Earth Companions

by Linda DeStefano
[The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]

It’s time to expand respect for animals.

Koko, the gorilla, communicates with people through American Sign Language and her understanding of a large vocabulary of spoken English. She is gentle with her kitten, and hugs people she likes.

Although he can escape from the killer harpoons, a whale returns to his wounded mate and stays with her until he, too, is killed by the whalers.

A cow manages, incredibly, to jump a fence at a slaughterhouse. The media and people sympathetically follow her escape as she wanders the streets of New York City and cheer as she is brought to a sanctuary, where she can live out her life in peace.

During animal behavior experiments at Cardiff University, in Wales, a monkey stops pressing a lever that provides him with food when, at the same time, the lever administers a shock to another animal.

We humans sometimes deny in members of other species the existence of intelligent interspecies communication, self-sacrifice for another and the powerful will to live and enjoy life, even though the aforementioned examples are just a small part of a larger body of knowledge. Progress has been made in expanding our circle of understanding, compassion and justice when it comes to race, ethnicity, religion, sex and disabilities. That circle needs to be expanded to include other species.

This widening of our consciousness and better treatment of non-human beings is sometimes based on an appreciation of their intelligence, their beauty and behavior we see as moral. Yet what about non-human animals who are dumb (according to our standards), ugly (according to our biases) and amoral? The main consideration should be whether another being can suffer and can desire a life that is natural for that species. Even scientists who denied these qualities in non-human animals are opening their eyes to reality.

Some lucky animals are considered worthy of human protection and affection, but many are treated as slaves or commodities.

I think of elephants who work in countries such as India and perform in circuses in the United States. The babies are torn from their mothers and broken in spirit through extremely cruel methods of training.

I think of the animals who suffer and die because their flesh and bodily products (dairy and eggs) provide an unnecessary and unhealthy way of eating. As just one aspect, calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth so humans can drink the milk meant for the calves, many of whom will be sent to slaughter. I personally witnessed this common procedure on a small dairy farm; the mother and baby were crying out for each other in a heartbreaking fashion.

I think of the animals who are blown away by the so-called sport of killing for fun.

I think of the dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, mice, rats and others who live their miserable lives in a lab cage and wait in fear for the next painful experiment.

I think of the dogs and cats who are abandoned on the streets by those who they trusted.

I think of the foxes who gnaw on their own limbs out of boredom and anxiety as they wait in filthy cages on fox farms for the owner to kill them by anal electrocution. Foxes are used particularly for fur trim in coats, jackets and gloves. Other animals are trapped or clubbed to death for their fur.

I think of the animals being driven toward extinction because of human overpopulation, overdevelopment and waste of natural resources. Animals need a place to live as much as we do, but we are taking more than our fair share of land and water, and we are fouling much of what is left.

The good news is that more and more people find this treatment of our earth companions unacceptable and are making changes in their own lives and working for societal changes.

To be part of this good news, here are some actions to consider:

  • Have your dog or cat spayed or neutered so he or she doesn’t add to the overpopulation of companion animals, which leads to death on the streets or death in the overcrowded shelters.
  • Move toward a vegan way of eating. Enjoy veggies, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, seeds and the many tasty and healthy dishes made from them.
  • Avoid any product that has fur trim or is made of animal skin (leather) or down (plucked painfully from live geese or ducks).
    Move toward a lifestyle that is enjoyable but doesn’t use the Earth’s resources wastefully or excessively.
  • Consider that your choice whether to have children and, if so, how many, is not only a personal choice but also a choice that affects all of us. Earth’s limited natural resources cannot sustain such a huge human population.
  • Urge government officials and corporations to include laws and procedures that ameliorate animal suffering and death.
    Join one or more animal welfare, animal rights and/or environmental protection organizations. Enjoy sharing your views and changes with like-minded people.

Linda DeStefano is president of People for Animal Rights, which was founded in Syracuse in 1982. Contact her at PAR, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse 13215-0358, at 488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. or at