Written by Meg Susong
Megaphone Web Columnist
The reality is that the movement for animal rights is misunderstood and misrepresented. Animal rights, unfortunately, often becomes synonymous with radicals actions and a disregard for humans. What most forget when making a blanket assumption is that all movements have their radicals. But the truth is, that many of you don’t even know about us, those who have dedicated themselves to combating cruelty, because apart from dinner, there are few occasions on which cruelty and the desire to abstain from it becomes so obvious. But we are here, and we are a growing number. We have realized, like other movements before us, that for something to be done, someone has to take a stand. And often this means sacrifice, to the unsure eyes of others. But more importantly, it means that significant changes must occur in our ways of thinking about ourselves and animals, separate and in relation with one another.
The movement under the banner of animal rights has so many different faces, and many people are only exposed to one or two. And this exposure can be negative or threatening, which only hurts the cause and slights the voices of those who are not so fanatical. Animal rights comes in so many faces, with each face reaching for the same end goal: a better existence for nonhumans. Why? Because they are sentient creatures, capable of deep emotions much like humans (but operating under different circumstances). There is no excuse to abuse an animal simply because we have created a mindset that is it both necessary to our survival and that they are renewable resources. There is no reason that, in an attempt to be a progressive world, we can not take animals into account along with all our other problems to sort out. There is no better time than the present.
Because the sad fact is that humans have both placed themselves at the unquestionable top of the chain, and then created a hierarchy of animals below them, much like we once (and often still do) create a hierarchy of humans. The domestic pets rank the highest, followed by the cute animals, followed by the useful animals, followed by the ugly animals, the worthless animals, the nuisance animals. Our compassion and considerate for them is proportional to the worth we place on them, based on purpose. Dogs and cats are pets, and so we pass laws and enforce them in order to keep them from harm. Farm animals are for our plates, and so we pass laws with loopholes that are rarely enforced to make it look like we are keeping them from harm. Rats and mice are for testing (for our ‘safety,’ of course), and so we don’t even both to pass laws for them.
What is even more depressing is not that we have abused our position on this planet, but that we have hidden this mistreatment of animals. We pretend that farm animals – cows, pigs, chickens, and others – live their lives in sweet harmony and happiness, on farms and rolling green pastures. The bright colored labels forget to tell you that this is a fairly tale to animals, that this is what they dream of in between their suffering, which is only relieved by a slow and unsightly death. We don’t even pretend, but forget to mention that the shampoo you are using, the makeup you put on in the morning, was rubbed into rabbits’ eyes, to see how much of it they can handle. The pain and the agony that is very real to millions of animals every year, is neglected. By distancing us from the actions, we allow ourselves to forget and forgive, two things that history has proven are dangerous.
But even though the majority still considers many things that are blatant abuses ‘normal,’ there are so many ways and things to change. We can lessen or stop out consumption of animals and their byproducts, and call for better living conditions. We can call on companies to admit their testing practices are old and outdated, and call for them to use alternative methods. We can buy alternatives to leather and fur, such as synthetics or other materials altogether. We can call on our government to pass laws (and then enforce them) to protect not only our pets but the animals on our plates and in our environment. There are so many ways to make a difference, and every little bit helps. No one can eradicate all animal misuse as the society we are now, but that is no excuse to do nothing. It is not hypocritical to do your best, but it is hypocritical to stand by and do nothing, while chastising someone for not being ‘perfect.’
At the end of the day, what animal rights attempts to do is change the way we look at animals, not to place them at the expense of ourselves, but not to place ourselves at the expense of them either. Coexistence is the key.
And ignorance is no longer an excuse.