We’re All Individuals

[This goes for observing animals in the wild as well.]

August letter by Robert Grillo, Free from harm.org

Visiting a sanctuary is a vastly different experience than visiting a farm. Farms value animals to the extent that they produce a profitable product via their flesh, mammary gland secretions or ovulation. Visiting animals on farms does not produce any “breakthrough” in our understanding of animals. On the contrary, most people simply walk away from a farm reaffirming what they have been taught: animals don’t object to being used as resources. It’s natural and sanctified by ancient traditions. Somehow, we rationalize, animals have passively accepted their lot in life. On farms, we view meek or fearful animals from a distance or on the other side of an electrical fence, typically in herds or flocks with ear tags (numbers instead of names), and under conditions which generally repress their ability to express themselves as individuals.

Yet, each animal is a self-aware individual with a unique personality – a complex of experiences, interests, emotions, thoughts, memories, likes, dislikes, desires, joys, fears, loves, families, friends, losses and pains. How do we know this? From sanctuaries and from science.

On a sanctuary, animals are individuals who, like human beings, have intrinsic value and who have no expectations placed on them. The owners are replaced by guardians who provide a caring environment that empowers them with the confidence to more authentically express their true selves. People can walk away from sanctuaries often with a “breakthrough” understanding. They recognize that these individuals are vastly more expressive, more sophisticated than their repressed counterparts on farms. They see much of themselves in these animals. They realize that the stereotypes they’ve come to believe all of their lives are based on prejudice.

Every animal-eating culture around the world has developed, over the course of centuries, a set of oppressive beliefs and traditions to deny animals – not only their identity as individuals – but also the right to exist itself, with the exception of their abbreviated lives as a human resource. Humans treated this way are appropriately called slaves. Humans killed in the manner in which animals are slaughtered is appropriately called an atrocity.

“Many who readily condemn human victimization as “heinous” or “evil” regard moralistic language as sensational or overly emotional when it is applied to atrocities against nonhumans. They prefer to couch nonhuman exploitation and murder in culinary, recreational, or other nonmoralistic terms. That way they avoid acknowledging immorality. Among others, Nazi vivisectors used the quantitative language of experimentation for human, as well as nonhuman, vivisection. Slaveholders have used the economic language of farming for nonhuman and human enslavement.” – Joan Dunayer, from her essay entitled English and Speciesism.

Many people will never have an opportunity to visit a sanctuary in person. The virtual visit we are developing for our online community is the next best thing to being there, providing a powerful way for potentially millions of people to reconnect with animals.

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