Well, it's been 5 months since I launched this website and did my last newsletter post.
I planned on it being a monthly thing, but I'd underestimated how all consuming starting an animal sanctuary was.
It is the most rewarding thing I've ever done, but I've realised you can only do it if you have a real passion for animals as it becomes your whole life.
As I go through my days, caring to the day to day needs of our residents, bringing in new animals, seeing their fear and broken spirits, but then watching them blossom and thrive with love and care, my thoughts whirl with the state of the world.
When you develop close and personal relationships with so called farm animals, your pain at the plight of their kind digs even deeper in to your heart. There is no longer any distance between them and you. You see them. You know them. Up close and personal. You come to experience the depth of their characters, the depth of their intelligence and with it the crushing pain of trying to fathom the depth of their suffering and what they normally have to endure.
I have heard farmers in the past brush off this sort of sentimentalism. Stating with a sense of authority that animals don't feel as we do. They only act instinctually and are little more than walking vegetables. The general public of course are only too ready to believe this. I've personally been warned about not projecting human emotions on to animals, I've been quoted fancy sounding phrases like 'reverse speciesism', the capacity to value another species welfare over our own.
Well today I wanted to put in to words the thoughts that have been floating through my mind over these past few months. I now feel qualified to have an opinion. I no longer have to shy away due to lack of personal experience. I have first hand knowledge of these animals. And whilst I may not be as knowledgable in animal husbandry as farmers are, I would dare to state that I've looked deeper in to them than any farmer has. I haven't treated them as products, numbers, something to be controlled and dominated. I've looked them in the eyes as equals. I've gained their trust. I've made them feel safe enough to play and truly express their innate characteristics. I've bonded with them and seen them as individuals. And what I've seen has both delighted and terrified me.
I can certainly see how their true natures can be overlooked. When they fear you, they keep their distance, they play safe by keeping quiet in the background. It'd be easy to mistake this as a lack of character or intelligence. But as their fears start to melt away, they start to blossom like a beautiful flower. A friend came to see me the other day, he grew up on farms, but sat in astonishment and stated that he'd never seen cows play like mine do. He'd never seen them frolic and skip and then come up for head rubs and cuddles when they got tired. In all his years growing up on a farm, he'd never seen this!
But when your animals are not products, when their welfare is your only concern. When nothing is expected from them and they don't feel threatened, that it what you see. Their true beauty and depth revealing itself.
It's a privilege bearing witness to this. It's a blessing to experience animals at this level. But with it comes a crushing pain. Their Mums are still on that farm, their siblings are still locked in a factory farm, suffering daily abuse, their family are still in those tiny cages, never being allowed to move, play, feel the sun or breath the fresh air.
When they trust, when they feel safe, animals love to play, they love to explore, they love chin rubs and belly rubs, they will always choose the most comfortable option, like a mattress and blanket over a pile of hay. They love interaction, they get picky and want the best food, they shine bright they glow!
I'm prepared for the fact that many reading this will refute what I'm saying. Cognitive dissonance has a habit of kicking in when we're confronted with information that may question our standing as compassionate individuals. No one wants to be made to feel like a bad person, that's why so many openly declare they hate vegans. But even if you are reading this and finding this information hard to fathom, could you question just for a minute, what if this is true. What if you really are unknowingly contributing to the intense suffering of highly intelligent, sentient beings?
Einstein was certainly more intelligent than me. But does that mean his capacity to suffer was greater than my own? I think not. Like my personal hero Philip Wollen stated "In their capacity to feel pain and fear, a pig is a dog, a bear is a boy".
I frequently hear "Im sick of vegans ramming their ideas down my throat. I respect what vegans want to eat, so they also have to respect my personal choice to eat what I want". In theory I'd be in full support of anyones personal choice. I celebrate diversity in all of it's forms. But the above statement does beg the question, 'at what point is a personal choice, no longer just a personal choice?'. Is it no longer a personal choice when that choice is actually an action, rather than just a choice and that action involves the killing of a sentient animal who doesn't want to die? Is it no longer a personal choice when that choice results in an intelligent being, being imprisoned for its whole life, denied it's right to express any natural behaviours what so ever? Is it no longer a personal choice when a mother is forcibly impregnated only to have her baby stolen from her time and time again at just days old, leaving her to mourn in the hands of her tormentors ? Is it no longer a personal choice when these choices are literally devastating our planet, destroying the future for our children and grandchildren? (I will go deeper in to the environmental consequences of people's personal choice to eat meat in my next newsletter).
I would reply unequivocally yes, yes, yes and yes. When our personal choices have such devastating impacts to others then they go beyond simply being a case of personal choice.
Now let me be clear, I'm not judging you, I'm not trying to be 'holier than thou'. I am however, bearing witness to the conditioning that society imprints on us and I know from personal experience, it disappears in layers. As a society we yield so very painfully to change and stand up in defiance towards anything that challenges the status quo. But as the layers fall away, as we choose to no longer support the systems that are in place, the startling reality of what we've been supporting as a society is shocking. Many question, 'how did I support this for so long?'.
I won't judge you for where I was some years ago. But I will ask you to look deeper to your heart and to start to consider making choices based around compassion.
I hear many comfort themselves that farmers love their animals. I personally couldn't fathom given the love I have for my animals, betraying their trust by killing them or paying someone else to do it. That to me can't possibly be love.
Love is choosing compassion, choosing kindness and respecting another's choice to live a full life in freedom and peace. Can you join me in making love your choice? Can you join me in allowing animals to also have a choice?