The Animals Need You
Pigs are some of the smartest animals out there. They’ve figured out how to use mirrors—not in a Miss Piggy checking-out-her-hair kind of way, but to check out their surroundings (which already makes them smarter than the majority of horror film victims). Pigs can figure out who knows where the good food is and trail them to the stash. The pigs who know where the stash is will try to lose their followers to keep it for themselves. They can complete puzzles, learn tricks, and play video games.1 The point isn’t that you should invite a pig over for the next big Xbox release, but we should recognize that they’re a whole lot more than future ham sandwiches. Yet despite their intelligence and empathy (and their political leadership in Animal Farm), pigs can’t form a union to protest abusive factory farm conditions. If we value pigs at least a fraction of how much Miss Piggy values herself, we need to be their voice.
It’s not just pigs in this position. Birds can use tools, but they can’t testify at city council meetings when their nesting grounds are threatened by a new strip mall. Bottlenose dolphins have been observed following recipe-like meal prep prior to eating cuttlefish,2 but they can’t lobby to end the use of fishing gear that threatens them with deadly entanglement. Your dog may be part of the family, but he doesn’t get a vote on Election Day if his favorite park or even his right to exist in your town is under attack by local officials. The animals need you to speak up for them and to live your life with them in mind.
Change happens in a number of ways. Laws and policies can directly influence how animals are treated, such as factory farm regulations that require minimum standards of care, or they can indirectly provide incentives or disincentives that influence animals’ lives, such as reduced license fees for spayed or neutered dogs or fines for pollution that puts wildlife at risk. The political system plays a huge role in creating change—both good and bad. A single policy that’s passed or overturned can have sweeping consequences. Learning how to use your voice to defend and protect animals at the local, state, and national level can change the world.
But these policies aren’t created in a vacuum. Not only do elected representatives have to listen to their constituents, but they spend a lot of time gauging which way the wind is blowing to try to anticipate what will make them popular with voters and donors. (In other words, what will keep them in office when the next election rolls around.) Shifting cultural expectations and demands to reflect our love for animals and pressuring companies to be more humane can generate hurricane-level winds that can uproot animal suffering in our day-to-day lives, our communities, and the market, forcing politicians to pay attention to the issues you care about while making the world a better place in the process. Each time you choose to act on behalf of animals, you’re helping create that storm.
The Chicken and the Egg
Consider the egg and the chickens who lay them: Two decades ago, no one was talking about cage-free eggs. But today, there’s widespread concern about hens’ living conditions after dedicated animal lovers and activists spent years exposing how much egg-laying hens suffer crammed in battery cages in dark, dirty warehouses, unable even to spread their wings. iPads have more personal space than your average commercial egg-laying hen. Maybe some people were just grossed out by their eggs coming from a place like that and worried about the safety of their scrambles. But a lot of people recognized chickens as living, feeling creatures and decided no omelet was worth that much misery. Even as awareness grew, egg producers were sure people would ultimately want to stick with the cheapest option. Ultimately, they were wrong.
Thanks to the cultural shift driven by education campaigns, outcry against these practices, pressure from animal protection groups, and rising demand for eggs from humanely raised chickens (i.e., regular people going into stores and happily paying a few cents more per egg), corporate giants from Costco to McDonald’s have made commitments to shift their supplies to cage-free eggs, and several states, such as California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington, passed laws to ban the use of battery cages.
Cage-free facilities aren’t perfect, but they’re a flap in the right direction. The demand for better, more humane conditions for farm animals has had a ripple effect. Companies are not only making cage-free commitments, they’re also reporting on the steps they’re taking to source more humanely across their supply chain, because they know people care about animals. Restaurants and food service providers are expanding animal-free options on their menus. There’s been a rise of egg-free alternatives and vegan bakeries. People across the country are raising and spoiling backyard chickens, so if they do eat eggs, they know the names of the hens who laid them and exactly how they were treated.
Public outcry, behind-the-scenes efforts from animal protection groups, and individual actions and choices all work together to change the outlook for animals.
Every [Insert-Motivational-Cliché-Here] Makes a Difference
From laws that turn a blind eye to animal suffering to the challenge of finding cruelty-free products at your local store, our impact on animals is woven into the fabric of society’s customs, markets, and legal system. The odds are stacked against the animals, and unfortunately, that’s not going to change overnight. That can feel pretty daunting when you’re trying to change the world, but every person’s actions matter. Every thread of cruelty that’s tugged apart helps weaken the tapestry so we can patch it with a more compassionate design. Every avalanche is made of individual snowflakes. Tiny drops of water band together to make tsunamis. Whichever metaphor you prefer, there’s an underlying truth to it.
If you and everyone you know, and everyone they know, adopt their next pet, your local shelter would have a lot more empty kennels. If you and everyone you know, and everyone they know, cut down their meat and dairy consumption, the industry would be forced to decrease production, saving millions of farmed animals and wild animals harmed in the process of producing animal products. If you and everyone you know, and everyone they know, demanded cruelty-free cosmetics, eye shadow tested on animals would be relegated to listicles of bizarre old beauty routines, like using arsenic and cocaine in skin and hair treatments.
You get the idea. Change has to ignite somewhere, and you can be the spark.
How to Know You’re Helping
If you rescue a starving cat from the streets, you know you’ve made a difference in that cat’s life. Maybe you even feel like you’ve helped the fight against animal cruelty and pet homelessness. (Spoiler alert: You have.) If you and all your friends use social media and Yelp reviews to convince your favorite restaurant to offer more veggie options, you can see the results when those tasty, cruelty-free dishes show up on the menu. If you ask your city council to pass an ordinance against breed discrimination or stop lethal wildlife trapping, you know when you’ve scored a victory. But what about all the animal-friendly things you do where you don’t actually see the animals you’re saving or how you’re having an impact?
Sometimes doing the right thing takes a leap of faith. When you make animal-friendly choices, you have to believe that somewhere out there is a chicken flapping her wings or a pig digging into his cache of food or a wolf pack safely raising their pups thanks to your actions. You won’t get a thank-you bouquet from the animals. Even when you know you’re doing the right thing, sometimes you still need a little reassurance. Something to show for your efforts. It’s hard to keep going on faith alone. Luckily, you don’t have to.
Let’s begin with the first level of action: changes in your own life. Start keeping track of what you’re doing differently. If you’re changing your diet, write down what you’re eating and how many meals, days, or weeks you’ve gone meat-free. Vegetarian calculator apps and websites can tell you how many farmed animals you’ve saved with each week that you’ve chosen the veggie options. Some sites will tell you how you’ve shrunken your environmental footprint so you can get a sense of how you’re also helping wild animals threatened by meat and dairy production. If you’re changing your shopping habits to avoid plastic or products tested on animals, keep track of what the Old You would’ve bought and what the New You did instead. If you volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter or join a stream cleanup day, mark the occasion. If you’re signing petitions, writing letters to the editor, calling your representatives, or making donations to an animal charity, keep track of it.
Make note of your new favorite cruelty-free products, animal activism apps, and plant-based recipes. Start a Changing the World journal, put a cute little turtle sticker in your calendar, give yourself a gold star, jot it on a scrap of colorful paper to put in a jar, add pictures of the animals your actions helped to your photo journal app. However you do it and wherever you start, mark the changes you’re making and what’s helped you along the way. At the end of each month, you can see the progress you’ve made. Whether you have one entry or thirty entries, that’s one or thirty more actions for animals than you used to take and one or thirty more steps building toward change. Not only can this inspire you to keep going—and to go further—but it can also be handy in showing your friends what change can look like in their lives.
Which brings us to the next level of action: getting others involved. It’s tempting to think, If only people knew how horrible things were, they’d do things differently. Sadly, most people don’t work that way. Humans have an incredible capacity for compartmentalizing, so simply “raising awareness” about animal suffering doesn’t necessarily make a difference unless you pair it with opportunities for action. Let your friends know what you’re doing to change the world and ask them to give it a shot, too. When you see people around you taking up the causes that matter to you because you’ve asked them to get involved or shown them the way, you’re helping build the movement. When you write a letter to the editor, it might not get published, but someone read it. And that someone is now aware that people in the community care about animal issues, and you might just start to see more animal-related coverage in the news. When you go out with your friends and order an animal-friendly meal, it may start a conversation about why you’ve chosen to change the way you eat and how it makes you feel. After a while, you might notice a few more people flipping to the veggie section of the menu. If you share articles and opportunities to take action on social media, you may start to notice your friends sharing more animal news and campaigns, too.
Last, but not least: how to know you’re changing the system. When it comes to having a larger impact, it can take years for your efforts to bear fruit. But even before the moment when you know Things Have Changed—whether that’s a new animal protection law or a shift in market trends—there are a few key ways that you can make sure you’re being an effective voice for animals. First, always aim for meaningful change that will make it easier or, even better, inevitable for others to make the animal-friendly choice. For example, you can try to convince people to stop buying bottled water by educating them about the perils of plastic bottles for wildlife. But you’ll get rid of a lot more plastic bottles if the places that sell bottled water start selling reusable bottles instead and have accessible water fountains so that becomes the easier (not to mention cheaper) option.
Your personal actions, your calls to action, and your demands for action from decision-makers are all important parts of creating change, even if you don’t get the instant gratification type of results. Pay attention to the conversations and trends happening around you in your circle of friends and in your community. You can help normalize animal-friendly living, creating the space for companies and policy-makers to make positive changes. Person by person, week by week, you’ll start to see a ripple effect if you watch for it. As larger change takes place in your community, look back at your journal or your jar or your sticker collection and know that you helped make it happen.
We all start somewhere. Every vegetarian or vegan (except those raised as veggie babies) ate meat or dairy once upon a time, and many struggled with giving up burgers or bacon or cheese until the day that they did. SeaWorld was once a popular attraction until word got out, most recently thanks to the documentary Blackfish, about how miserable the orcas were in their tiny tanks, performing tricks for treats. Animal lovers who used to go to SeaWorld for the thrill of seeing marine mammals up close stopped buying tickets. Most of us have taken medication and received vaccines that were developed through animal testing—and we have no choice but to continue to do so if we want to remain healthy enough to keep helping animals and working toward changing animal testing laws.
I’ve been obsessed with animals since infancy, yet this entire book is a diary of mistakes I’ve made, things I’ve learned, and ongoing struggles to keep doing better. I grapple with the knowledge that I’ve inadvertently contributed to animal suffering over the years. I know I’m not alone in this. But if we’re going to change the world for animals, we need to accept that there are things we can’t control so we can focus on the things that we can. Whatever you did in the past is in the past. The animals don’t need our guilt—they need our action.
Comment and Share
Don’t be shy about sharing the actions you’re taking or the ways you’re changing your life. The internet loves photos of food, so show off your meat-free meals. Let people know what animal organizations you support or the latest cool action you found to help save endangered species. And everyone definitely wants to see pics of the kittens you’re fostering or the dog you just adopted. Show people how easy—and adorable—it is to make the world a better place for animals. And never be embarrassed about how much you care about animals and how they’re treated.
Always remember that you’re the animals’ voice. Write letters, sign petitions, comment on social media pages, make calls, make art … whatever it is that you can do to speak up for animals, do it.
Don’t forget to celebrate good news and victories, and share them with your networks. Success is a great way to motivate people to get or stay involved. Also, show your support for people trying to do the right thing, including you—don’t be hard on yourself or others for not being able to do everything at once.
Start living your animal-loving values today, as best you can, and pledge to keep doing better tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Promise yourself and the animals that you’ll keep fighting for a more humane world. Starting now, decide what kind of life you want to live. You won’t be perfect. It won’t always be pretty. But you’ll be doing something, and that’s how change begins.
THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY
1 • Choose your first animal-saving project and decide what steps you’ll take this week to be the change.
2 • Start tracking your activism and adding up your actions so you can see the difference you’ve made by the end of the month.
3 • Embrace patience. Changing the world takes time.
ANIMALS YOU’LL HELP SAVE
Take your pick—who will you take action for?
Copyright © 2018 by Stephanie Feldstein