Animal cruelty seems to be all around us nowadays-- it doesn't take a trip to a factory farm or circus to confirm the way animals are being senselessly abused. On the streets, some children think it's funny to burn ants with magnifying glasses on hot days; people drag their dogs along without thinking about their pets' happiness; and sometimes teenagers will even throw rocks at cats. At home, dogs are locked in crates while their masters are at work; "pocket pets" and fish are stuck in cages hardly bigger than they are themselves; unwanted goldfish are flushed down the toilet while alive; and dogs and cats, supposedly the joys in our lives, are yelled at for doing things like eating a tasty treat that their owner had prepared for their guests.
It seems hard to know where to start. Since these things can only be eliminated through new legislation and such, there's nothing we can do to stop it.
Or is there?
There is, in fact, a very simple way to help reduce speciesism, or the prejudice against other species. This is practicing respect! It's not just a matter of not harming animals. It is about advocating the respect for other creatures in our daily lives. Here are some examples of what I mean:
Refer to animals by he or she instead of it. The pronoun it signifies an inanimate object. Once humans consider animals to be individuals with lives of their own, it will be a lot harder for people to show cruelty. Cruelty, after all, often spawns from thoughtlessness-- not even considering another's point-of-view.
When one of your friends is joking about animal cruelty, let them know that it isn't funny and that they shouldn't joke about it.
When you actually come into the aquaintance of a non-human animal, do as J. Allen Boone was instructed to do when he was asked to care for the dog celebrity, Strongheart:
"I was told what and when to feed my new companion, how to bathe and brush him and what kind of exercise he should have every day. I was advised to treat him exactly as I would an intelligent human being. I was never under any circumstances to 'talk down my nose' at him, to use baby talk with him, or to say anything... that I did not sincerely mean in my heart. The instructions ended with the apparently serious recommendation that I read something worthwhile to him every day." To learn how this all went, I advise you to read his book, Kinship With All Life.
Make sure that you don't participate in events that support animal cruelty. For example, a barbeque fundraiser may be raising funds for a good cause, but by helping with setting up/cleaning up/cooking/making posters/etc., you would be supporting animal cruelty at the same time. Veggie-burger-only/veggie-dog-only barbeques are okay, though! If someone asks you why you won't help, try to explain as politely and descriptively as you can. You may not convert them into animal rights activists on the spot, but you will definitely get them thinking about stopping their unconcious cruelty. Another example would be if your friends think it's "fun" to squish/drown ants. Don't be the by-stander. "But I'm not actually doing anything" doesn't cut it. As I have heard from many anti-bullying campaigns in elementary school, "the by-stander is just as bad as the bully."
If you see someone who isn't treating their animal properly, offer a suggestion on how to do things better. Don't make it sound like you are attacking them, but give them a "friendly pointer" and ask them to look at it from the animals' point-of-view. If you can, direct them to an animal rights video, organization, or my blog!
Remember: children and youth are the future. The atmosphere that young people are raised in will have a profound impact on the world of tomorrow. Humane education is vital to helping kids cultivate compassion. Teach your children (if you have kids) and their friends to be compassionate wherever they go, explaining them why they should boycott circuses, zoos, animal products, etc. This is not "brainwashing" them. It is exactly the same as teaching children to care for their neighbours. If they are taught this, there won't be a need for animal rights activism in years to come-- respect will come naturally!
By the way, I'm not accepting e-mails from my old ecofuzzy e-mail account anymore. Google is changing it's privacy policies. So you'd be better off to post a comment instead, for those of you who want to contact me but don't know me personally. Thanks.