive felines, and they soon spent hours peering out at the greenbelt behind our home.

Lesson Two: Make Sure There Is A Game Plan

Meanwhile, resident she-cat was none too happy about these rambunctious male visitors. There was hissing at the door to their room, and four strategically placed (but gentle) bites on my arm to voice her displeasure. At one point, my grandson accidentally let them out and our gentle feline became the She-Devil of Texas, with two frightened boys heading for their safe spot under the couch.  Skitter let out some incredible warning growls and I was forced to grab her and suffer any consequences, but she calmed right down. She just needed to let them know who was boss and whose house they were in – hers! It was looking like our house would be divided for quite some time.

Complicating matters, those who asked me to foster had no game plan. No one else was planning to take responsibility for finding these boys a home. I think like me, they were motivated by the best of intentions but without any real knowledge of what rehoming animals requires. I was soon to learn. For example, it is illegal to rehome cats that have not been spayed or neutered in Texas. I needed to get their medical records, something I had requested before assuming responsibility for them. A quarter million animals are killed each year in north Texas due to irresponsible animal guardians and homeless beings procreating with one another. This number is increased greatly by the number of puppy mills, individual breeders and kitten litters that seem to perpetually appear in the want ads of local newspapers. With the recession, things have become much worse, with job loss, home foreclosures, and an increase in the divorce rate. It was this final sadness, the dissolution of a family, that cost these two their happy home.

Lesson Three: Benevolent Despotism is Better Than ….. The Alternative

During the months of fostering, I have often felt like a despot, forcing these two loving and bright spirits to remain locked away from everyone for most of the day, when all they want is to investigate and cuddle. Meanwhile, there is a corresponding guilt for our resident feline, who was not eating as much as normal and sticking by my side during the day. I never fostered before out of respect for Skitter, who was originally a foster cat herself. She deserves to have a peaceful place during her golden years. When she naps, I do let the boys out to romp for awhile, but it is never for long. Somehow, they are adapting to this life, but it is far below my own minimum standards for animal care. I want them to have the home I could provide for them if I were available.

But of course on the other side of things, there are two beautiful, lively, loving feline boys who are alive and well and will most likely find a permanent home. They are exceptionally beautiful, clean, playful and loving. They are devilishly rambunctious and adore humans. Their athleticism amazes me, as they can leap up to the top shelf in my closet or above the refrigerator in the kitchen. My adult son nows comes to visit regularly and heads right to the “boys room” in the back of the house. He likes their playfulness, the way they grab his arm and give gentle bites, and the way they purr loudly when he visits. My grandson loves that they cannot claw him, with their oh-so-soft little paws feeling very safe. He also loves being the Authority Figure, clapping his hands to remind them to get down from a table or counter. He has even started volunteering to clean out their litter boxes and they run to see him when is here. And, he has told me never wants them to leave.

Lesson Four: Find a Legitimate Rescue Group

I am now getting assistance from some legitimate rescue groups who rehome animals. I have advertised them on Facebook, Twitter, and in the local grocery store giveaway magazines. They have been posted on every local rescue I could find.  Experienced rehomers have assured me it just takes time, but these boys will find a home. It may require volunteering at a local pet store ( or even at one some distance away) weekly so they can gain admittance to being seen there. Flyers have been given out at every opportunity. They will also be posted on and have been shown on, too. I had hoped to find them a home together, since they are so loving with one another, but was told there are no guarantees. Right now, finding a suitable home is no easy task. With everything we do wrong when it comes to animals, it seemed like keeping this family pair together was essential when everything else was taken from them. I know each will do well with a loving person in their life, but still hold out hope that their wonderful union can continue. I look forward with simultaneous hope and grief towards their adoption. I know it will break my heart the day I get the bedroom back, but I will also be glad to give Skitter back her domain.

The work that our local animal rescue groups do is truly lifesaving. They fight for decent conditions in local animal shelters, they work tirelessly to get the animals in their care before the public eye, and they remind us of the significance of each and every animal life. They attend protests when shelter conditions are lacking and shelter staff are unwilling to negotiate. And, they help the forlorn fostering homes like mine find a way to the salvation of a bright new future for a few lucky animals. Without them, there may well be even higher numbers of animals dying in this part of the world. Special thanks to Teresa at Furever Friends and Lynn at Feral Felines for all their support and encouragement.

Lesson Five: Look Before You Leap

Taking responsibility for the lives of others is a daunting task. It has increased my stress and decreased my free time and my finances. I have no future plans to foster again; I want Skitter to have peace and quiet. I want to live in a house that is not divided between clawed and declawed, between resident and foster.

But I did acquire a doghouse recently. Who knows? Maybe someday….

More Than Sentient

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

The ticket necessary to gain admittance into the moral community is supposed to be sentience. If you are able to feel, then your being-ness, your personhood, should be considered.  But anyone who has spent any time with willingly open eyes and hearts knows that the animals on the planet, including in her seas and skies, are much more than sentient.  Two recent additions to our household through fostering have reaffirmed that fact: two boisterous young feline boys have slowly emerged from their hissing defensiveness to delight and destroy us with their antics, their athleticisim, and their ability to communicate. Because they have been declawed, sadly, they are very vulnerable, making their hissing even more understandable: showing their teeth is their last defense.  Anyway, hissing is what cats often do when confronted with new territory and strange cats or people. It their get-back-jack way of saying “leave me alone,” and we respected that.  Slowly, over the course of a few days, their individual personalities began to emerge, on their own timeframe and in their own way.

Individuality and Personhood

I can hear the boys exploring their environment. They have knocked down every single item that was placed on an end table or a dresser, including lamps, pictures, and boxes.  They have tried valiantly to open the cupboards, as evidenced by the constant banging of the spring-type doors against the cabinet wall. When introduced to a toy at the end of an elastic string on a stick, one of the brothers made amazing aerodynamic flight into midair, fell off beds and furniture, and risked it all for victory. His brother looked on with disdain, preferring to wait until the object came within his reach.  One puts his paw in the water dish, the other keeps his paws dry. One eats too fast, the other takes his time. One is super friendly and outgoing, one is defensive, quiet and beautiful.  They are littermates, but have developed very different personalities. (Notice the word “person” there?)

While it is easy to recognize personal (that word “person” again) characteristics within the mammals with which we encounter on a regular basis, it is less apparent when dealing with avian and acquatic beings with whom we are less familiar.  Those who look the least like us seem to get the least credit for their personhood. Consider the poor chicken, who is not even given even the weak protection of humane slaughter laws and who most people consider without intelligence or feelings at all.  Watch any of Jordan Wyatt’s chicken friends on video for a different perspective – they perch on his lap, are very polite in eating a bit of food he offers, and band together in an understood governance that is peaceful and effective. Recent research has shown evidence of empathy in fish as well as altruism. We know scientifically that those with central nervous systems can feel pain, yet many people still deny that animals care about their lives at all. Tell that one to Clara the cow who was rescued by a sanctuary after leaping over a six foot fence to avoid the slaughterhouse she was about to be forced into.

Opting Out of the Slaughterhouse

The grinding alive of newborn male chicks, perfectly beautiful and exquisitely formed, is an example of the lack of empathy exhibited by our own species. Undercover videos show humans kicking newborn calves about, sadistically harming pigs on their way to slaughter even though some of the pigs try to nuzzle them, while traumatized animals are used endlessly for human entertainment.  Some poor depraved human beings enjoy crushing small animals under their feet as a sexual fetish — evidence that something has gone terribly awry in the human species. On the recent Oprah shown on “veganism,” the depersonalization of the individuality of animals reached a new low.  The slaughterhouse was shown to be antiseptically sterile (no blood, no death throes) with the heads of many cows lined up while someone discussed how using every bit of the animal somehow showed him or her “respect.” Making the killing of individuals appear acceptable seems a travesty, an assault on the very notion of what most vegans know about animals, and a point of departure for those of us wanting to live in a nonviolent world.

Sentience is the ticket into the moral community but it alone tells us little about our fellow earthlings. Knowing that my temporary family members, the two feline boys I mentioned earlier, have feelings doesn’t begin to tell anyone who they are.  As they are individually marked on the outside (one gray, one orange), they are also developing into unique individuals from within.  It seems unlikely that any game plan would give such individuality to a nonbeing good only for their flesh or their fur.  It seems that Clara, the cow bred for her hide and flesh, was destined to become a unique individual, too. She opted out of the plan others made for her life. As a vegan, I have opted out too. Won’t you join me?


Do the Math

Monday, December 27th, 2010

It has been conservatively estimated that every human being that consumes animals takes about  90-100 lives each year. That is a carnage of immense proportions. If each vegan advocate on average reaches a person by mid-life, that would still be the saving of about 4,000-5,000 animal lives. Is there any form of activism that can save that many lives? However you spread the word about veganism, remember those thousands of lives that hang in the balance.

If every vegan can convince one other human to embrace a philosophy of veganism, the vegan population would double. And doubling begins to gain momentum until, after just a few years, the numbers become huge.

If 1% of the world’s population is indeed vegan, as estimated, that means there are over sixty-seven million of us. In only four years, there would be a billion of us.

As billions of animals are slaughtered each year, their combined energy usage drawn from the earth’s resources will soon deplete what is left alive on earth.

As thousands of acres of forests are cut down and used for animal grazing, less land is available for animal habitat and for creating the oxygen we require to breathe. There are only so many acres of land on the planet.

Human population is estimated to reach 9 billion in short order.

Do the math.


140 Billion Animals Slaughtered Every Year

World Population Clock

Animals Slaughtered  2003 – from UN stats

“Why Do You Care So Much About Animals?”

Friday, October 1st, 2010

“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.

What’s for Dinner? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Every night, millions of children are called to the dinner table to eat dead animals, their body parts, and their secretions. Most of those children have no idea what has been done to these animals, though older children at least have some idea that animals are killed for food. Some do not think about it, a few are a bothered by it but shut it out of their minds (with much cultural encouragement). If a young child asks why we eat animals, they are quickly set onto another topic.  Everything in the macro-culture reinforces the normalcy of eating animals. There are “Got Milk?” posters in the schools. There are advertisements on television and fast food gimmicks that assault kids regularly.  Even their cartoons are filled with food imagery — Sponge Bob and Crabby Patties are a happy twosome. When I am present and a child asks those questions, I often get that look, warning me not to answer. It is as if really discovering what is on the dinner table is forbidden; we all know but no one is willing to really talk about it. The truth is that all too often, it is who is for dinner, not what.

Denial at the Dinner Table and In the Military Maintains the Status Quo

In the military, where homosexuals have served with honor for decades, it serves the status quo to allow them to serve but to deny recognition of who they are — that homosexuals are honorable members of the armed services — because to admit who they are would challenge members of the public who are uncomfortable with that reality. The animals that are to be killed that day, and the next, and the next, must not be seen; the denial at the dinner table must exist for the status quo to be effective in keeping a lid on reality. What’s for dinner? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Heterosexism, speciesism, racism, misogyny and racial intolerance all share traits in common:

  1. There is a separation from the designated group of Other.
  2. There is a reduction in value assigned to the designated group of Other.
  3. There is a fear of the designated group of Other or what they represent.
  4. There is disparagement of the designated group of Other that causes compartmentalization.
  5. There is a use of demeaning terms and stereotypes onto the group of Other.

When I was in graduate school, we were shown an entire film that documented the way African Americans were seen in earlier times. It was horribly demeaning, with bizarre caricatures, cartoons, drawings and cruel imagery. It devastated me to know that adults could behave so stupidly and so cruelly to other beings; it impacted me viscerally. That racism met all five criteria, yet it is still quizzical to me that human beings can so exploit other beings and then vilify those very beings. Who has the right to outrage here? Of course, I realize the disparagement allows those who perpetrate crimes of bondage against another group to rationalize their behavior in some way. Yet here we are, once again denying an entire group of citizens their civil rights due to prejudice and misunderstanding, while using them in ways that endanger their very lives as they serve us  in the twenty-first century. And the speciesist talk about animals goes on so continually it is hard not to notice how we refuse to acknowledge the individuality of animals, too — another group denied personhood and disallowed into the moral community.

Fighting to Reboard the Titanic

It is like we are swimming to get back on board the Titanic even as the hull is beginning to disappear in the ocean.  But those parties! Those elegant dining events! We cling to a past this is already lost. I see some of us swimming for dear life to get back on the sinking ship, fearing the loss it represents and unwilling to accept the inevitability of change. Yes, the water might be cold for awhile but getting off the sinking ship is the only way to save our hides. Our “isms” aren’t working very well for us, yet we cling to them for dear life. We desperately need the very personnel in the military that we are expelling, and we are expelling some of the very best. Recent polls show that most Americans want DADT repealed, but some of the Old Guard are too prejudiced to realize what is going on in the world around them; they would not even let it be discussed in Congress. In an era of crass fear-mongering and the destruction it has wrought, it is time to start noticing the downward trend of the ship we once believed in and start looking for alternatives. Reality is a good starting point.

So here we are, refusing to see the animals we exploit, refusing to talk about the reality of their lives, refusing to acknowledge anything that might cause us to have to change from traditional patterns of behavior. Every night, we subject our children to the lies about their food, silent lies that omit the truth. It is past time to allow people to tell the truth. And for the animals, who have no voice, it is imperative that animal advocates tell their truth loud and long. Let’s make Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell be a thing of the past for all of us, both human and nonhuman animals. There are lives that depend upon us for justice.