People talk about having a life-changing moment, an epiphany. I know exactly what they mean. My life changed forever on March 21, 1987, when I was a freshman at California State University, Sacramento. It is a day I will never forget.
It was River City Days at CSUS and the campus quad was lined with exhibit booths and vendors. Being a life-long animal lover, I was drawn to an enormous black and white poster of a rabbit that could be seen above the crowd. I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about, thinking it might involve some cute, fluffy animals.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was a booth run by a group I hadn’t heard of before, called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. They were handing out newsletters regarding the plight of animals in our society. I took a newsletter and as I walked away, I started to read the story on the front page entitled “Downed Cow.” It was about a cow that was left for dead at a Kentucky stockyard. There was a black and white photograph of this poor creature to go with the article. Unable to walk, the cow had been dragged off the transport truck and had fallen to the ground, sustaining two broken hind legs and a broken pelvis. She lay in that condition for an entire day before being put out of her misery. The point of the article was that this was not an isolated incident; it was pretty standard treatment for factory-farmed animals. That fact broke my heart.
I returned home emotionally devastated from reading this one story. Just thinking about the treatment of these animals that I had been blissfully unaware of my entire life made me sick to my stomach with guilt. I wondered how I could have been so naïve, never having given a second thought to where the hamburger I was eating had come from. But now I knew. It was the last time I ever ate another living being in my life.
I am still to this day haunted by the image of that ‘downed cow’ in the photograph and vow to her memory that I will do what I can to eliminate the suffering endured by so many animals. They are living, feeling beings with emotions. All animals have the desire to avoid pain, and they deserve better. As someone who had five cats and two dogs at the time, I couldn’t possibly imagine any of them suffering like the cow I had read about in the story. I found it unbearable to think about what she had gone through, and so many others like her.
The recent press coverage of the cruelty uncovered at a California slaughterhouse prompted me to write this essay, to share the life-changing moment I had that day. I hope that one day, things will change for animals and that they will be treated with the respect they deserve.