Archive for the ‘animal’ Category

I submitted an entry to the New York Times’ essay contest.  The challenge was to write on the subject “Is it ethical to eat meat?”  Being the guilt-free omnivore that I am, I decided to enter.  After culling through 3000 entries the Times’ judges left mine out of the six finalists’ pile.  So I’m including it as a blog because I think it’s worthy of discussion.  Here goes…

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Beef, pork, chicken.) Source: http://visualsonline.cancer.gov/details.cfm?imageid=2402 (via http://geekphilosopher.com/bkg/foodMeat.htm) Public domain declaration: http://visualsonline.cancer.gov/about.cfm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it ethical to eat meat?  It’s as ethical as it was to be engineered to digest meat. Now we’re questioning the ethics of evolution or creation since we were constructed to be omnivores. Our digestive system is capable of processing meat, absorbing its nutrients and excreting its waste without requiring outside intervention to accomplish it or to stay healthy.  Just like the human system can process plants and fruit.  Is it ethical to eat those living organisms?

Animals kill each other to consume.  The human animal has been eating meat for more than two and a half million years.  Back in the days of African hominids there were no meat factories to grow their prehistoric buffalo or marketing to influence their taste buds.  They crafted instruments to hunt food because their instincts were to eat meat, plus plants.  There were no ethical dilemmas to consider or need to pander to political correctness.  They were built to digest meat and that’s what they did.

Plants and fruit are as alive as animals are.  Once they die they’re no longer nutritious; they must be consumed as living, breathing organisms.  They don’t take oxygen in through their lungs as humans do, but they do exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide through a process called respiration.  In fact, in order to maintain human life, we need plants to inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, our most vital commodity for life.  So there’s an argument to be made about the ethics of eating plants that must stay alive in order for the human species to exist.

The real question of ethics pertains to the way humans go about getting our meat.

Our species has a tendency to flaunt our position at the top of the food chain.  We hunt animals for sport and cut off their heads to mount on our walls.  We fish for sport and often throw the fish, now with a hole through its mouth or gill, back into the water when rules call for “fish and release.”  We toss ropes around calves’ necks and hurl them to the ground and cinch a bull’s gonads while hopping on his back to see if he can buck us off.  Why?  Because some consider it fun.  Those arrogant human traits are disrespectful of fellow living beings and unethical activities from a species with supreme reasoning power.

It’s also unethical to “grow meat” in industrial feedlots where cattle are fed grain they can’t digest, hormones to get too fat for their legs to support their bodies (because natural weight gain takes too long and is too lean), and given no room to move around thereby being forced to stand in their own feces.  When they get sick they’re given antibiotics to treat the damage caused by eating corn that their bodies can’t digest.  There are equally unethical conditions imposed on chickens and pigs raised in feedlots.

It is ethical, though, to raise cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep in their natural environments: pasture on which to graze, room to roam and provide other food their bodies were designed to eat.  And when the time comes, to be killed in a humane, respectful fashion.

I eat plants and humanely raised meat.  I also don’t hunt or taunt animals for sport.  I’m an omnivore and lead an ethical life.

Now it’s your turn.  Do you think it’s ethical to eat meat?  

Here’s what the six New York Times’ essay finalists had to say.  

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His dreamy eyes (I call them goo goo eyes) look at me as though he’s known me forever.  His heart bursts open with uninhibited love every time I walk through the door, jumping for joy to see me.  For years I’ve wondered what made this little dog choose me to be his mom when he had his pick of contenders.  I ask him that question repeatedly and all he does is look deep into my eyes, smile and wag his tail.

In June Pogo and I will celebrate nine years as a family.  June 9, to be exact, the day before my birthday during a fateful evening walk around the neighborhood.  I’d been hearing stories of a little brown dog that showed up, sneaking around at night devouring food left outside by sympathetic neighbors.  But he’d let no-one touch him.  Until June 9.  When we laid eyes on each other for the first time.

Then he jumped all over me like he’d been searching a lifetime for ME!  I sat down in the street and the little guy smothered me with affection, rolling upside down in my lap, covering my face with sloppy kisses.  If he could speak he’d have screamed, OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY!!!  I FOUND YOU!

Deep in my soul I think I know where Pogo came from.  Now for the back story…

More than 10 years ago my neighbors’ house burned down, the tragic result of a living room candle flame gone awry.  That fire stole much of what those people held dear — from photos to wedding presents to pets.  They lost a cat and a dog in the tragedy, rendering themselves numb and the rest of the neighborhood.

Miniature schnauzer in car, seatbelted

I was traumatized too, not only because such a horrible thing instantly wiped out a lifetime of collections for my friendly neighbors, but because their dog and I had a special bond.  Spike was my walking buddy.  He was a precious miniature Schnauzer with a giant personality and feisty spirit.  Everyday he waited for me to pass his house during my walks so he could accompany me home for hugs and treats.

Hans on St. Vrain Trail, Colorado.

He had this quirky little trot as we made our way to my house.  In the middle of a run he’d lift his back right leg and hop on the remaining three until we reached the corner.  He did this often enough to inspire me  to check into his health only to learn that the vet was as perplexed by the behavior as we were.  He never found anything wrong with that leg. It was just a “Spike thing” I suppose, a trait that endeared him to me even more.  In fact, Nanette often teased me that she’d know exactly where to look should Spike “forget” to come home sometime.  My heart was broken when my little friend was taken from our lives and I mourned his loss for months.

Fast forward a year or so to my historic walk around the neighborhood that lucky evening on June 9, when Pogo and I met.  From that day on we’ve walked the neighborhood together just about everyday.

And for the first few months as we’d pass Nanette’s and Spike’s now rebuilt home, Pogo would pick up his back right leg and hop to the corner.

And now you have the whole story.  No kidding

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Winston is prancing around his paddock this morning, hungry and impatient.  My arrival signals breakfast and he wants it NOW.  He kicks the lower board of his fencing as though he needs to get my attention.  Hey – do you see me?  I said NOW!

He’s a dark brown or “bay,” feisty stallion – about 16 hands tall and, these days, close to 1300 pounds.  And as a young four-year old he’s full of himself and is mostly interested in finding a mare to do, well, to do what stallions do best.  Make babies.  But we won’t let him.  He’s alone in his paddock because he’d attack another male and mount any female within smelling distance.  Because he’s so feisty few people will handle Winston or go into his paddock, for that matter, cautious about his unpredictability and tremendous power.

Photo of the eye of a young Arabian horse

Image via Wikipedia

And I love him, tearing up each time I visit his feeding window to scratch behind his ears and rub his long, thick neck.  I particularly love kissing the end of his nose as he nibbles at my shoulder and looks into my eyes.  He knows we saved his life.

I remember when he arrived as a weak sorry-looking animal, evidence in a court case that Horse Haven of Tennessee is charged with safe keeping.  Some six months ago he was taken from his owners as a starving fellow who just hung his head and had to be shown there was food in his feed bucket.  He walked slowly and carefully through the barn to his turn out paddock while we gasped at his emaciated frame, a perfect specimen for horse anatomy 101 with each rib clearly delineated and his rump bones protruding due to muscle deterioration.  Under our care he’s gained hundreds of pounds.

Horse and Rider

Image by Istvan via Flickr

Who knows why owners neglect their animals?  Some actually don’t know better.  They think that plopping a horse in their backyard as a lawn mower is sufficient.  It’s not.  Others are just outright cruel – dragging horses behind their trucks, beating them if they don’t obey or hauling them to mountaintops and abandoning them.  These days some owners are just running out of money to take care of themselves let alone their horses.  Their equine are left to winnow away to mere shadows of themselves, ultimately dropping dead from starvation.

Group of differently coloured Finnhorse stalli...

Image via Wikipedia

There are a lot of horses in our country – about 4 percent of American households have a horse; that’s more than 9 million horses.  The horse industry is a multi-billion dollar business.  We love our horses.  But with the trend for unwanted horses growing, the Rescue industry needs about $2300 per horse for food, meds and hoof care.  At the rate it’s going, the price adds up to some $26 million a year!  All donation based.

Wild stallion Lazarus and part of his band in ...

All my life I’ve longed for my own horse, started riding lessons at 13 – compliments of my father. They’re incredibly sensitive, soulful creatures with timid temperaments and acute flee impulses since they’re prey animals. Their first instinct is for self-protection.  And yet they want to please humans.

Winston is a success story and my heart sings with joy each time we visit and snuggle.  One of these days his court case will be resolved and, hopefully, he’ll be released for adoption.  Our local college equestrian team have their eyes on him.  They should; he’ll make a gorgeous hunter/jumper, being the thoroughbred he is.

Meanwhile we’ll feed him his full bucket of grain twice/day and his minimum 6 flakes of hay twice a day.  And care for his teeth and feet.  And love him the way he deserves.

You can visit the website at Horse Haven of Tennessee or watch a video telling its story where more than 60 volunteers take care of the horses during twice/daily shifts.  It’s a love story.  One that requires money to keep going.

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childhood memory

Image by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

Recently I find myself revisiting memories of my childhood that laid the foundation for who I am today and the direction life is taking me.  Back then is when I discovered a love for animals and a palpable need to commune with them.  That bond occupies a large part of my life today and can trigger flashbacks to earlier days.

Take morning walks with my dog Pogo for example.  He dances for joy each time we leave the house as though this tour of my wooded neighborhood is the first in his life.  Actually, he knows every square inch of it because during his month as a stray he foraged for food among our trees until the day he decided that I’d be his mom.  Though I’ve always longed for a dog, he’s my first one and the love of my life.  Believe me, it’s mutual and he loves our daily excursions where we visit with neighbors and fellow canines.

As Pogo and I reach the crest of a hill, I catch my first glimpse of Marley who’s already thumping her tail in anticipation of our visit.  She’s a beautiful Lab mix that belongs to a neighbor but she’s adopted us as family members too.  She can barely wait for me to sit down before plopping herself on my lap for hugs and kisses. Together we enjoy the beautiful view of the Tennessee River and the Smokey Mountains beyond. And I’m transported back to that nine-year old child who used to visit the collie around the corner.  Together Bow and I would crawl into our fort in the bushes and snuggle.  She helped me through some tough times back then, laying her head on my lap and cooing soft sounds as I cried out my troubles and accepted her soothing licks on my face.  We loved each other and it broke my heart when she died.  While I silently reminisce Marley looks up and smiles.  I think she knows.

There’s also a real familiarity at the barn where I spend Tuesday mornings with rescue horses.  They’re very sensitive creatures and have always tugged at my heart.  Maybe the seed was planted when we kids went with my father to his business and visited Murphy, a gorgeous Palomino gelding.  He’d jump on that horse’s back and take off as though the two were born as one.  My father was happiest on a horse and we went riding many Sunday mornings along the Wissahickon River into Valley Green, outside of Philadelphia.  We’d walk and talk while my father oozed vitality and a freedom of spirit that was contagious.  I fell in love with horses too and now when I’m at the barn feeding, grooming, turning out and mucking – I think of those days and smile.  And they look at me with those soulful, knowing eyes as if to acknowledge an understanding of our bond.

Over the years so much has changed while so much of me has stayed the child I used to be.  I guess that’s what it means to realize your essence.

What events trigger memories for you – and what are those memories and how have they defined who you are today?

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