I’ve had pets all my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I began having companions. To put this simply, anyone can love a pet. We love them for all they do for us: they make us feel comforted, understood and supported when times get tough; they make us laugh and smile with their silly antics; and they can even make us cry when they fall ill and pass away. But when does an animal stop being a pet and start being a companion? The answer: when we stop focusing on how they make us feel and start focusing on how we make them feel.
Anyone who has ever truly loved someone will tell you that love is selfless. With love, there is no room for ego or pride. Love is something we give to someone without expecting anything in return. Of course, we love to feel loved as well, but (real) love is not a form of bribery. If we truly love someone, we love them for who they are, not what they can do for us. Furthermore, real love is not contingent on whether someone can or will love us in return.
So at what point do you go from simply thinking you love animals, to actually loving them? The answer: when you go vegan. To be an animal lover, we cannot restrict ourselves to loving certain animals over others — we must love all animals equally. I spent many years of my life thinking I loved animals without ever knowing what it was like to really love them. Though I may have felt a sort of affection for the animals close to me, I could not be considered an animal lover because my compassion did not extend to all species of animal, regardless of whether I had a personal relationship with them or thought of them as “cute” or “smart”.
Actions will always speak much louder than words, so how could my actions toward animals be considered love? I drank fluids that were stolen from their bodies — fluids that were designed by nature to feed their own children, who were instead enslaved and murdered on my dollar; I used make-up, personal hygiene products and household cleaners that had been used to torture and murder them; worst of all, I ate their hacked-up, rotting corpses! Words cannot begin to describe how utterly ashamed I am for the injustices my actions and inactions have caused them over my lifetime.
But the blame doesn’t rest solely upon my shoulders. Had I been taught from an early age that an alternative existed, I may not have chosen to continue eating the mutilated cadavers of the animals I had claimed to love so much in the past. Had I not been misinformed that this was “the way things are”, “the natural order” and “the circle of life” while growing up I may have actually had a choice. The truth is, not only was I never given a choice, I never even knew a choice existed. But it would be unfair to blame my parents for something they may have never known about themselves. In many ways, they were in the dark just as much as I was.
Society pressures you from every angle to be a mindless, obedient, eager-to-please robot. Stray too far from the predictable cookie-cutter mold society wants you to fit into and you risk ostracisation and ridicule. It’s up to you to break free from it. You have to decide to stop being society’s puppet. Stop and think for once. Think about what effects your actions cause. There is more than just you, the people close to you and the present moment.
There is a bigger picture.
Our actions can either yield amazing outcomes or tragic consequences. I refuse to rub my dog’s belly with one hand while simultaneously stabbing another animal in the heart with the other hand simply because I’ve been told by society that this is just the way things are and always will be. The point is, this isn’t the way things have to be.
I have my own brain, my own will and my own choice.
I choose to love animals.
Thinking back to my non-vegan past, I am haunted by images of the horrible atrocities I was perpetuating. The blood dirties my hands and mouth. It is absorbed into every pore and sinks deeper and deeper until it has blackened and charred my soul. I am scarred. I can never purge myself of the shame I feel. In the back of my mind, I will always know that I was an accomplice to torture and murder. For this, I can never forgive myself.
But you know, the funny thing is, animals have an incredible capacity to forgive. No matter how badly I have ever wronged them, they have always loved me. They have always welcomed me with open arms to cry on their shoulder, to seek amusement in their playfulness, to be my friend when no one else would. Animals are the embodiment of unconditional love – they are love incarnate. Their love is selfless, endless and pure. How could I ever compare? Am I even worthy of such love?
I’m not. But I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything in my power to earn it. The very least I could do is to stop hurting them: to love them as they are, not for what they could be; to hear their cries of anguish and choose not to ignore them; and to stand up for them even if that means I must stand alone. After all, isn’t that what love is?
Gary Francione says:
“Veganism is not a sacrifice, it is a joy.”
I could not agree more. I have gained far more than I could ever have imagined from being vegan. I have sacrificed much, but I have never sacrificed anything that I have missed. I sacrificed selfishness and hypocrisy for integrity; ignorance and arrogance for enlightenment; and chaos and anger for peace.
So to you, dear ‘animal lover’, I’m calling you out:
You may talk the talk, but will you walk the walk?
. . .