Change Behaviors by Changing Minds
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
March 2014

At some time or another, most of us have experienced some of these thoughts. Donít hesitate to start down the road to a humane life for fear that you must succeed and be a saint, or fail and be a hypocrite. Everyone who has ideals falls short of them at times. But it is better to have ideals to fall short of than to amble through a life led by habit, convenience, and vanity.

 

Many of us feel that animal cruelty is one of the lowest, foulest crimes a human can commit. And yet, weíre a nation that continues archaic practices that harm animals. For example, many Americans still attend exotic animal circuses where tigers are crammed into cages for our delight and where noble elephants are prodded with sharp hooks to perform tricks so our children can laugh. Greyhound racing and dog-fighting share two major traits: both are closely linked to gambling and both are directly responsible for the death and suffering of dogs en masse. Greyhound racing, however, is legal and operational in seven states. In terms of companion animals, approximately 7 million homeless dogs and cats wander American streets because so many of us still purchase animals from pet stores and fail to spay and neuter those we acquire.

So what gives? For a nation of people who swear we love animals, why arenít we doing better? One explanation is, in part, psychological. Whether we are conscious of these feelings or not, there are at least three thought patterns that can trap good people into continuing behaviors that harm animals.

ďI donít want to give up this tradition.Ē

It can be difficult to recognize the consequences of an activity when that activity is a tradition. We reason, how can a circus be brutal when it has invited children to attend for over 100 years? How can animal racing be cruel when itís an activity presidents have attended? Common sense should tell us itís not in the best interest of a 4-ton elephant to be carted around the country for years on end. Common sense should also tell us that animals and gambling do not mix. But as long as we donít see the elephant shackled, or watch the greyhound die, itís easy to deny these realities year after year. Long-standing behaviors that follow us through generations may not even be recognized as tradition. For example, if your family didnít spay or neuter dogs and cats in your household when you were growing up, you are less likely to consider spaying and neutering as an important aspect of responsible ownership in your adult life. Bringing behaviors from our childhood homes to our adult lifestyles is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. We run into trouble when we refuse to change negative behaviors even after weíve grown up and been exposed to evidence of better choices.

ďWhat Iím doing is convenient or fun.Ē

Declining an invitation to the circus or dog track can feel awkward, especially if weíve attended in the past. Spaying and neutering our animals requires time and money. Finding an apartment that is pet-friendly may necessitate extra effort or a larger deposit. Doing the right thing can take a little extra willpower, money, and attention. Do it anyway. You may actually find that you will be joined by people who are close to you. Youíre also likely to discover that being responsible will spare you a lot of grief and guilt in the long run.

ďI donít want to admit my behavior was wrong.Ē

This is a major reason why people persist in negative behaviors long after those behaviors can be justified. Itís hard to admit to ourselves and others when weíve acted in error. Even if there is no penalty whatsoever, changing a behavior might imply that the old behavior was wrong. For many of us, even an implied admission of wrongdoing brings about feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt. We may try to avoid these feelings by lashing out at the suggestion that something we have enjoyed is harmful to animals. We need to overcome these anxieties and acknowledge that itís okay, even good, to change our minds and behaviors based on new information.

At some time or another, most of us have experienced some of these thoughts. Donít hesitate to start down the road to a humane life for fear that you must succeed and be a saint, or fail and be a hypocrite. Everyone who has ideals falls short of them at times. But it is better to have ideals to fall short of than to amble through a life led by habit, convenience, and vanity.


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