Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Overcoming My Prejudices, One Cat and Dog at a Time

A childhood friend of mine recently asked me how I became an advocate for animals. She remembered me in my formative years when I was not very fond of animals and avoided them like the plague. In fact, before entering any friend's house I would inquire first whether there were any cats or dogs present. Sadly, I think I might have even said back then that I hated dogs.

Thinking back on those days, I now realize that it was my fear of animals which caused me to convince myself that I did not like them. It wasn't until college, when I roomed with my now, very dear friend, Amy Biggé, and her dog and two cats, that I overcame those fears. Incidentally, that same year I also became a vegetarian. As it turned out, my interaction with Amy's cats and dog compelled me to come to terms with the sentience of all creatures. It was no longer acceptable for me to care for some animals while eating or wearing others.

I now realize that the phobia that drove me to dislike animals is analogous to that which drives people to become fearful of those whose cultures, religions, and races are different from their own. It is that same ignorance and fear that made slavery an institution and which is currently driving the zeitgeist of Islamophobia.

Nonetheless, callous attempts to diminish the rights and feelings of others are not limited to humans, and greatly affect the treatment of billions of animals every year. Efforts to discredit animals - farm animals in particular - as creatures unworthy and undeserving of basic desires and comforts, also stems from fear, specifically fear of changing one's behavior. Simply choosing to become vegan and avoiding animal products can have a huge impact in alleviating animal suffering. Likewise, discrimination perpetuates the killing and torturing of animals - directly and indirectly - as if cows, pigs, and chickens are somehow undeserving of the same well-being or protections afforded dogs, cats and humans. Many fear facing the reality of how their prejudices directly impact animals. By choosing to ignore what they hear and what they see, they are complicit in maintaining the status quo and allowing the suffering to continue.

I believe fear was at the heart of my own prejudice against animals and it was my duty to overcome it. The unknown is very scary, but I grew to love animals when I learned about them and lived with them. My fears became baseless as I gained experience interacting with them. My heart grew and I evolved as I opened my mind to the lives of others who, despite our differences, have so much more in common with me than I realized. We all want to be loved and cared for. We all want to avoid pain and suffering. We all want to be happy. This is the same for everyone; animals are no exception.

I'm grateful to Amy for opening the door to me, not just into her house, but into the hearts of animals. It was my first step towards becoming a more compassionate being. I now view all animals as my friends and I see that, just like me, they are trying to make it day by day in a brutal world. Though we may be different in some ways, all of us - people and animals - are much more alike than we care to admit. We have so much to learn from one another if we would only open our hearts, stretch our minds, and put aside our fears.

Photos: Amy's former pals and my earthly redeemers: Ivy (top) and Puss Puss

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bethany ~ The is so beautifully written. Ivy and Puss Puss were very very special. Amy has such a wonderful way with animals, and I am glad for you that she passed her love of animals to you! Lynne