The curious place of animals

Little John and Pam

Walt Disney said, “around here however we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things; because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”.

I was just seven years old when curiosity lead me down a path that was to take me into my parents’ bedroom and behind my mother’s dresser to where she had carefully stashed the Christmas presents intended for my sister and me. My mum’s words of “Don’t go behind my dresser” was enough to tell this intrepid young and curious sleuth where to look. Carefully unwrapping each little curio, my heart beat faster over the animal figurines I came upon, as I knew their future and mine would be soon intertwined, come December 25th. I wished to linger longer, but knew if I did, the chances of that shared future not happening would be exponentially heightened. So I rewrapped the paper, retracing the original folds and sticky tape lines perfectly—well, as perfectly as any overexcited seven-year-old could. Curiosity sated, I made my way back to the kitchen and trusted no-one had become curious over my absence as I resumed playing with my toy animal farm set.

Indeed, it is that childlike curiosity that I and all our species has carried over into adulthood that continues to lead us down many paths. Weaving, twisting and turning, our curiosity has guided humankind to colonise every corner of the globe, transformed vast open spaces into thriving metropolises, taken us to far reaches of the universe and into the deepest depths of the oceans. Closer to home, our curiosity fuels the world around us, causing us to get up each morning, peer through the curtains and see what the day has in store for us. Flicking on the TV, turning on the radio or logging on to our computers, we are curious to see what others are doing. But for me, there can be no greater path of curiosity than the one that still leads me to animals—although my plastic toy farm animal set has now been replaced with a real farm, full of real animals.

Now at the helm of Edgar’s Mission I ponder daily just why we as a society show so little curiosity towards the largest number of animals in human care, those we farm for food and fibre. Indeed, I truly believe it is this lack of curiosity that has led to the unquestioning acceptance of much of the treatment of farmed animals, treatment that we would otherwise never tolerate. The more I delve into the treatment of these animals, the more I am met with practices and beliefs that were totally at odds with anything I, and no doubt others, considered morally justifiable.

Whilst acknowledging that not everyone is a card-carrying animal-loving devotee, I do not believe one needs to be in order to have an interest in what happens to animals. Our society too agrees, and has already signed off on the fact animals matter: it is called the “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act”. Sadly, though, when it comes to animals in human care, we really have been guilty of playing favorites, and treating animals not on their ability to suffer, or their capacity for pleasure and pain or considered their rich emotional worlds. Rather, our use of them, our familiarity with them and the form they have taken dictates our treatment of animals. This says so much more about who we are as human beings than it does about animals.

So how had we come to this? Whilst animals are not humans covered in fur, fleece, feathers or fins, as Henry Beston puts it, “they are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth”. Yet they remain creatures who we can overpower in so many ways, creatures who we have come to consider lesser species than ourselves, species who generations have considered at our disposal to do with as we wish. By placing labels on animals according to our use of them, we have stifled much curiosity about them, created a huge divide that says “us” and “them”, and moreover allowed this to justify unquestioningly our treatment of animals. In light of this, it would be fair to say our animal protection laws have been put in place more to placate our sensibilities than to protect animals from acts of cruelty and indifference. This is no more apparent than in our treatment of farmed animals. Held up to the cold, hard light of justice, science, common sense and compassion, our current treatment of animals is anything but just. So at this point, I ask: Aren’t you, too, now just a little bit curious as to how this has happened?

Today, animal-based agriculture is not only deeply entrenched in our society, it is also profitable, and greatly enabled by government subsidies and support. Around 77 billion farmed animals worldwide are killed a year and this doesn’t even take in to account the death of trillions of sea creatures (both caught and as by-catch), and animal-based agriculture has been cited as a major contributor to environmental degradation, human disease and human rights violations. However, the majority of people who eat animals are unaware of the death, destruction, suffering and harm they are causing—they are not even curious to know how a cute lamb is transformed into a lamb chop, how much a mother cow loves her calf, about the incredible sense of fun shown by intelligent pigs, and how each and every farmed animal is an individual who wants to live and will desperately try to protect their life when threatened. How has it happened that we, as a nation, are so opposed to violence, that we cherish justice and freedom, shower millions upon millions of dollars on the animals who share our hearts and homes, yet allow such atrocities be committed to innocent, vulnerable and defenseless animals on a daily basis?

It’s called “cognitive dissonance”, and it makes this possible. Cognitive dissonance is described as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change”. Cognitive dissonance quells our curious nature, dulls our compassion and enables us to do things we would otherwise never accept.

But this is not a story without hope. Right now, we are witnessing an awakening of curiosity for the world around us and all of her inhabitants. Moreover, our creativity is coming to the fore to heal the wounds caused by so many of our destructive habits, and through our actions we are developing kinder ways of living. People are making connections, taking actions and becoming more curious because they are empowered by the knowledge that life is a choice, not a done deal. It’s time now to take a new path, one guided by our curiosity, led by our sense of justice, shaped by our creativity and shepherded by our kindness. Because we are curious by nature and so too are the animals with whom we share this planet.

Throughout the ages, generations are marked by a progression of thought, much of this wiser, more informed and kinder than what went before. There is no doubt we are a curiously evolving species. I truly believe the time has come for we humans to continue our evolution, and to look into the eyes of each animal and see the curious individual peering back, a creature who too ponders their future, but one who knows that future is in our hands. Whilst we remain the more powerful species, and animals remain at our mercy, they have the power to bring out the best in our humanity; evoke the most noble of human traits, those of kindness, compassion and justice; and daily they allow us to be better version of ourselves.

The simple fact is this—the world in which we live is made up of the choices we make, for when we choose to do one thing, we are choosing not to do another. So my question for you today is this: Which path will you choose? I’m curious to know your answer.

Footnote: Throughout this piece I have referred to “animals”, but note a more correct terminology would be “non-human animals”, given we are all part of the animal kingdom. But I’ve referred to those non-human animals as “animals” for ease of reading, and in line with the general application of the word.


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19 thoughts on “The curious place of animals

  1. I choose the path of vegetarian/veganism. I choose the path of kindness for the sake of all non-human animals. I support Edgar’s Mission, Pam and all of the wonderful and compassionate, generous people who are lucky to live/work at Edgars Mission. You give me hope.

  2. I am in the throes of converting to being a vegetarian and it is yourself Pam and Edgars Mission which helped educate me to the plight of farm animals. As a young girl I was brought up on dairy farms and will ever forget witnessing the slaughter of a sheep by the farm owner. It has stayed with me and still haunts me today.

  3. As far back as I can remember, I have loved all animals. I wanted to have them all, play with them, feed them, be friends with them. Although I couldn’t always explain why, I have known, really known, that it is wrong what we do.
    Unlike other, smarter kids, I didn’t realise til I was a teenager that I had the power to say no.
    I am vegetarian (30+yrs) and still hope to be vegan one day.
    You write beautifully Pam, your little brain must be on overdrive constantly! I bet you are easily bored when not doing things you find important. I nominate you for Australian of the Year, every year!

  4. I am 24 years vegan and vegan for life! I am far fitter, healthier and with more energy than every single one of my non vegan friends and family. I am living proof that eating animals or drinking their milk is purely about taste – we are far healthier without ANY animal protein and we are certainly more kind and compassionate when we do not pay ‘somebody’ to commit those atrocities against animals because we like their taste! Please – be vegan!

  5. Amen Pam…well written!!! I made my choice a long time ago…proud vegan because I believe animals are individuals not commodities. They are my friends…not food. God bless all those vegans out there who choose compassion everyday!!!

  6. I grew up loving animals but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I realised I could go vegetarian. Then over the ensuing years I stopped consuming dairy and make sure I didn’t wear leather, fur etc. So now at mid life I am vegan and very happy about it. Just wished I’d made the choice earlier.

    Thank you Edgar’s Mission. You were the first sanctuary that I had heard of and it has certainly changed my life. <3

  7. This is my story:
    I have been an almost exclusive vegetarian since my teenage years. I never liked the taste of meat as a young child but like many others was convinced and encouraged to eat animal flesh and so had the occasional chicken breast and mince patty.
    It was not until my late 30’s that I put a stop to it.
    Unfortunately it took me another 6 years (and life changing surgery to remove large fibroids the size of a 4 month fetus) before I saw, truly saw what we humans were capable of and went vegan.
    I could never go back.
    I would never go back.
    And like many others wished I had done it sooner – much, much sooner.
    Now I live with the burden that is knowledge and the sadness which is brought on by people’s denial and excuses.
    My only wish is for people to remove their blinkers and adopt a life of compassion towards all living beings.
    Thank you Edgar’s Mission for shining a small bright light into my life.

  8. I still cannot understand or accept how people who profess to love animals can eat them. People I know will go to great lengths to rescue a spider and say they can’t bear to hurt anything but will sit down and eat part of an animal that has been murdered for their benefit and others like them. I just do not understand how in today’s world where there is so much information on what happens to these beautiful animals, people seem to be able to blind themselves to it, so that they can satisfy their selfish appetite. A friend had 3 baby lambs which the man I was with at the time and I stroked and played with. Later when we went out to dinner, he ordered rack of lamb!! I just got up and walked out. I just don’t get it. Many times I feel totally overwhelmed by the terrible, barbaric cruelty dealt by man to animals which is relentless and then I read your blog, and it makes me realise I am not so alone with all this and it gives me heart that there are lots of people out there who feel the pain for all the suffering that these animals go through and these wonderful people such as yourself, are making an amazing difference to the lives of these special animals. Thank you so much.

  9. HI Pam

    You are in my book as you deserve to have a wider voice to those who need to hear it. I will let you know more when I am closer to publishing it. I have recently learned how to make almond oil. just googled it and it is SOOO -even cheeses of all kinds can be made with nuts, and vegetables. I am so amazed. Thankyou for your inspiring thoughts, you special girl.

  10. I learned that meat = animals = friends when I was 3 years old. It was in 1975 that my daycare decided, that us city kids needed to learn where our food came from, so we had a field trip to a slaughter house, where we saw how pigs were transformed from living terrified beings, to meat that we were supposed to eat. Not this girl! The next 7 years was a struggle since no one else in my family shared my aversion to eat friends. When I turned ten I moved in with a new family and my vegetarianism was finally accepted and respected. I was still alone with my beliefs though. I was 18 before I actually met another vegetarian. I raised my daughter to be vegetarian. Despite all that, it wasn’t until 2 years ago that I realized that I contributed to animal cruelty by consuming eggs and dairy. I always felt uncomfortable eating any products from animals, so I decided to try veganisme, and was I in for a nasty surprise! My perceptions completely changed. Going from not having a problem with using leather, because I thought of it as a bi-PRODUCT of the meat industri, to feeling disgusted wearing another murdered beings skin. Even though I have loved, protected and fought for animals my entire live, I was still considering their dead bodies products. It was a rather harsh awakening, but today I feel more at peace with myself than ever before, even though knowing more about what is really going on in the world, is very hard on the soul.
    Like a meme I saw, shows perfectly:
    “What du you miss the most from your pre-vegan days?” “My faith in humanity!”
    However, my daughter is now an administrator for a Facebook group called vegan food, and the member count is rising faster and faster for each week, so there is still hope, especially for the younger generations :)

  11. Vegan, vegan, vegan!!!!
    My question is to all those who are vegetarian.
    How can one who professes to love animals eat any product that is part animal?
    So I challenge all those vegetarians to ponder on this and consider converting to Vegan and eat absolutely no animal products at all.
    Your conscience will be free.

  12. Excellent piece. Thanks Pam.

    Heather writes:
    “Many times I feel totally overwhelmed by the terrible, barbaric cruelty dealt by man to animals which is relentless and then I read your blog, and it makes me realise I am not so alone with all this”

    I feel just the same, but we’re not alone, there are more of us every day.

    In the UK, the Guardian reported “The number of vegans in the UK has risen by 350% in the past decade – a movement driven by the young. Close to half of all vegans are aged 15-34, compared with just 14% who are over 65. We heard from people as young as 14 espousing the purported virtues of quitting meat and dairy.”

  13. This beautiful article actually brought me to tears.” Mankind” is involved in all kinds of cruelty–to animals-to each other- destroying the planet!
    I dearly love you and your farm and you have made me a better person-I am moving toward a vegan life and hope, in this small way, that maybe I have saved some souls from a tragic ending!

  14. I just love reading your blog Pam! It is always so inspiring and uplifting, and you are so eloquent. I also love reading about other vegans and people who are making the choice to eat less meat and transition to vegetarianism or vegan. It all warms my heart and gives me hope ❤️️

  15. Beautifully and eloquently expressed Pam. It never fails to puzzle and dismay me that people differentiate between domestic and farm animals. “We’d invite you to dinner Sue, but we’re having LAMB”!!! Keep up the good work, Pam, and never feel alone. You are a very special girl, and are doing God’s will!!!
    My love & prayers,
    Susan. xxxx

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