Sanctuaries like Animal Place in Grass Valley, and Farm Sanctuary in California and New York, do more for advancing the cause of animals than anything else. First they save the lives of the individual animals; then they allow others to see for themselves how each and every animal at a shelter is a unique individual with a history as valuable (to the individual) as our own histories. Rich and famous human animals get to write their autobiographies, or have them written for them. But we all acknowledge that in fact, every human on earth deserves his or her own biography. The same is true for animals.
As Tom Regan so memorably put it: Every animal is the subject of a life. Each and every one is as worthy of a biography as any human. And when you consider that the animals rarely do any harm to any other being, they are probably more deserving than the average human biography.
What most people discover when they visit a sanctuary is that all these animals share most, if not all, human emotions. As I have sat next to these residents, something else occurred to me that is somewhat heretical not to say outrageous, at least to some. This: That in certain respects, some animals may be our emotional superiors. Dogs are more friendly; cats more contented; birds more gregarious; swans more faithful; elephants grieve more deeply, and so on. You can add to the list.
I love it that there are more sanctuaries every year, all over the world, and that more people are visiting them. Some come away with a promise: “I will no longer participate in the suffering of these innocent creatures: from now on, I will eat no animal or, even better, no animal product.”
I am also pleased to see that there are more and more books about sanctuaries, with actual photos of the animals, so if you cannot visit one yourself, you can at least see them as they truly are. There is little doubt that there is a sea-change happening when it comes to farmed animals. The kinds of crude comments about “dumb beasts” that were made just a few years ago are falling out of favor. I am trying to understand why this is so, while at the same time countries like India and China are causing more and more animals to be killed for food so that even as attitudes change, more animals are probably killed right now than at any other time in human history. Will that, or even can that, ever change?