Can they suffer?

This heart-wrenching photograph was published in the Daily Telegraph on January 14th, 2016. The photographer described how the male kangaroo had cradled the head of his mate while she died, her arms reaching out to her joey one last time.

“The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham

What, I hear you ask, do kangaroos have to do with Vegetarian Outreach Scotland?! Everything! The photograph stands to remind us that animals have feelings too. They feel pain and loss, love and loyalty, jealousy and fear. Immortalized in the moving story of Greyfriars Bobby, the 19th century Skye terrier who allegedly guarded the grave of his master for fourteen years up until his own death in 1872, we learned that animals are capable of grief.

We acknowledge the feelings of animals. Certain animals. We become outraged at stories of abused dogs and cats, spend thousands sponsoring donkeys and tigers, and create complex laws to protect kangaroos and birdlife, yet other species are entirely overlooked. The reason is, we don’t see them as animals. Society has conditioned us to see them as food. And food doesn’t have feelings.

My uncle had a hill sheep farm in the north of England. My auntie would get upset on the day the lorry came to take the lambs for slaughter.

Her tears, however, were perfunctory compared to the cries of the mothers and babies. Frantic sheep calling, distressed lambs answering, as the distance between them grew. The lambs taking the first and final ride of their short lives. The ewes, beside themselves in a heart-breaking search for their offspring, before eventually resigning themselves to their grief.

This inconvenient truth, that farmed animals have family bonds, that they suffer, that they grieve, is so far removed from our human conscience that it does not even flicker as we tuck into our lamb chops, our roast beef and Yorkshire, or that Saturday morning bacon butty.

“Homo Sapiens is just one species. Somewhere, along our evolutionary timeline, we came to believe that we are the most important species.”

Homo Sapiens is just one species. Somewhere, along our evolutionary timeline, we came to believe that we are the most important species. This is called Speciesism. As human conscience has evolved, we have worked our way through several “isms”. Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, ageism, and so the list goes on. One defining feature of the “isms” is that of inflicting physical or emotional harm upon the target group. A further hallmark is the denial of rights. The right, for example, to raise your offspring in safety, unmolested.

A few short weeks before my father’s death at age 91, I sat on his bed and talked to him about my animal rights endeavours. The son of a farm manager, he listened and nodded, but said that he probably wouldn’t join because, at 91, it was a bit late in life to take on anything new. Besides, he said, his life’s work had been about helping humans, rather than animals, as humans are more important. “Dad”, I said, “that’s not a fact, that’s just your opinion”. He paused, looking down at the bedspread in consideration. Finally, he looked up, “You’re right”.

I leave you with the story of Autumn, a rescued factory-farm chicken. Please honour her by reading it. If it doesn’t make you cry then I am not sure what species you belong to.

We perpetually force sheep, cows, pigs and chickens to betray their offspring because we have betrayed them. This is why Vegetarian Outreach Scotland exists. To put things right. To let people know that a farmed animal is someone, not something. To help bring about the day when all beings will live in peace and freedom.