I believe in animal rights. That doesn’t mean I think animals should have every right a human being has — though I see no proof their lives are worth any less than ours. I don’t think animals should have the vote, for example — though they may not do much worse than we do. In their own groups, flocks, prides, they do a fairly efficient job of selecting leaders.
I’ve had enough pets in my life to know that each animal, like each person, has his or her own personality. These creatures, each with their own quirks and “issues,” have got me through lonely days, anxious nights and personal loss. They have shared joy with me. And the loss of each of them has always been as devastating as the loss of a human being. Years ago, I watched as my father sobbed in the vet’s office, when our 21-year-old cat died. It was, as my mother said, “like one of you kids had died.” Far from being offended by that, I concurred. That compassion and honesty, that acceptance my father showed that day remains one of my fondest memories of him, one of his greatest gifts.
I am an advocate, not an activist. My belief in animal rights doesn’t mean I’m a flaky, hemp-wearing, neo-hippie leftist who wants to go live in a meadow with her woodland creature friends. On the contrary, I am a strong supporter of the war on terror, a fiscal conservative, a social libertarian and an utterly urban latte-drinker.
I know that animals feel fear and pain, and that they suffer. I believe that this should matter to human beings and that we should do all we can — when possible — to prevent and alleviate that fear and pain, that suffering. Though I do not eat meat, fowl, fish or seafood, I don’t mind if you do. But I think it should matter to you — immensely — how the creatures you eat were treated in life, and were killed.
I would like to see animal cruelty treated as a criminal offence. And, while I am no hunting fan, I see a difference between a deer hunt, say, where the animal will be eaten, and the hunting of an animal for “sport.” It is beyond me why anyone should enjoy or take pride in slaughtering something.
I don’t romanticize animals, thinking they’re all Disney characters, all secretly cuddly. On the contrary, I believe wild animals should be revered for what they are, and feared for what they are capable of doing. While zoos are not ideal, I believe they are an inevitability. And I have seen some wonderful ones, where the animals have great space and an environment that replicates home. It breaks my heart, though, to see animals in a circus, or on a Las Vegas stage.
I’m not saying animals are exactly like humans — though some are certainly closer than others. What I am saying is that like us, animals are alive, vulnerable, sentient and worthy of respect. And understanding that can open up your life.
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