Use Your Past to Change the Future
An Animal Rights Article from


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
January 2013

change past history

At NHES, we all love animals. Our employees try to provide the very best for their personal companion animals: vet care, training, diet, exercise, and affection. We try to save farm animals’ lives by eating a healthy plant-based diet. And we look out for animals in other aspects of our lives, too. We avoid animal-tested products, we respect the wild spaces around us, and we don’t support animals in entertainment.

But no one is perfect; we all have a “dark past.” None of us began life as animal friendly as we are now. It is important to remember that past and be happy we’ve learned a better way.

One of us remembers her childhood dog came from a pet store in the mall—doubtlessly born in some dirty puppy mill. She just recently adopted a little rescue puppy. Another recalls that foie gras was one of her favorite foods. She had no idea of the cruelty in the industry and now she is a strict vegan. Another employee recalls choke chains and alpha rolls. He was always a dog lover and that was just how things were done. Now his dogs are happy, well behaved, and trained humanely. Down the hall, one of us admits her childhood dream was to be a whale trainer—maybe even own an aquarium! Now she is outspoken about the issue of captivity.

Were we bad people before? No, we were just misinformed.

And, in some ways our experiences with a less humane way of life are valuable tools for advocating on behalf of animals. First, many of us carry some guilt. Thinking about mistakes in the past pushes us to be better in the future, to atone for our actions. Second, talking about these mistakes helps us to be more relatable to those whose minds we are trying to change. Talking about your past to people lets them know anyone can change and no one is perfect. Third, remembering our history helps humanize those with whom you disagree. Maybe a neighboring family chains their dog. Stop and remember your first dog who lived in a dog house outside. You thought that was normal at the time. Your neighbors also probably think it’s normal. Instead of condemning them, gently show them a better way. Much animal neglect is committed because of ignorance, not malevolence.

The exciting thing is, when we look at our own past, it gives us hope for the future. Through the continued efforts of animal advocates, more and more people will be able to leave their “dark pasts” behind and making real changes. Some of the changes people have made include spaying and neutering their companion animals to cut down on the number of unwanted animals dying in animal shelters. In addition, today, fewer pet stores sell puppies and kittens because people realize the animals come from mills where the breeding animals are treated horribly. And, just a few years ago, many people didn’t know what a vegetarian or vegan was; now the number of people embracing a plant-based diet is increasing.

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