by Jason Baker
To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. … I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.—Mahatma Gandhi
Note: The following article appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 2, 2006.
Pope Benedict XVI said in 2002: "Animals, too, are God's creatures. … Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."
Every October, World Animal Month, we celebrate our fellow earthlings. Local governments and veterinary clinics offer free services, and the media are flooded with photos of dogs and cats going to Mass with their human guardians.
But sometimes we focus so much on the cute and cuddly that we don't see the other issues. On October 13, Texas authorities seized Primarily Primates Inc., which describes itself as an "animal protection organization that provides sanctuary, rehabilitation, lifetime care and shelter" to animals, citing the deplorable conditions under which animals there lived. Researchers at two Oregon universities subject sheep to invasive surgical procedures in order to hormonally manipulate these animals' sexual preferences toward heterosexuality.
When I was 18, I rescued a chicken who had fallen off a truck bound for a slaughterhouse and couldn't even pick herself up. Her muscles had atrophied because she had been kept in an extremely crowded enclosure (each chicken was given a space the size of a sheet of paper in which to stand), and she was so obese—from rough overfeeding and from being given steroids, hormones, and antibiotics—that if a human baby grew at the same rate, the baby's weight would go from 7 pounds to 1,500 in 11 weeks.
The chicken had escaped the slaughterhouse, but she was in such terrible shape that a veterinarian had to euthanize her. As she lay dying in my arms, I vowed to devote my life to animal rights.
Some people say that animals do not have rights because they do not understand the concept of rights. But this argument would also deny rights to mentally challenged humans. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: "To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. … I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man."
The notion of animal rights is not at all radical if you think about it. I would never ask that animals be allowed to vote or run for public office, because those rights would not mean anything to them. But the right to be free and live their lives with their families in their natural homes—lives in which their skins won't be ripped off their bodies while they are still alive and conscious just so humans can wear them, and lives in which they won't be put on display in zoos and marine parks or forced to perform dangerous tricks in circuses—those are rights that do mean something to them.
My friends and family members supported my decision, but other activists aren't as lucky. "I am sometimes asked, ‘Why do you spend so much of your time and money talking about kindness to animals when there is so much cruelty to men?'" says George Angell, founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I answer: ‘I am working at the roots.'"
The link between violence toward humans and cruelty to animals has been repeatedly and irrefutably documented by psychiatrists and law enforcement officials. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation lists animal abuse as one of three symptoms that predict the development of a psychopath. Researchers have found that a batterer's first target is often an animal living in the home and that the second is a spouse or a child.
When you help animals, you help humans as well. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) began promoting vegetarianism because we are ethically opposed to using animals for food, but studies have shown that a clear conscience isn't the only benefit of vegetarianism. Did you know that vegetarianism can eradicate world hunger? Cattle worldwide consume enough calories to feed 8.7 billion people. Why not grow crops to feed the world's 6.7 billion people instead of growing crops to feed cattle?
Go vegetarian and save the rain forests. In Central America, two-thirds of the rain forests have been cleared to make way for cattle ranches. According to Greenpeace, all the wild animals and trees in more than 2.9 million acres of rain forest were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season in order to grow crops that are used to feed chickens and other animals in factory farms.
Let's not forget the health benefits. Dr. William Castelli of the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, says: "A low-fat, plant-based diet would not only lower the heart attack rate about 85 percent but would lower the cancer rate 60 percent." How's that for food for thought?
I fight for animal rights because, as writer Marjorie Spiegel has said, "Any oppression helps to prop up other forms of oppression." To quote renowned author Alice Walker: "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men."
PETA has won many victories, but there is still much to be done. It's an uphill battle, but we won't give up.
Jason Baker is the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia-Pacific.