by Nadia Roch
Originally published in The Flying Shingle, Monday, December 30, 2013
Growing up in a city and living without pets, I never gave much thought to animals. Even when I started to question the origins of my food, I went to great lengths to avoid connecting the dots between the meal on my plate and the cow in the field.
I was taught that animals had no capacity for emotion and operated on instinct alone. I was told animals were dumb and that they gladly gave their lives to feed me. I never questioned these assertions until I had a chance to spend more time with animals.
Through my interactions with cats, dogs, and even a few horses, I started to doubt the story I’d been told. It was very clear to me that the animals I encountered were acting from more than just basic instincts.
I also realised how silly it was for cats, dogs, and horses to be off the menu, while chickens, pigs, and cows were okay to eat. How could farm animals be that different from our pets?
The truth is that animals are much more than instincts. One of the central arguments for animal rights is that animals are sentient – able to perceive and feel – therefore they deserve moral consideration and the right to be protected from unnecessary suffering or death.
In 2012, an international group of scientists formally declared that animals are in fact conscious in The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. The overwhelming body of evidence shows that animals are in fact aware and can act beyond basic instincts.
There’s no shortage of specific examples of animal sentience and intelligence. Baby chicks can perform basic arithmetic without prior coaching and pigs have proven smarter than dogs and even toddlers. At a recent potluck on the island, I had the pleasure of witnessing Ernie, a rescued turkey, proudly display his feathers and interact with a group of onlookers despite a welcoming spread of his favourite foods. He was even keen to remain a part of the festivities by trying to follow us back inside and when that failed, he spent time at the glass patio doors.
With the knowledge of animal sentience and new discoveries each year of how they display not only awareness, but intelligence, I believe it’s time for us to put aside the old assumptions and show animals the respect they deserve.
It’s the start of a new year – the perfect time to go vegetarian or vegan. It’s a choice that has clear benefits for the planet, humans, and of course, the animals.