“To the animals I’ve known by name and to all those who have no names.” – Victoria Moran
Who among us doesn’t need more comfort and peace? We spend our entire lives seeking contexts in which to experience those ideals – from our most meaningful relationships to our favorite destinations. Of course, such ideals are felt with the heart. They reside within us. But context matters. A setting that reliably provides comfort and peace to all within it is an animal sanctuary, especially those that are home to the most traumatized and exploited beings on earth: farm animals.
Worldwide, approximately 160 million farm animals are transported to a slaughterhouse every day, and in the United States, roughly 25 million farm animals are slaughtered daily. We routinely pass factory farm transport vehicles on the freeway – the myriad of doomed animals within them barely visible – and many of us reflexively look away. We try to forget that we saw white feathers erratically tumbling in the wind behind a multi-story poultry transport truck, or snouts poking out from the oval holes of a livestock transport truck, or the black and white bodies of Holsteins just beyond the oval holes. All are babies or juveniles who soon will be killed several years before their natural life expectancy.
The next time we see them is in a supermarket. In bloodless pieces, on Styrofoam trays, wrapped in plastic. Or on a restaurant plate. This is our reality. Theirs, from first to final breath, is unequivocally and unrelentingly abusive, traumatic and terrifying. By design, the immeasurable suffering and violence that animals experience in factory farms and slaughterhouses are hidden from view.
By contrast, the full spectrum of sanctuary activities is easily viewed on social media and mass media. We want the populace to essentially participate in rescues, to understand the significant challenges we recurrently present to veterinarians, and to observe the daily rhythm of sanctuary life. More than anything, however, we want everyone to see and regard every animal as we do: as a unique individual, deserving of kindness and respect.
Someone, Not Something
Every rescue attempt is unique. Whether we move an animal from a cacophonous stockyard or shelter, the chaos of a parking lot or highway shoulder, the squalor of an abandoned animal pen, or some other stressful setting, merely getting him or her into our vehicle often begs for a minor miracle. After all, why should the individual trust us? Yet, once we unload at the sanctuary, the real test begins. Because every animal is unique:
Sanctuary animals have a name upon arrival, and we caretakers pay close attention to each individual to learn his or her “personality.” We note all that she communicates – what eases her or causes her stress, favorite foods and any refused food, other likes and dislikes, the way she moves, when and why she “talks” or makes other sounds, habits, propensities. How social or guarded is she? Is she playful? Then, for lack of a better term, we respect her wishes. By every means possible, we convey, “It’s okay.” In response, without exception, we see new sanctuary animals consider whether they can trust us.
This dynamic exists in all valued relationships. Anyone who is incredulous needs only to draw on personal experiences or history with a companion animal. Or with any person one holds dear. Every single one of us wants the same things: We want to connect. We want the company of another. We want to feel comforted and at peace. Indeed, every spouse, partner, parent, child, relative, friend, companion animal – every being who makes himself or herself vulnerable to another – wants to be acknowledged:
I see you.
I am trying to understand you.
I care about you.
You can trust me.
I will not betray you.
Conveying these things to another heals both involved. No matter how wounded the body, heart or mind, and irrespective of whether human or non-human – both individuals can feel whole when he or she feels acknowledged by another.
Via clever marketing strategies, dissemination of misinformation that confuses the public, and outright concealment from view, governmental agencies and corporate entities that promote the daily slaughter of 25 million US farm animals ensure that consumers do not regard their victims as individuals who think and feel. Instead, animals are things – artificially produced units with a kill date coded on an ear tag. They aren’t even cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. Instead, euphemistically they are merely beef, veal, dairy, pork, ham, bacon, mutton, broilers, layers and poultry. This lack of regard defies reality because every animal who will be slaughtered “speaks” a language. Every individual can think and feel. When a dairy cow’s newborn calf is taken from her, she bellows for days. When she arrives at a slaughterhouse, she refuses to leave the transport vehicle. Tears streak her face. She and every other cow, pig, sheep, goat and horse scream as they are shoved forward down a narrow path to a knock box and captive bolt gun. Those with any remaining strength try to escape. Hens and turkeys hung upside down, about to have their throats slit, still frantically flap their wings. Pure futility. No matter how behemoth the tally of victims, each individual fought for his or her life. None wanted to die. Each was someone who simply wasn’t given a chance.
The Importance of Sanctuaries
Most people consider themselves animal lovers. Most say they oppose animal cruelty. And most have a companion animal. Yet, most eat animals. How do they reconcile these facts? If you are vegan, you know the applicable psychology: mental conditioning and cognitive dissonance. If you’ve done vegan outreach, you know the most commonly proffered justifications: taste, tradition, religion, habit and convenience.
While it is tempting, and, often, appropriate, to refute such remarks with established science – for instance, by observing that animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to our most pressing environmental crises, or by citing the lengthy list of likely negative health outcomes associated with eating animal “products” – most people aren’t interested. Most don’t like being confronted with these realities. Plus, study findings and supporting evidence? Boring. Too much analysis. That’s not commentary on intellect; rather, it is simple human nature. To most, the effects of climate change are too abstract and impersonal to warrant action. Similarly, unless one is actively battling any of the many health crises linked to eating animal products and has a physician who knows the related data and, therefore, confirms the disease is food-borne – there is no incentive to change. But many become receptive once they meet farm animals.
The US urban population in 2010 exceeded 80 percent. Doubtless that percentage has grown. Given that farm animals generally don’t live in cities, most people don’t know much about them. They’ve never met any. As such, they don’t realize that cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are just like our beloved dogs and cats – affectionate, playful and intelligent. Each one a unique individual with a distinct personality – like you or me, or any of the animals with whom we share our lives and our homes. This lack of exposure predisposes most non-vegans to remain indifferent to the ongoing mass slaughter of farm animals.
Unlike nearly all other farm animals, sanctuary animals lead healthy, happy lives safe from harm. Equally important, each time a non-vegan observes a sanctuary animal on social media, or interacts with one at a sanctuary event, that exposure bears the potential for causing the viewer to change his or her regard for that animal’s species. To see all sanctuary animals and their brethren as deserving the chance to live. Of all the unique individuals at Heartwood Haven, perhaps our most effective ambassadors are Josie, Ethel, Lucy, Sunny and Robin.
If she could, Josie would snark, “Fun fact! Pigs are smarter than dogs!” then run away laughing. A farm pig who was picked up as a stray, we rescued her from a county shelter when she was only 2 months old. Josie is the most social and silly pig we know – blows bubbles in water, thrashes various items like a shark, empties our stock tank by using it as a swimming pool, grabs fruit from a food bowl then darts all over the pigs’ environment playing keep away from imaginary thieves, and on and on. Luckily, our 500-lb. farm pigs, Ethel and Lucy, don’t mind Josie’s antics. Both were abandoned last year on a local mixed-use property and destined for slaughter as the new home owner didn’t want them. We will never know how long they lived in mud and feces, in poor health, fed only sporadically by squatters. But both now are healthy, happy and safe. Ethel is our benevolent matriarch. She and Lucy love snout kisses, napping in the sun, sitting like dogs, and – more than anything – pumpkins.
As her name suggests, Sunny the sheep is a sweetheart with a warm personality. She seeks human company and enjoys being petted, but she’s also a tough girl. Previously a show sheep, Sunny loves play fighting and racing with her canine bestie in a cleared “homestretch” section of fence line, play fighting and racing with humans foolish enough to line up next to her, and, more playful fighting – including whipping her head half-power toward her target, the way giraffes fight, and rearing then head butting like a ram. Only Moon, a black sheep we rescued from slaughter, is exempt. Then there’s Robin, our gentle giant red rooster who loves being held and eating bananas from our hands. Like many of our other roosters, Robin was rescued from a local shelter.
Our sanctuary animals reliably provide visitors with unforgettable encounters – as when Lucy or Ethel cranes her neck toward a guest, asking for a snout kiss. Or when Sunny lines up to race a visitor then truly competes by cutting off the guest’s would-be lane, race after race. Or when Robin slowly approaches a visitor, cooing, then lingers and looks up, head tilted, asking to be picked up. Any in-person experience with any farm animal at any sanctuary can hold sway, as when a horse or cow slowly moves her head toward a visitor, like a tower crane, or when any animal contentedly closes her eyes and slows her breathing when spoken to quietly, or gently touched. We all have interactions as these at home with our dogs and cats.
Moments as those above – where a visitor connects with a sanctuary animal – are instructive. They teach others there is no meaningful difference among the various domestic animal species concerning their capacity and desire to engage with us. They teach that all such animals want love and attention as we do. And, by simply remaining in the presence of visitors and being who they are, the animals teach compassion. A visitor who meets a sanctuary animal and learns his or her history of abuse or neglect, then experiences that individual look the guest in the eye, or touch the guest with a nose – again, exactly as does a dog or cat – reflectively responds with compassion. It is in these ways that sanctuaries educate the public. We therefore hold as many meet-and-greet events and open houses as possible. We encourage vegans who attend to bring non-vegans. Anyone who will treat sanctuary animals kindly and with respect is welcome. Come see the truth of nearly bald hens, previously crammed into tiny battery cages to lay eggs, and of our sheep Moon, who assuredly heard the terrified final screams of other sheep being slaughtered, and perhaps also witnessed their deaths: Though those animals are understandably afraid of people, they nevertheless want to be comforted
The Necessity of Compassion
Compassion involves alleviation of another’s suffering. Acting compassionately entails being moved by the suffering of another, experiencing the motivation to help alleviate that suffering, then taking action to end it or render aid. This practice is a core skill that shapes relationships between an individual and all others she or he encounters. Always, the defining feature of a compassionate act is that one protects or otherwise aids a vulnerable other by alleviating the individual’s loss, pain or other suffering – as when one defends a victim from a bully; or provides clothes, food and shelter to a family who lost their home in a fire; or gives money to a widower or widow whose spouse unexpectedly passed away.
Reflect again on the livestock transport trucks referenced above. Have you ever made eye contact with an animal inside one? How did or would that make you feel? Bar none, no creatures on earth are more vulnerable, abused and deserving of compassion than those in the industrialized “farm” system whom we create to slaughter. By leaving them off your plate, you align your conduct with your values, reduce demand for all products derived from farm animals, and influence others to follow suit. You also enjoy the best health of your life, most effectively safeguard against chronic diseases, and meaningfully combat climate change by withdrawing your support from industrialized animal agriculture, indisputably the world’s leading contributor to the emission of greenhouse gasses.
One additional reason for going vegan must be amplified: to reject violence, in every context. Consider the prolific and repeated crimes against humanity throughout history by one oppressive culture against some vulnerable other. Also consider ongoing and increasingly frequent acts of terrorism worldwide, our nation’s history of race-based lynching, our ongoing targeting of social minorities by law enforcement officers, ongoing hate crimes against our nation’s LGBTQ community, in-school shootings and the like. These instances of violence are so profuse that only the most atrocious are reported in mass media and social media, and the tragedies are so numerous that they overlap. One might disagree that any link exists between violence in those contexts versus as against animals, but criminologists, psychologists and other mental health experts agree that acts of violence against animals are indicative of future violence against others, human and non-human. Violence begets violence, period.
We already know that the production and consumption of animals creates substantial negative effects to our environment and physical health, respectively. But, in addition to the certitude that violence begets violence, ponder also our entrenched apathy and related negative psychological effects worldwide deriving from the daily slaughter of 160 million farm animals. What have we become when the daily slaughter of such inconceivable magnitude is as insignificant and ignored as a triggered car alarm? We must do better.
Compassion defies violence and apathy. Your path to living compassionately can begin at a sanctuary. Visit one. Experience the comfort and peace of sanctuary animals. Let them inspire and empower you to live compassionately by going vegan. You have significant power and influence to help end our old ways that no longer serve us. Vote with your wallet by refusing to support animal agriculture in its every form. Reduce demand for the slaughter of animals. Doing so is both an act of compassion and humanitarianism. Incredulous as to the latter? The first online definition that appears for the query “humanitarianism” is “an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to better humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons.” As demonstrated above, the consequences of following a vegan lifestyle also have a humanitarian effect. This, then, is your call to action. Please go vegan. Lead by example. You, then, become the ambassador. You can inspire others one heart and mind at a time. How do we know this? Because compassion begets compassion.
For anyone considering becoming vegan, thank you. It takes courage to walk this path. What will people think? I don’t want to upset anyone. I don’t want to be an outlier. So much may be said by way of response, but you likely need only a few things. One, change is inevitable. Take heart in that fact. Two, feelings don’t lie. Respect them. And three, from Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
All rights reserved © 2019 Shauny L. Jaine