The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Animals packed in two by two
by Clare Boylan

From the Catholic Herald dated Friday 11 December 1992

A lovely holiday in France had a dark shadow cast over it by a long delay at the ferry terminal. It wasn't too bad sitting in the car with a book to read after a long lunch, but for the two hours in which we waited the air was filled with the sound of terror. A huge container of live sheep had been left in a queue of lorries, probably en route to Spain. The animals were packed so tightly they could not stand and could barely breathe. In the two hours, no-one looked at them or gave them water. Animal cruelty inspectors who follow live cargo like this have encountered instances where they travel all the way to Spain with no food or water (although illegal), the reasoning being that since they are only to be slaughtered at the end of the run, their condition is of no concern. The container took off a few minutes before we boarded the ferry. It was so packed that an additional carriage had been attached underneath. When the engine started, the animals underneath were choked by a dense black cloud of exhaust.

Outrages like this have happened to humans and we have been appalled, uncomprehending. If we numb our own nature in regard to fellow creatures who are always at our mercy, then it will happen again to human creatures who will, from time to time, be at the mercy of brutal or brutalised humans.

I am not a vegetarian, although if I lived on my own I might veer in that direction. I am not prudish about the use of animals for food or even for vital medical research. But animals are God's creation, not our product. We are their custodians. In failing to treat them with respect and compassion (the human traits which separate us from the animals) it seems to me that we defile and threaten our human nature.

I am not sentimental about animals. I don't believe in animal love. Love is a human emotion. It requires imagination, passion and compassion. At the same time, I feel sorry for anyone who has never been close to animals. Animals are intact creatures. They still have the instincts which we have lost. They are far more than food and furry companions. They are our nature guides. In the human world, stress and violence are on the increase, fertility has declined. We are losing the capacity to adapt to life. Animals have the instincts to survive while we humans seem increasingly impelled towards self-destruction. They hold the key to evolution and link us to our origins.

Animals know more about weather than we do. They know when it is going to rain or freeze. They have to if they are to find shelter for the night. On certain days my dog will sit and look imploringly at me for several hours and then sigh and walk despairingly away. When he does this, I know it is going to rain within half an hour, and he has been begging me, "Let's go and have our walk before the downpour."

The animal-world is essentially a harsh one in which death is a part of survival but animals don't kill for cruelty or greed. The export of live animals, the terror and cruelty in many overcrowded abattoirs, the intensive factory farming of certain animals where they are penned so tightly that if they were ever to see the light of day their legs would not support them, these practices are an exploitation of species more essential to us, more closely linked with ourselves than we will accept.

The most cruel of animal farming is practiced by ignorant and insensitive people (although scientists have a lot to answer for too) but the rest of us, who consider ourselves to be caring and humane, are content to shut our eyes and eat factory farmed animals, to wear cosmetics produced at the expense of animals' suffering. Of course meat would be dearer if it were raised less intensively. But then we could eat less of it and live longer.

We have been given the gift and companionship of creatures who are gentle and beautiful and primitive and profound. They are there for our comfort and nourishment and visual delight - a part of the earth's astonishing bounty. They trust us. They have been entrusted to us and we abuse this trust, it seems impossible that we will not be judged.

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