by Dr. Susannah Smith
Our Bond with Animals
than the fear of appearing ridiculous;
it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men."
– Emile Zola (1840-1902)
"Until one has loved an animal
a part of one's soul remains unawakened"
-Anatole France (1844-1924)
"If there are no dogs in Heaven,
then when I die I want to go
where they went."
-Will Rogers, 1897-1935
When my mother was dying and quit eating, the doctors wanted give her food through tubes. When I suggested that I thought this was cruel – that all animals stop eating when preparing to die and that fasting reduced pain – only one doctor had the courage to agree. He furtively told me that most people would tar and feather him for calling a person an animal.
However, also in my clinical "psychopathology" class, we were taught that cruelty to animals at the hands of a human is a warning sign of deep psychopathology in that individual. Most serial killers and predators have taken their cruelty out on animals before they started with humans.
In my studies of people at war, I learned that in order to kill without deep guilt and remorse, we "dehumanize" the person, so that we are not really killing an individual, but a thing.
Our factory farms are among the most alarming indicators of the state of our collective soul. Most of us prefer to buy our meat from the grocery store and do not want to know what happens in the transport and "production" of our animal food. We do not want to know about milk-fed veal or sow crates that do not allow the animal to get up or turn around.
But we need to think about it. The way we treat the most vulnerable of life is indicative of our own state of being. What is now routine treatment of animal "food units," as they are called in the trade, would constitute severe psychopathology if examined in clinical terms. This ability to dehumanize (here I go, anthropomorphizing again) the animal has led to our own inhumanity as a society, and has created a living hell for millions of animals. From rounding up wild horses and throwing them into the purgatory of holding pens, to factory farms where an animal endures unimaginable suffering before the final death, we have reduced ourselves to behavior that is far beneath any other species.
I am not a vegetarian, and I eat meat. In coming to terms with my Buddhist-like tendencies, along with the primitive meat eater, what feels right is that all living creatures deserve a normal and natural life – a good life and a good death. We all die, and it's not always gentle and pretty – in fact, it rarely is. But we have the choice to live naturally. As we humans have evolved, we have progressively created more and more "cages": we trap ourselves with fences; boxes to live in; rules; regulations; money; limitations. We are so far from being "free" and "natural," it seems that we want to trap everything else that is free. We're even farming salmon!
As we focus on sustainability and each begin to take responsibility for our own behavior, we can also focus on our moral behavior towards our animal partners. We know that they feel pain; experience abandonment; long for loved ones; play with joy; mourn losses. Some of us know how incredibly wise, patient, and smart they are. Some of us are blessed with their unconditional love and loyalty. We can do better. We can buy meat from animals that were raised with care and treated with respect. Remember – you are what you eat! Their goodness and their pain becomes a part of you. We can be responsible with our own animals, and lobby our country to abandon cruel and greedy practices.
Susannah Smith, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 3258
Telluride, CO 81435
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