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
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.