I previously considered some animals to be mere commodities that I could use at my convenience. I thought nothing of ordering a steak dinner or purchasing a new pair of leather shoes. I had succeeded in reducing the source of these and other animal products to nameless, faceless entities. It was easy to do, given that I wasn’t involved I in the production process. This mindset changed for me when I purchased a Boston Terrier puppy named Bella as a Christmas present for my wife. For the first time, I witnessed and paid attention to the range of complex emotions that animals experience, including fear, discomfort, joy, and contentment. It would have been intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that the animals which ended up on my plate or covered my feet possess an emotional and intellectual capacity similar to the pet I let sleep next to me. I set about researching the circumstances under which animals in this country are bred, housed, and slaughtered. I knew that doing so would prompt a change in my lifestyle that would initially be inconvenient, but I forced myself to acknowledge the conditions under which factory farm animals toil. What I discovered was heart breaking. The mechanized, systematic cruelty on display made the decision to become a vegetarian easy. No longer could I justify subjecting any animal to such treatment, depriving them of dignity and ultimately, life, simply for my selfish ends. I made the compassionate, not the easy, choice and now strive to live my life in as cruelty-free a manner as possible. I attempt to not judge people who eat meat or purchase leather. After all, I did so for the first thirty four years of my life. I do think, however, that people strive to do the right thing in every day life and that, if confronted with the horrors of the meat and leather industries, most would eschew the resulting products. I know that with all the pressing issues in our world, some people insist that animal welfare should be far down on the list. I disagree. I believe we need to extend our compassion beyond humans to all sentient creatures. As long as we find a rationale to discriminate against a portion of this planet’s living beings, reasons can and will be found to discriminate against people. When this is allowed to occur, the justice we seek for all men and women will continue to elude us. For those who feel that going vegetarian and purging leather goods from their closets won’t make much of a difference, I suggest that acts of kindness are never wasted, no matter to whom or what they are directed. Instead, they shape our nature and define who we are, and no one can argue that, as commodities go, we need compassion any less than the steak on our plates or those leather shoes on our feet.
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