Do all animals deserve to be treated with respect and compassion? How you answer this question will say a lot about your character. This topic has been boiling just under the surface of my mind for some time now. When I hear someone say something, which, in my opinion, is cruel about animals, I automatically think less of them as a person. This has been on my mind lately because I have recently been exposed to many shocking comments regarding animals from people I never would have suspected would think such things or consider them appropriate to say.
Here are some examples of the shocking things I’ve heard come from the mouths of seemingly ordinary people:
- Regarding an elephant chained to a stake in the ground for its entire life: “Who cares? It’s just an animal, not like it’s a person or anything.”
- Regarding a dog that faithfully stayed put when the “owner’s” fence blew down: “I was hoping it’d run away.”
- Regarding two pet dogs in a family of three children: “I always forget to feed them, but it doesn’t matter because they snatch stuff from the kids.”
- Regarding two dogs belonging to a family with two small children: “They’re not allowed in the house. I don’t care how hot or cold it is. If they die, they die. I can’t stand to have dogs in the house.”
- Regarding a conversation on skeet shooting: “I don’t have a clay shooter. I practice shooting on birds ‘cause a moving target is best. No, I don’t eat ‘em. They’re too small and gamey.”
- Regarding a conversation on testing make-up products on animals. “They should test it on animals before I put it on my face.”
- Regarding some questionable looking meat: “I give it to the dog, and if it doesn’t make him sick, then I’ll serve it.”
- Regarding a faithful 14 year-old dog that had been with a family her whole life: “I can’t afford an old dog if it gets sick. It’s not human. I’m not spending that kind of money on a dog. The kids need a dog to play with, so I’m taking this one to the pound and picking up a puppy.”
- Regarding a conversation about illegal immigration that turned into a pro-choice vs. pro-life conversation: Them: “They’ll march and pay to save a dumb animal, but they don’t care about murdered babies.” Me: “Why can’t we care about unborn humans, children already born, and animals all at the same time?”
- Regarding a time when I saw a child tormenting a tired old dog with a clothespin in front of his parents. Me: “He doesn’t like that.” Parents: “He’s not hurting him; the dog’s here for him to play with,” as if the dog were an inanimate toy for their child’s cruel pleasure.
- Regarding a man I know who has land in a rural area: “I need a cat to put in the barn to catch mice. He won’t make it long out here though. I have to replace them every couple of months.”
- Regarding a dog who was going to die, so his family could move conveniently: “She’s old and we’re moving, so we’re just going to put her down.”
- Regarding cruelty to cows in 8 by 8 pens 24 hours per day, standing in their own mess and so sick that they have to be hoisted out to slaughter: “I don’t care. It’s just a dumb cow. God put them here for us to eat. Cheeseburgers are good.”
- Previous neighbor regarding his German Shepherd, who was chained to a tree in the middle of a dirt yard with no shade but the house for a couple of hours a day, his fur rubbed off his neck, and receiving no attention except for a bowl of food and water shoved out to him once a day: “If I don’t chain him up, he jumps the fence, and the neighbors will complain.” I complained, but apparently he was receiving “adequate care” according to authorities.
- Regarding a supposedly beloved pet (I’ve heard this one more times than I can count): “Our new house doesn’t allow pets, so we need to find them a new home.” What if they don’t allow children? Are you going to give them away?
- Regarding moving across the state: “We’re moving and a dog and a cat are too much trouble to move with.”
- Regarding a former coworker who was never home: “I don’t have time to spend with him, so we’re putting him down.”
- Regarding animal testing: “What’s the difference? It’s only a mouse.”
- Regarding animal testing: “Animals don’t have souls, and they aren’t as smart as people. That’s what they’re for. God put them here for our use and gave us dominion over them.”
- Regarding a vicious and cruel child: “Better that he take his anger out on the dog than on his brother.” Really? How about counseling as an option?
- Regarding grieving over a beloved pet: “Get over it. It was just a dog. You can get another one.” No one had better ever say that to me.
- Regarding a heartbroken girl who had to sell her old horse: “We had to sell my horse because he can’t jump anymore. I barrel race, and we can’t afford to keep him if he can’t race.”
- Regarding a discussion of particularly cruel tests on animals for the safety of household cleaners: “Animal rights activists care more about animals than they do people.” Gee, I wonder why?
Hearing these same type of remarks over and over from people who claim to be caring, compassionate, and moral people caused me to wonder why we, as humans in general, think we are so much more valuable than animals because that’s what all these statements have in common. We see animals as objects existing for the use of people. Why else would people who supposedly try and teach their children right from wrong not feel the need to instill in their children respect and compassion for animals?
I could write this entire blog about the importance to humans of being kind and respectful to animals. For example, children who are allowed to treat animals with disrespect and cruelty often move on to bully others and become abusive adults. Treating an animal with kindness and respect teaches empathy, responsibility, humility, and compassion. Prisons have experienced very high rehabilitation success with animal programs for violent inmates. Torturing animals is a pre-cursor to violent crimes and is even known to be a profiling marker for serial killers. People who value animals tend to value human life more, are kinder, more humanitarian, and volunteer to help humans more. People who stand up against animal cruelty, also tend to stand up against mistreatment of humans. We all know this, yet we still think this abhorrent behavior is socially acceptable and even brag about it. Why?
It strikes me as quite arrogant to think we have more value than another living being. I know it is natural for most of us to prefer our own species in matters of life and death–we will choose our own child to save over the family dog, but I’m not talking about choosing animals over people in life-threatening situations. I’m talking about assuming, in general, that we are so superior to them that we have the right to do with them whatever we choose, regardless of their pain, loss of dignity, disregarding their inherent rights as living beings. I believe many people do not even believe they have rights; some do not see them as having feelings or thoughts, or they consider animals as undeserving because of their brain capacity or lack of their ability to use tools. Pets are seen as possessions to be owned, and therefore, can be disposed of whenever convenient. Why do otherwise moral people think this is okay?
After considering these attitudes, I have narrowed it down to three different possible reasons why they may feel this way about animals:
- Many people think humans have a soul and animals do not–this somehow makes the animal into an object to them, rather than a living being with a right to happiness, a normal environment specific to their needs, and respect as a fellow inhabitant of the earth.
- Some people believe that it is an evolutionary trait that we prefer our species and denigrate “lower” species as means of survival.
- Many people think that human intelligence is so much higher than that of most animals, and this, in their minds, is a reason to care more for people than animals. Hence, “It’s just a dumb cow,” as if the intelligence level of an animal means they hurt any less from torture. This thought process also tends to include the idea of them deserving to wield power over a weaker species. We are smarter and more powerful, so we can do what we choose to them.
Let me address these attitudes one by one. Cultures who believe animals have souls, tend to respect them more, even if they use them for food. They may follow rituals to show respect for the animal’s sacrifice, such as some Native American tribes. But what if they don’t have a soul? Does it matter? Do they feel pain any less? Do they not deserve to a have a happy, peaceful life, or whatever life is natural to them while they are here? How do we know anyone has a soul or that they don’t anyway? Regardless, it should not matter whether they have a soul or not. I am not a vegetarian, but I do believe in only purchasing free-range meat and cage-free eggs from reputable organic farms because the animals live a normal farm animal life before they are slaughtered. They are not caged, they graze, roam, enjoy the sunshine, are not shot full of drugs, or abused in any way. If I am going to eat meat, I want to know that no animal was treated with disrespect or cruelty just to provide me with a meal, whether it has a soul or not.
Evolutionary preference: This one is a no-brainer, no pun intended. People have all sorts of instincts that we must daily overcome to be more humanitarian. We are not locked into a behavior when we consciously can overcome it. Supposedly, that’s what evolution has done for us–given us the brain power to think. Let’s use it for kindness.
We are more intelligent than “lower” species. This one is, perhaps, the vilest excuse of all. I mean, do we seriously think it is excusable to be cruel based on intelligence levels? How would this theory transfer if we said it was okay to torture or use for experimentation people with Down Syndrome? It’s an abhorrent thought. Of course, it is not okay. This is exactly the mentality of people who allow their children to kick the dog, tease him, and withhold food. It should be no surprise when the child learns his lesson very well, and at school, sees it as perfectly acceptable to bully the weak and defenseless because he sees them as a lower species, and that he believes he is morally justified in assuming that power or intelligence makes one superior. Do we really believe that? Is someone less valuable because they have less physical or mental power? I don’t personally believe they are.
I choose to believe that all living creatures are born deserving respect, compassion, and kindness to the extent that we are able to show it. If a tiger was attacking me, I would appreciate someone shooting it with a tranquilizer dart, or even a gun if that was all that was available. However, I would not capture the tiger, put it in a cage, chain it up, or experiment on it.
As for pets–I hate the term–I believe we should not adopt an animal unless we intend to bring it in as a member of the family. Dogs and cats, horses, or any other family animal, should be cared for with dignity and kindness. They should be allowed to roam freely without chains or cages. They should have healthy, enticing meals, fresh water, regular exercise, a warm bed, and a place to cool off. They should not be forced to be a toy for a child. They should have some decision-making power over their own lives. If they want to go to another room and be left alone, respect that. They deserve preventative medical care and medical treatment when they are sick. They have rights as living beings with feelings, emotions, desires, and personalities, and if you don’t think they have these things, then you have never properly observed them. And most of all, they deserve to have the stability of growing old without fear of abandonment. They deserve to live out their days being pampered and loved after a lifetime of devotion to their family. We don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, throw out our elderly into the street and exchange them for the young. I can’t imagine anything more cruel than an animal faithfully loving his family, just to be thrown away as if they never valued him at all. Horses, cats, and dogs will willingly give their lives for families, and it is beyond cruel to be cast out like a worn out shoe by the only family they have ever known. There is no excuse for it. Think about what we are teaching children when we do this. Do not be surprised when they do not value you in your old age either.
There may be circumstances that require someone to re-home their animal friend, such as a death in the family or physical illness where the human cannot provide a healthy atmosphere for the animal. In these cases, all other options should be exhausted and obstacles should be overcome if possible to avoid the trauma to the animal. In these cases the animal should be re-homed carefully through an interview process that determines the ability of the new family to provide a loving home and for the needs of the animal. Under no circumstances should a healthy animal be put down or taken to a kill shelter because his family can no longer provide for him. There are lots of organizations willing to help.
If you are unwilling or not ready to make this type of commitment to an animal, please, don’t get one. When and if you decide to adopt, please rescue an animal from a shelter or take one from a friend, but do not patronize pet stores or puppy mills. I have not even touched on the horrors of puppy mills or the dog fighting or racing industries, but hopefully, people are aware of how wrong this is. Consider adopting an older dog. Contrary to the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” old dogs are actually quite easy to train, much easier than a puppy. They are so grateful for a loving home and people whom they can love while living out their days that they are usually quite amenable to how things are done in their new home. And, in my opinion, there is no more noble a creature than an old dog.
You may be wondering where I stand on insects and rodents since I say I believe all living creature deserve kindness and respect. My belief applies to them much in the same way as it does to wild animals. I will not purposely and needlessly harm them if they are not bothering me. If I need to protect my home and family from their disease-carrying presence, I will do so in the most humane way possible. I would not allow my child to torture a bug anymore than I would allow her to torture any other living creature.
I’m sure there will be some who read this who still refuse to look at animals as anything other than a lower species to be handled any way we see fit, but keep this in mind, by and large, people who treat animals with compassion and respect, treat people with compassion and respect. If we want a better world for people, we need to be concerned with the treatment of all living creatures. Also, realize that when you make these heartless statements about animals to animal lovers, you have significantly diminished in our esteem, and your character is now in question because how we treat and think about animals says volumes about what kind of people we really are.–Christina Knowles
All images courtesy of Google Images, except Mulder Pitman Knowles. Mulder was my beloved dog from 1993-2008 when she passed away after a long and beautiful life, but not long enough. A dog never lives long enough. She was rescued from a kill shelter and became my best friend. I was proud to stay by her side, caring for her in her old age.