Thursday, June 20, 2024

It’s time for all of us to admit that our love for animals is selective

It seems like I know at least 10 people whose dogs have been poisoned by now.

The reasons behind the poisoning are usually unknown. Maybe they needed the dog out of the way so they could break in. Maybe the dog was annoying and barked all the time and someone just got sick of it because the owners refused to do anything about it. Or maybe they just enjoy the power of showing merciless cruelty.

I’d always assumed that this last possibility was the least likely, but after reading about the bear cub that was tortured before being killed by what amounted to a mob — while smiling local police officers looked on — I’m afraid to admit that it might be more common than we think.

Humans have always had a contentious relationship with their fellow animals, and Mexico today is no exception. Gandhi made waves when he said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

If that’s true, we’ve got a long way to go, although the fact that the perpetrator who killed two dogs who basically amounted to national heroes will face actual punishment is at least a step in the right direction.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve got people who love animals dearly. Sometimes this love is only extended to their pets, and sometimes it extends to, at least in theory, all animals: while I’m not sure if the vegan and vegetarian population is growing here, the offerings for them seem to be, which I think is a pretty good indicator of how many are out there.

And on the other, there are people who seem to have as much contempt for animals as they do for their fellow humans.

Slightly more toward the middle are those who seem to value human life just as much as other people but see animals as beings put here for our pleasure, entertainment and food. Perhaps some animals’ feelings matter (like their pets, for example), but certainly not all of them do; or maybe, animals simply don’t have feelings like we do, which is why it’s fine to condemn one’s dog to a lifetime alone on the roof.

This is where I might classify those upset about the recent injunction against the bullfighting events at a Zacatecas fair.

While most people agree that cruelty like torturing and killing animals for fun is pretty straightforwardly wrong, there are plenty of other gray areas when it comes to what we do and do not have the right to do to animals under our control.

Most of us, including myself, fall uncomfortably in the middle of those grey areas. Abject cruelty toward animals? No way. Killing them myself? Certainly not. Teasing them? Perhaps only good-naturedly, but nothing to make them upset. Eating them? Well…

My grandmother was a strict vegetarian most of her life. She tried to get my sister and me on board plenty of times when we were little, but our parents ate and served meat, plus she wasn’t that great of a cook. Her vegetarian concoctions tasted like cardboard to us, which was not a great selling point for a couple of kids. But she was faithful to the end and lived a long and healthy life.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I decided to stop eating meat for the first time. I’d taken an ethics class and read a story about aliens who had come here and were cooking and eating us using our own recipes for cooking animals.

One man had almost convinced an alien not to boil him alive (like lobsters), but hunger eventually overcame the alien. It made its version of a shrug and dropped him into the pot.

I faithfully abstained from meat for a couple years after reading that, and I didn’t miss it. However, when it was time to travel to Mexico for my year abroad, I made a conscious decision to start eating meat again; after all, I didn’t want to be that kind of difficult guest who shows up at a new place and expects everyone to accommodate them. I wanted my host family to like me, and I wanted to fit in.

Once I got here, I realized that I could have easily stayed a vegetarian, at least if I had pretended not to know that there was likely lard and/or chicken stock in most dishes.

It wasn’t until a few years later while teaching an ethics class (these damned ethics classes just don’t let me have any fun!) that I decided to stop eating meat and most other animal products again. This time, it lasted for several more years until after my daughter was born. Once again, I didn’t really miss meat.

But a few years later, with an infant and very little energy, I thought that maybe I needed meat in my diet to get my strength back. It turned out not to make the slightest difference, but I was used to it again and have yet to go back.

Why do I talk about all this? Because I don’t feel great about myself and my secondary treatment of animals.

I don’t torture animals, and I don’t think it’s fun to watch them suffer. But I do eat animals, which I have a moral problem with. Because if I’m going to eat them, I feel I should be willing to kill them, to look my food in the eye, even; and that is definitely not something I’m willing to do.

And while one could make the argument that lots of animals kill and eat other animals, which is true — some animals have even killed and eaten us! – what they don’t do is breed their prey in inhumane conditions and then send them to slaughter factories so that they can have the pleasure of eating hamburgers whenever they feel like it.

Abject cruelty and torture of animals is wrong, and those who participate in it should be punished. But I think it’s time for all of us to admit that our love for animals is selective and that none of us are innocent when it comes to the treatment of and consideration for animals as a whole.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, and her Patreon page.

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