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24 March 2002
Why Focus on Animal Issues When There Is So Much Other Suffering?

By Judith Marie Gansen
Source: PETA factsheet #5, "Vegetarianism: Eating for Life"

I have mentioned before in my writing that I believe one of the many mistaken beliefs about people who care about animals is that we ONLY care about animals. This comes from the fact that our efforts to educate people cause us to speak and write about animals exclusively in many cases. It also comes from the media who rarely do stories about us that give the entire picture of who we are or we get misquoted or are given a "sound bite" on TV that sometimes gives people the wrong idea. When you take on the job of becoming an activist/advocate you can expect to sometimes be criticized for caring about animals. I find this such a horrible tragedy. Why would anyone criticize someone for having compassion? Isn't compassion a good thing? Doesn't the world need more?

I was in a checkout lane at a crafts store the other day buying clearance items to make crafts for animal fundraisers when I experienced this sort of criticism. A very elderly man behind me overheard me ask the cashier what the store would do with all the leftover craft items that didn't sell and I explained that I sometimes do crafts for our humane society. The man grumbled about the fact that "so many people are out of work now and she is buying things for animals" or words to that effect. I chose to ignore him due to his extreme age.

It did get me to thinking though. Once when I called a legislator's office about animal legislation a woman said to me "I can't believe the calls we are getting on this--when there are so many more important issues out there." Yes, there are important issues out there and most of us are well aware of them. When I worked as a secretary for a police department I received a commendation (usually reserved for police officers) for providing information that helped change policies so that more child sexual predators could be convicted. The idea was adopted in several surrounding counties and helped to get these predators off the street. I don't share this to brag but to point out that I want to help to alleviate suffering and pain wherever it is. Our family has helped teach kids to read, volunteered to provide warm winter clothes for kids whose family can't afford them, volunteered at Hospice, taught Sunday school, picked up litter, built playground equipment, donated blood--the list goes on.

As a compassionate and spiritual person I am quick to want to help others who need help but I usually don't make a distinction as to species--this is the main difference. Volunteers do not usually get criticized unless they are helping non-human life forms sadly. Is it because animals are "less" than we are or their pain and suffering is less because they are animals? Or do we perhaps cause others who don't care about animals to feel uncomfortable that they lack this compassion? After all, if we help animals and believe they are special--how does that make a person feel who just got rid of a pet because it was too much trouble? Or who just shot an animal for sport? Or whose business benefits from their destruction?

If someone chooses to only help animals, why is that so terrible? Maybe they are shy and don't enjoy being around people. Maybe they want to help animals because few others will. Maybe they witnessed animal cruelty at the hands of their parent as a child and are trying to turn things around now that they are able. Maybe they just love animals and want to be around them. Questioning the motives of people trying to do good is at best a destructive habit. Doesn't it tell us all something when many of the pro-animal people are volunteers but the anti-animal people are either businesses who profit from animals or people who enjoy killing them for "fun?" Duh!

With the economy being depressed currently I am aware of the people needing work. When I purchase things once in a while as I can afford to help animals, I help keep people working at our local stores and support businesses. I try to purchase craft items that are not made in countries where there is "slave labor" so that in helping animals, I am not harming people. I try to find environmentally friendly craft items and to make things people can use or give as gifts. Craft shows are especially popular with working moms and dads trying to find unique gifts and who want to have some fun on the weekend. I price my gift baskets way below retail value (easy to do if you find the items at 75-90% off retail)--the buyer of the craft finds a great bargain to give as a gift or for themselves, the store made money where I bought items from, the nonprofit makes money to help animals, we can take the fair market value off our income taxes, and I enjoy the creating process plus I stay away from junk food as I work on them so--everyone wins!

By promoting a vegetarian lifestyle we not only help animals but also the environment--fewer forests would be destroyed and land cleared to feed cattle (rain forests are the primary source of oxygen for our planet as well as important sources for many trees and plant forms that can cure diseases) if people stopped eating meat. We can feed more hungry people per square mile by growing grain instead of cattle. There would be more fresh water for everyone which is a growing concern as our planet dries up (the production of one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water). There would be less heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.

Ironically I have found that those who criticize us usually are not the ones who do anything at all to make the "world a better place." If they did, they would be too busy volunteering and find less time for criticism. This is why we cannot allow them to make us feel discomfort that we have chosen to help animals. By helping animals, we automatically elevate the status of everyone else. By helping animals, we fight against the violence and cruelty that is so prevalent in our world and that harms our loved ones every day. By helping animals we ensure a humane and compassionate world for our children's future. So will I continue to work hard for animal causes? You betcha!!

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