We are all too familiar with the pain of seeing examples of cruelty to animals, whether it’s through the sadness in the eyes of an abandoned dog, the agony and desperation experienced by a downed cow or other farmed animal, or the desperation of an oil-soaked bird. These images touch our hearts and frequently elicit deep emotions.
If you are like me, then you often wonder how come more people are not touched when confronted with such heart-wrenching stories and pictures. Do they have no empathy? Do they not see the obvious, that there are millions of living beings in desperate need of help? How come mainstream society has not yet woken up to the horrors that many animals are forced to endure? How come people still do not feel more strongly about factory farms, for example? When I think about all those questions, one possible answer comes to mind: desensitization.
What do I mean by that? I think one thing that needs to happen in order for animal rights to be more broadly adopted in society is to change the paradigm through which animals are viewed. Speciesism is still prevalent, as people continue to think of animals as lesser beings who do not deserve many of the same rights and privileges as humans. There are too many ways that this paradigm manifests itself in our everyday lives.
For example, as I typed this last paragraph, my word processor’s grammar-correction tool kicked in, insisting that animals should be referred to as “that” instead of “who.”
There are also those individuals who give their animal companions disparaging monikers: “Stupid” and “Useless” are a couple of examples. Would you call your child that? What are we teaching our children about kindness and compassion when we demean the animals they love? And what are we teaching them about us?
How about companion animal contests that feature “ugliest pet”? Most who feel compassion toward animals rail at the thought that any animal is ugly. It is OK because we are dealing “only” with animals, right?
But perhaps worst of all are the ways in which some speak to those who have lost beloved animal companions. “I understand that you’re upset,” they might say. “But she’s just a dog. It’s not like you can’t get another.” Can you imagine the same sentence being spoken to someone who just lost a child?
Of course, the above does not cause much suffering when compared to what happens on factory farms, in circuses, or in laboratories. But I think that when the day comes when treating animals as things instead of beings is no longer acceptable, it will be much more difficult for people to turn their heads when confronted with clear cases of animal suffering.
What is your take?