The Animals We Lose, The Animals We Grieve

I often think about our relationship with other species and how we value some animals but not others. The culture we live in and our own personal experience determine how much or how little empathy we feel towards certain species. But of all these arbitrary distinctions, my favourite has to be the value we assign to animals that are endangered or have just become extinct.

If you think about it, it's the same kind of behaviour we sometimes exhibit when someone dies or at the end of a relationship. I experienced it myself when my father died: All the bad things were pushed aside and good memories flooded me. And when a relationship ends? Your mind keeps going back to all the good things you've lost. Never mind the bad moments or the fact that you're probably better off without that person. 

We value more that which we lose, even if what we've lost is a species we've never personally come across. I find this fascinating. For me, species loss is sad but I value individuals over their species. I don't see animals as a whole that encompasses individuals. I see individuals that are part of a whole. And so I mourn each death, even if there are millions of animals like the one that has just died, because each individual is unique.

We see this clearly with the animals we share our life with. For those of us who live or have lived with several animals, we know each of them is different, even if they belong to the same species. Those who have never had a cat might think all cats behave the same way. It's true members of the same species share traits but every individual has a unique personality. And if we know this to be true in the case of animals that live with us, why wouldn't it be true for all animals?

Photo credit: Paul Nicklen

You only have to visit an animal sanctuary to realise each animal is unique. Not just dogs and cats, but also pigs and cows and turkeys and chickens. They're not numbers or a name on an encyclopaedia. They are individuals with preferences and a desire to live. It's easy to lose sight of that when we're used to seeing them as abstract concepts, as a tool or simply as food. 

So, yes, we lose animals every second. We lose them by the trillions every year. Or, rather than lose them, we actively end their lives. But we don't grieve them. We don't even think about them. Until one day you look at one of them in the eye and start seeing things differently. 

"When we suffer, we suffer as equals, and in their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig, is a bear, is a boy.” — Philip Wollen

I'm an animal rights advocate, and that includes all animals on this planet. I believe all species deserve moral consideration and I specifically like to draw attention to the animals we use and consume because they are, by far, the most forgotten. Not only that but whenever people like me suggest they deserve moral consideration, we get attacked or, at least, it makes others uncomfortable. I get it. For more than twenty years I didn't think about these animals either. But they are there and their lives matter. 

I leave you with this short video made by Earthling Ed. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it's pretty good food for thought.

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