Animal suffering continues mainly because most people close their eyes to it. The irony is that they do so precisely because the confrontation with the suffering of animals is often painful,” Tobias Lennart wrote on the occasion of World Vegetarian Day, on November 1st.
Walking through the beautiful woods in my neighborhood, I often smell a pig farm half a stone’s throw away. The environmental damage this pork factory causes is serious in itself, but what worried me the most when I passed were the animals that live there and never see the light of day. I hear the pigs roaring now and then, but I haven’t noticed one. I just know they’re there, until they go to the slaughterhouse and chop, then other animals take their place.
While walking a bit, I came across two small dogs. Vegetarians and other “animal zoologists” tend to point out the different treatment between pigs and dogs, and this is a very relevant point. Sometimes, pigs and dogs are treated similarly. The two dogs in question, like pigs, are locked in a kennel all day long. The owners have a large yard, but they may not want to fence it off. I don’t know if they don’t want to clean dog shit out of the lawn. Anyway, I feel like ringing the bell and telling them they can’t keep their dogs within four feet squared permanently. But the problem is that they can. The law states that pets must be provided with food, drink, and shelter. There is nothing else to do. I don’t have a leg to stand on.
From the garden with the dogs I walk a few hundred meters, and there I know a house where I can see a birdcage behind the window and inside it a lonely parrot. This cage would be the size of a room for a human. A room in which we have to spend all our lives. Imagine then that you have wings that allow you to move in three dimensions and fly for hours if you want. I suspect the old lady, who undoubtedly feeds her little bird every day, has absolutely no idea how limited – almost non-existent – her pet’s freedom of movement is. Just like the tens of thousands of other people who have bird cages on their windowsills they have no idea.
And I can find other things in my career: hunters “play their sport” and shoot rabbits and deer in the fields and forests. Anglers who put a hook in the palate of fish in their own way. The rat poison that waits in the ducts and the rodent dies painfully. All this, and pigs, and dogs, and birds in their cages: there are more people, like me, asking great questions on this subject, but everything is allowed. It amazes me every day: that as a species we create the most wonderful things, create beautiful art in all its forms, and slowly reveal the mysteries of the universe with a telescope that we send millions of miles into space … and at the same time we still see everyone who imprisons, abuses or kills non-humans for this Planet at their discretion. They are our property. We own them and we don’t ask them. We treat them as toys, objects, or slaves.
The animal suffering I encounter in my career is only a small part of what can be found around us. In Belgium ten million pigs are slaughtered every year, and there are undoubtedly several thousand dogs that spend their lives raising kennels, as well as birds in cages.
If all this served some great public good, it would be something else. But this is not true. In the case of these pigs: they are killed because we like the taste of their bodies. The short-term delicacy is more important to millions of people than the suffering and lives of millions of pigs. There is no doubt that dogs can live a nice life with people at best, but if they just have to be a guard dog in a kennel, you better buy an alarm system. And parrots may alleviate loneliness in the elderly, but there are certainly more efficient and animal-friendly methods out there.
This situation becomes even more bizarre when you learn that a lot of people care about animals to a great extent. Odisee University of Applied Sciences has recently done a job Research According to Flemish views on animal welfare and animal rights. This shows: 84% of respondents believe that animals should not have the legal status of things; Nearly 80% believe that farm animals (the animals we eat, so to speak) are just as important as pets. 86% believe that animals can suffer as much as humans. 60% consider the life of animals to be as important as human life.
The survey is of course just a survey, but these numbers leave no doubt that in our country – as in other Western countries – there is broad support for more animal welfare. So why, you might ask, why is change so slow and we are still barbarians in our dealings with non-human animals?
There are many answers to this question. We treat animals outrageously because we can. We do this because we want cheap meat. Because we are used to it and all this has been going on for a long time. Because change is hard. Because vested interests conflict. Because politics is moving slowly anyway and this is a complicated country.
But above all, animals continue to suffer because most people close their eyes to it. The irony is that they do this precisely because facing animal cruelty is often painful. But this ostrich position does not solve anything, of course. The first thing we need to do to end the suffering of animals is to prepare to see them.
I walk and try not to look away.
Tobias Lennart, author of the book Towards a vegan world.
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