Many of us who share our homes and our lives with a cat, with a dog or with some other nonhuman companion(s) have had to face the experience of agreeing to euthanise them when veterinary medicine can no longer keep their pain at bay.
Look back and remember
Today I’m asking those who have faced that sickening decision to pause for a time and think back to that day as I’m sure you must do at times, your thoughts tinged with sadness. Perhaps, for you as for me, every moment of those days is etched bone deep with a sorrow that can never heal.
While you reflect on this, let me ask a sincere question. Are you vegan? Please realise that I’m not asking you what you choose on the menu when you go out. Being vegan is about refusing to inflict harm and violence for any reason on other individuals who value their lives as we value our own and in the same way we valued the lives of those friends we are remembering today. Some people may be outraged that such a question should intrude on a moment of reverie, but it’s a really important and relevant question.
What we have in common
It’s important because, for a breath or two, for a few beats of our hearts, we have been united in our shared understanding of a bond between species that we can never forget. We have been joined in a sadness that will never fully leave us. Together we remembered these friends who are no longer with us, and for myself, I longed to share again their friendship and their trust. Together we recalled the havoc and the laughter of the days we shared with them, happier days before that bleak day that we said goodbye to them forever. For a short time, we shared an understanding of what it means to value another for who they are, rather than for how we can use them. And that very understanding is one of the fundamental principles of veganism.
So moving back to the vegan question I asked, let’s turn our thoughts to those whom our nonvegan choices condemn to a short and miserable existence for us to consume them, or wear them, to experiment on them in laboratories, or use them for milk or for eggs. Let’s spare them a thought while they await the knives and the saws that reduce each magnificent and incomparable life to the cost per kilo of a corpse. To fulfil our demands as faceless consumers, they were each brought into the world by our contrivance and intervention to endure a bleak existence, and a terrifying death, where the uniqueness of their personality, the potential for fun and for trust and for friendship with humans all lay dormant, shunned by our relentlessly predatory species as an unwelcome reminder of the emotions, the enquiring minds and the complex ideas of our needless victims. Make no mistake, although we may have been taught otherwise, that potential is there in every sentient creature – it goes with the very definition.
We all know the words to say
When we think of those who are our victims, we become defensive, often resorting to explanations about how we seldom consume substances derived from them, and recounting how we try to ‘source’ these ‘products’ from ‘local’ or ‘humane’ establishments.
And there, in that sentence above, we see a common but telling shift in terminology, one that is seldom noticed and infrequently remarked upon. From the mention of our victims, there is an abrupt move away to ‘sourcing’ ‘products’. It’s the shift that happens when the discomfort of thinking of sentient individuals with thoughts and feelings, is eased by re-casting them as objects and resources in our minds and conversation.
You see we all say that we think none should suffer and that we ‘don’t believe in cruelty’. Let’s face it, it’s recited like a mantra. We obsess about their treatment while they await the unnecessary deaths we inflict upon them, pretending that this somehow atones for the injustice of our unnecessary actions. In fact we may even claim to believe that our victims have great lives, but wishing doesn’t make it so. We really know that what we say about them is not true, though we often come very close to fooling ourselves.
Parallels and connections
And so, consider this. Would any of us have wished for our beloved companion to have lived a ‘life’ such as we like to imagine is acceptable for those animals we use? I’m talking about standard practice here, with absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that any aspect of their existence as ‘farmed’ individuals would fail to reach the very highest standards. I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that I would not. And what’s more, I’m confident that any who would say otherwise could only hold that view because they have no knowledge of the violence and grave injustice inherent in any process that uses the lives, the labour and the bodies of sentient individuals as if they were inanimate resources.
Death comes to us all
And finally, setting aside for a moment our knowledge (or lack of it) of the lives of our victims, unless you and I are more different than I can imagine, I know how you felt when your heart was shattering in that vet’s surgery on that day long ago.
And I know beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt that if that vet had reassured you that a humane and peaceful death for your dear companion meant suspending them from chains upside down in the gore spattered cacophony of a slaughterhouse, slicing open the soft beloved throat to spill the lifeblood in a pulsing torrent past eyes, glazed with pain and shocked betrayal, there is not a chance in all the world that you would have believed them for even the slightest fraction of a second. You would have instantly recognised the myth of ‘humane slaughter’ that we hear about so often, for the black and utter lie that it is; that deep down we all know it to be. Unnecessary killing can never be humane. Never.
We are responsible for our actions
Yet for every nonvegan consumer choice that any of us makes, to consume, to wear, to experiment on, to imprison for ‘entertainment’, this is the very real and completely inescapable consequence of our choice and we cannot distance ourselves from being personally responsible for what is done to meet our demands. The only difference between our loved companions and our victims, is that we have never known our victims, have never looked into their eyes to see the fear, never witnessed their loneliness, the desolation and despair of young creatures who have never known what it means to be cared about for who they are, rather than for their commercial value as commodities. We would recognise all these feelings if we were only to have the opportunity to look, just as we recognise these same feelings in our companions and fight so hard to ensure that they never have to experience them.
Honouring, respecting, learning
So today, on behalf of those we have loved, let’s remember with fondness who they were, and who we are, we who understand and value the bonds that sentient individuals of different species share. And knowing that our victims are exactly like our loved ones were in every way but species, let’s ask ourselves if we can really continue to live in a way that causes such pointless but catastrophic harm to them, they who have never harboured the slightest thought of harm towards us, and who are completely innocent in every sense.
I know that I couldn’t live that way. That’s why I’m vegan. Please join me.