As activists and conscious individuals, we speak regularly of the pain of non-human animals. We talk of the immeasurable suffering of those trapped in cages and inside laboratories, to the horrors they experience on meat, dairy, egg and fur farms, and wherever else they are exploited for profit — all of which is almost too much for us to bear. Yet, we continue to bring up the troubling topic again and again, with the hope of raising awareness of their plight. The ultimate goal is to inspire sensitive humans to reach out and help free the countless non-humans who are enslaved by an abusive system.
I personally do not like to dwell on the horrors of a life in a cage. Just the thought of being trapped is so frightening to me that I actually try not to think about it. At the same time, I constantly feel an overwhelming responsibility to those imprisoned to at least do something.
As a collective movement I feel that our main focus tends to be the suffering inherent in intensive farming and nonconsensual testing, where the words “pain”, “suffering”, “torture” and “agony” resound throughout the Animal Rights and Animal Welfare movements, regardless of what particular issues we may be working on.
These words, I assure you, accurately describe the brutal realities that exist, but they are used so repetitively that they have become hollow and devoid of their true meaning.
For myself, who has been involved in animal rights discussions virtually my entire life — and a committed activist for animals for the last 13 years — these words and others had simply become tools for me in my efforts to free those being killed. Their true meanings had been diluted by my excessive use of them, which I didn’t realize until relatively recently, when my definition of these words was reinstated in my heart and mind.
Four years ago, on February 18th, I witnessed one of my best friends die of cancer. She was my sister and as I watched her suffer intense agony every day for months, until the disease finally took her, the meaning behind those words became all too clear, as they took shape in my own being. The intense personal pain I experienced while watching someone I love die almost destroyed me. The words “pain”, “suffering”, “agony”, “torture” and “misery” were no longer abstract ideas or tools; they were tangible, concrete, physical sensations.
As I grappled with my grief, I found the injustice of it all most troubling. I searched for answers to the multitude of questions her death brought, and the ever present “why?” that followed me wherever I turned for relief.
As an activist, I had been fully aware of the concept of suffering in others, but witnessing first-hand physical pain and torment beyond description, as I watched a loved one writhe in unimaginable anguish, gave new meaning to the words.
I couldn’t come to terms with my sister’s death for many months after her passing. I could not accept that this unthinkable event had taken place. It was some months later when I realized why. As an activist, I was accustomed to taking on even the most monumental suffering, and seeking out an effective solution. But with this issue of death and grief, there was no solution. There was no way of out it and the resulting hopelessness I felt was crushing me.
There is a tremendous amount of suffering inherent in this life; suffering that is seemingly unavoidable. But on the brighter side, a great deal of the suffering in this world IS avoidable and can be brought to an end.
I have zero tolerance for the unnecessary suffering inflicted upon animals or anyone else. Especially in a world where so much pain exists already, how can we allow all this unnecessary pain to go on for even a moment longer? As much as we choose to ignore the fact, every animal killed had a mother, many had children of their own, bothers and sisters or companions who loved them and; therefore, no matter how they were treated before being killed, they and their loved ones all experienced the pain and grief of separation.
I was able to function after my sister’s death only by taking the pain I felt in her loss, and using it to escalate my activism. I transmuted my anger and sorrow into a renewed commitment to the non-humans needlessly enduring “pain”, “suffering”, “torture” and “agony” at the hands of humans who have grown callous to the true meaning of those words — and to the feelings they describe.
I have vowed anew to never remain quiet when there are innocent lives on the line … but to speak up loudly, clearly and unremittingly for every animal in the world who is bound for slaughter.