I often wonder how, when and why it became so easy for humans to kill things, often automatically and without even a thought.  Is it a primal instinct or is it learned?  Even worse; Is it taught?  And I’m not just talking about killing other humans or animals.  Do you kill bugs?  Do you do it without thinking, like it’s just a normal action?  Do you give a second of thought to the fact that you are snuffing out a tiny, little life?  Everything is relative.  The bug doesn’t know it is small.  In fact, it’s only small in OUR eyes.  Did you ever see the old t.v. show, where a woman is invaded by tiny little spacemen?  They land on her roof in a tiny little space ship and invade her in her home.  She is terrified, and does everything she can to kill them by swatting at them with brooms and such.  It isn’t until the very end (I think the space men were all killed by her) that the camera pans to an area on the tiny space ship which shows its credentials and place of origin, “United States of America”.  You see, one of our space ships visited a planet where the inhabitants were apparently giants (as compared to us).  All along we’re led to believe that this woman is a “normal” sized human being invaded by abnormally tiny creatures, but in reality it was us just living our lives, just like the bugs are doing.  The astronauts sort of got what was coming to them though because, of course, the first thing THEY tried to do when they broke into the “giant’s” house was to try to kill her with their little ray-guns!  Didn’t even think about it.  And while we’re on the topic of epic role-reversals that should make us think, let’s not forget the movie, “Planet of the Apes”.  If you’ve never seen it you should, and if you haven’t seen it in a long time you should watch it again.  It’s possibly more poignant today than when it was made!

Have you ever seen a child intentionally stepping on ants?  Do you encourage or discourage the behavior?  Do you even think about it?

The owner of a place where I work brings his dog in every day.  The dog is a sweet boy but barks fairly often, as some dogs do.  One of the male employees finds this rather intolerable and very sternly reprimands the dog (ironically he sort of barks at the dog).  When this happened the other day, I said to the guy that it must be difficult to have such acute hearing as dogs do, and have to live in such a noisy world, hearing every little sound and not knowing if it is something to be alarmed about.  Then I asked him if he ever thought about the notion that we constantly insist that our pets be quiet and not use their voices, but they have to listen to us yap all day.  Not only do they hear us in person but also through the constant yammering of the tv’s and radios that are going on around them all day.  His response was, “That’s true.  But they’re animals”.  I’m pretty sure he would have said “only” animals if he had thought of it.  So, I guess he was implying that they are undeserving of the same respect we demand for ourselves?  Sadly, an all too typical response from humans.  I had to remind him then that we too are animals!

TV and the internet are full of stories of people who kill nonchalantly.  I’m not talking about your odd “serial killer”; I’m talking about the guy up the street whose idea of fun is going into the woods and killing a deer or a bear; the fisherman whose idea of a good day is sinking a hook into the flesh of a sea creature, the bigger and more majestic the better; and I’m talking about the proliferation of persons on the news who so easily pull a trigger and end someone forever.  Where does it come from, this mindlessness?  How do people become so detached from emotion, empathy and compassion?  Years ago, I was a Driving Instructor.  One day I sat in my car outside a lower income housing development, waiting for my next student to emerge.  Two woman were out front talking to each other, and a (just learning how to walk) toddler was inside a grass covered, fenced area.  The poor little thing fell and started crying pathetically.  Not only did the mother not attempt to comfort the child, she never even acknowledged her!  She just kept talking to her friend like the kid wasn’t even there.  It broke my heart and I remember thinking that this poor little girl didn’t stand a chance in life, that she was already doomed to an emotionally detached future.  Does the ability to kill perhaps start in situations like this one?

Here’s another story from my past that caused me to respect life, no matter what the size:  I guess I was a teenager and stayed up later than everyone one night, just watching t.v.  The only light in the room was from the t.v., and it cast a path across the wood floor.  I suddenly noticed a spider (I don’t know the proper name, but we called them “Daddy Long Legs”) cross the path of light in front of the t.v.  Without even thinking about it, I got up and stepped on the spider, crushing it under my shoe.  I cleaned its remains up off the floor with a tissue, but not perfectly I guess, because a few moments later a second Daddy Long Legs began moving across the same path.  When it reached the spot where the other spider had been crushed, it went absolutely crazy.  It started spinning around and around at top speed, circling the area, then spinning around and around again.  I remember being stunned at its reaction, thinking that I must have killed his mate and he knew it… and he CARED!  He was aware, and seemingly distraught.  I felt horrible about what I had done.  That moment changed me forever.  It was the moment when I understood that all lives are important, that perhaps there is more awareness in each animal than we ever give them credit for, that we have no right to assume we know how, or what, or if they think, that I have no right to take ANY creature’s life, and that a small life is still a life and not small to the creature who is living it.

There are still the times when I have to kill things; I kill mosquitos because they can hurt my pets; I killed ants when they invaded my home in droves.  Thank heaven I don’t have roaches, but if I did, I surely would be killing them.  Sometimes it really does come down to self defense.  But I don’t do it mindlessly.  I actually do agonize over it.  I actually do say a prayer to ask forgiveness.  Maybe you think I’m crazy, but is it really such a bad thing to be a person who agonizes over the death of a living creature?  Isn’t it preferable to being a person who doesn’t even think about it, or thinks about it but doesn’t care?  There are people who actually laugh at the death of a helpless creature and consider it entertainment.  I guess they go through life more easily, but is that who we want to be?

Who are the people that have the capacity to spend their life killing the animals that we then eat for food?  They not only kill them but often abuse them repeatedly.  Who are THOSE people?!  Does it frighten you as much as it does me, that there are people so removed from feeling that they are able to spend day after day killing?  Do you know that in China they REALLY DO EAT DOGS?!  They have entire festivals based on eating dog meat?  That they gather them up and pile them on top of one another, waiting to be killed and eaten?  The dogs know!  We know the dogs know what’s going on!  Can you imagine what they must go through as they await their fate?  Ask anyone who has ever worked in a kill shelter; the dogs know when their time has come, when they are being walked to their death.  They struggle.  They try to get away.  The terror shows in their eyes.  They often must be dragged to their place of death.  So if the Chinese can do that to animals that we know have an emotional life, who’s to say that we are not just ignoring cows, pigs, chickens and other animals in the same way because then it’s easier to justify killing them?

I’ve always believed that one of the most important things to teach children is empathy.  In fact, I think it should be mandatory teaching in every school from the youngest age possible.  The ability to put one’s self in another’s place; to imagine how they would feel if, to imagine what it must look like to that bug when the big shoe is about to come down on it, to feel the fear, to wonder if those left behind might now painfully starve because there will be no one to bring food back to them, to imagine the pain an animal must feel when a metal trap clamps down on its leg or a bullet rips through its flesh, the fear it might feel when it sees the gun pointing at it,  to think about what it means to end another human’s life forever, that they will no longer exist on this planet, to think about what it will do to that person’s family – these are the things our children must be taught.  Sadly though, some of the teachers and parents have to learn it first.






As it should be

I’ve been around animals all of my life.  It’s really the only thing I’ve ever felt passionate about.  As I got older I began to get involved in animal rescue and adoption and became more and more aware of the plight of animals in our country, and our world.  Volunteering for a couple of animal rescue shelters, I watched the endless supply of inhabitants. The crates and cages were never empty; if anything, the shelters often had to turn animals away (or euthanize them) because there just wasn’t enough space to hold them all.  My job was to help “socialize” the animals and to give them some individual attention while they were there.  So many of them were so traumatized from the entire experience.  Just imagine being put into your car and just left somewhere without warning, never again to see the family you had come to love and think you were a part of, never again to see the place you had come to think of as your home.  Just an hour before you had felt safe and content, without much of a care in the world; an hour later you are suddenly terrified and confused, surrounded by strangers in a strange place, with strange smells and a lot of noise, nothing at all familiar, and with you are dozens of others who seem to be just as confused and scared.  Where once you had a comfortable bed with a familiar scent, now you are placed into a cage, not knowing what is going to happen next, or if it will hurt.  Where once you could walk about relatively freely, or maybe enjoy the pleasures of a yard of your own, now you were only taken out of the cage a couple of times a day for a few moments just so you can relieve yourself and then be returned, and that’s if you’re lucky.  Some shelters are so overwhelmed that the animals rarely get out of their crates or pens to relieve themselves; they just have to find a spot where they won’t end up stepping in it before someone has the time to clean up the mess.  I’ve read that most dogs have cognitive ability at the level of a two year old child. Imagine if this was all happening to your child, who was still too young to speak, or make sense of things, or ask questions. Imagine if you were suddenly gone from your child’s life, and they were suddenly dumped off with strangers in a strange place.  Wouldn’t that child be terrified?  Well it’s absolutely no different for all of the more than SIX MILLION animals who are sitting in shelters every day!  They are just as terrified.  They are just as confused.  They are just as unable to speak for themselves or understand.  And they often become just as depressed as you, or your child would, in the same situation.  Every day as I tried to give these love-starved dogs (in this case) some time and attention, I just couldn’t understand how any human could abandon their pet like this.  Could they really be so lacking in empathy?  Can people really be so far removed from their own emotions that they don’t even think of what they are doing to these beautiful creatures that they once called THEIR pets?  Do they ever think of it from the animal’s point of view?

In the years that followed, I have seen more and more of this lack of empathy and compassion, and lack of thought given for the animals.  Respect for animals is, to a large degree, nonexistent in our society.  My Inbox is filled every day with petitions and calls to action, each asking for help for a particular animal or group of animals, or to prosecute an abuser or stop some legalized slaughter of animals.  Cecil the lion was only one small example of the thousands of atrocities that are perpetrated upon animals every day, every minute.  Did it occur to you that the Dentist’s only defense was that he “thought it was a legal hunt” ?  The fact that this was a needless, horrific act, whether legal or not, never even crossed his mind.  For years I’ve wondered if it could be proven that there must be something wrong with a person whose idea of  FUN is to kill something.   It’s an acceptable concept in the human world, so why not for animals?  Is it because they don’t speak a language we  understand?  It’s really all that separates us.  If your dog (or cat, or bird, or guinea pig, or rabbit) could ask you where you were going when you put him in the car to dump him at the shelter, if he could scream your name, if he could beg you not to leave him and sob loudly as you hand his leash over to someone and make your way out the door, could you still do it?  Would you?  Because I’m sure all of the feelings are there inside the animals.  Every day, scientists discover more and more that animals are capable of feeling emotion.  Anyone who has ever loved a pet knew that a long time ago.  To the rest I can only say, we know at the very least that animals feel fear.  It’s one of their greatest defenses for survival.  So if there is one emotion, doesn’t it follow that there must be other emotions – perhaps even a full range of emotion?

So why am I here?  Why have I started this blog?  Because I believe that one of the reasons why I am here on this earth (maybe the only one) is to speak for the animals, and to be one of the many who helps to make many others more aware, and more animal conscious.  (Self appointed, yes, but emanating from within.)  Every petition hurts.  Every call to action hurts.  It hurt when I went to Albany to lobby for Bills to end certain animal abuses.  It hurt when I was adopting my dog and at least three more were dropped off while I was signing the papers to bring him home.  It hurts every time I see another homeless cat wandering the streets, trying to survive the cold winters and the lack of food, water and love.  It hurts every time my dog still reacts with terror when he enters a room lined with tiles and stainless steel, just like the shelter was (and more than two years later).  To quote the character John Coffey in the movie, “The Green Mile”:  “There’s too much of it — it’s like pieces of glass in my head,all the time.”  Even so, I can’t be one of those people who closes their eyes and covers their ears whenever the ASPCA commercials come on.  It hurts me just as much as it hurts the next person, but closing my eyes and allowing myself to remain ignorant just means more animals will suffer.  So which is easier to live with; Watching the heartbreaking commercials or knowing that if I don’t, if I don’t keep it fresh in my mind’s eye, more animals will suffer?  It’s the watching that creates the motivation to then create a change, because IT IS so horrific and unbearable!  I (we) have to watch the commercials because otherwise the animals will just keep having to go through it, and alone!

And finally, admittedly, I am here in this blog because I can be somewhat of a zealot on this topic.  My hope is that perhaps a blog will allow me to channel the passion more constructively.  At least in a blog you can shut me down if you want to.  Not always the case in real life.  If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for listening.

“Some people talk to animals.  Not many listen though.  That’s the problem.”  (A.A.Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)