It is probably assumed, as I am a vegan and very passionate about the environment, that I am an animal lover. That I coo over every dog I pass in the park/street, that I wanted/still want to work with animals etc. Actually, no!
I don’t consider myself to be obsessed with animals by any stretch. My family have a cat, who I like, but I could see myself not having a pet later on in life. As a child I was very cautious around animals, mainly through lack of experience (we got the cat when I was 12). I was VERY scared of dogs. So anyway, hopefully you get the picture. I wasn’t crazy about animals.
But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be obsessed with animals to feel something when you see them being mistreated. Below is a picture of a baby albatross. When hunting for food, albatross look for shiny things in the water and mistake pieces of plastic for fish, which they then feed to their young. Thinking their stomachs are full, they are momentarily satisfied, but they end up dying. This is the contents of a typical dead albatross:
When I first saw this picture, I had such a horrible feeling of disgust and my heart was in so much pain. I’d never even thought about albatross before, If I’m honest I didn’t even know what one looked like! But seeing one dead and full of things I KNOW I’ve thrown away plenty of in my lifetime (bottle-tops, lighters etc.) made me want to vow I’d never throw anything away again! I don’t think you need to be an animal ‘lover’ to want to avoid them dying at our hands.
Another thing that I’ve learned is that when you start practising veganism, you become more appreciative of animals. As a meat-eater I used to reduce animals to funny, stupid creatures (not in such harsh words, but that’s what I thought) because when you see something as food, or a commodity, you have to distance yourself from emotions and respect in order for the idea to sit comfortably. Now that I no longer see animals as my food, it is so much easier to learn about the intricate way animals behave and interact. I often find that the right thing to do (be it forgiveness, tolerance etc.) needs to be practised first, and the feeling comes later. Do what you know to be right even if you haven’t accepted it in your heart yet, and afterwards you will realise why it was the right thing to do.
Because of my new found respect for animals, I am now certain that keeping animals cooped up in cages and barns surrounded by death and faeces does not do justice to their dignity. It is not necessary for our diets, it is not right to ask other people to kill animals so that we don’t have to see it, and it is not sustainable for the planet.