Often those who work for the rights of animals are questioned about their choice of cause—people are suffering all over the world, why spend the time, effort and money on animals? Shouldn’t humans come first? But we are capable of taking action on more than one thing at a time, and right now we can, and should, do exactly that.
First, we have the space in our hearts for multiple issues that need our sympathy, empathy and action. We don’t have to choose one over the other, but instead we do, and should, care for many things enough to devote a portion of our minds, hearts and actions in support of those things. We may feel the strongest draw to one or another, animals or people, cats or dogs, the ocean or the forests, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily care only for the object of our actions and not at all for others. We can do things out of love, not necessarily out of obligation or rational choice. It may be that an opportunity to make a difference presents itself and we take that opportunity, or that we’ve had an abiding love for something and let that carry us to do good for it.
Second, what most of us want, and I know I’m one of them, is a more humane world for all living things, and when each of us specializes in a different area of need we lift all beings at the same time. There are so many of us, there is no reason any cause should wait. We can’t do everything at once, or everything suffers. We focus, and give it our best, and we hopefully move things forward.
But most importantly, when we work for a more humane society for animals, we don’t get there except by working with other people and in many ways we add to bettering their lives. As I’ve often said, when you rescue cats, you are rescuing people. It’s a proven fact that pets give us physical and emotional health benefits.  Where domestic animals are concerned, when they are in need often the people who care for them are in need as well, as in being able to afford food or medical care for animals in their care, either pets or abandoned animals, so you help the person help the animal. And sometimes there are people who need more help than the animals and you can help them with physical and social needs too, and help them keep the pets they love. Other times the help we give is information, explaining animals’ needs for a good, healthy, loving life, and pointing them in the best direction to accomplish that for the animal they care for. All of that helps every person who loves animals live a better life.
Sometimes that help is corrective, when we penalize someone for having violated statutes for humane care. Does that really help someone? We hope it does. Laws are both guidelines that show us boundaries to observe, derived from the values of our society, and an outline of the actions that are intended to be both punitive and redemptive, to show someone what they did wrong, and then show them how to do it right.
When we find something horribly cruel has been done to an animal it’s easy to turn against all those who do such things. “I hate people,” is a common response. But we are all people, and those in our lives we care about are people too, so do we hate ourselves and the people we care about because we are the same creatures as those who have perpetrated cruelty on an animal? In the pain of our reaction, yes, we can feel that way, but as the shock wears off, no we don’t, because in order to help keep that horrible act of cruelty from happening again we need to focus on the source of that cruelty and say that our society does not accept what was done. Laws are the final act of righting a wrong, describing it and stipulating a punishment, but laws are born when members of our society come to a consensus that legal control is needed, and the first act is speaking up, taking action, and leading the change. In no small way, laws regarding humane treatment of animals help people as well. Studies show a distinct correlation between animal abuse and family violence and other forms of community violence.  Crimes against animals contribute to crime in our society, and reducing those crimes helps reduce crime overall, leading to a more peaceful society.
But we need to change the society that accepts those crimes to build the protections, and we who have worked years toward more protections for animals know that we can’t just sit back and love animals and protect the ones we love. We can’t wait until something happens and then react. We need to get out in front of the issue and work for change before the suffering happens.
The murder of George Floyd by a police officer may seem to have nothing to do with animal rights, but our experience with fighting to change society does. We have seen these murders of a long list of other African Americans and every time we ask for change, and then it happens again. Not only by police, but by regular members of society, and other infractions like people calling the police when they feel black people don’t belong where they are, like continued discrimination in jobs and housing, the list can go on. Even in this moment, a far greater percentage of African Americans are contracting and dying of COVID-19 than are represented in the population, and much of that has to do with health effects from the neighborhoods they live in.  We have actually had laws against much of this for years, decades a century, and still it happens because, even with legal backing, we never changed the underlying society to enforce them. And that society is apparently resistant to change.
So we who have been fighting for the rights of animals understand the road ahead for changing the culture that allows discrimination and outright murder that is rarely punished. We can’t just say we aren’t the ones doing that and sit back and think we’re good and others have to change. We have to stand up and make the change happen, let others know we won’t tolerate racist remarks in everyday conversation and discrimination in our jobs and social culture, we won’t support violence against people of color in any place in society. Only with all our voices together will our society know how many people support this change. In the end, we want a society where every living being is loved and respected, but this one particular battle of ending discrimination needs to be won on a separate field before we’ll ever get to that goal.
An example of something everyone can do
Last month I’d made the remark that “language matters” when writing about using the term “Animal Guardian”. The actual words we choose to express something are meaningful and I gave the example that I use the word “who” as a pronoun for animals even though it’s generally used only for humans; I decided long ago to use it for any sentient being.
If you listen to yourself and others, you’ll often find some responses, descriptive phrases, epithets and other common words and phrases that we’ve been accustomed to using that have a basis in racism, whether they involve African Americans or Native Americans or Jewish people or lots of other groups who have been set aside from the white culture in this and other countries by the language we historically used to describe them. Recently a friend of mine, who is actually quite liberal and progressive and a very nice and generous person, told me when I was buying my car that I should try to “Jew the man down”. My jaw dropped. I stopped him and asked him if he’d heard what he’d said, I had to repeat it back to him and he really had no good reason for having said it except that it was a longtime habit in his language. I know he “didn’t really mean it that way”, but we are responsible for what we say. Because, you know, that leads to a society that shows respect for everyone in it.
I have tried to scour my language of those things from the time I heard myself saying that one some time in college. After years of speech therapy and learning to plan what I say before I say it, I really consider what I say and I’m shocked when some of those old phrases still want to come up.
Along the same lines I respect the titles and language people have given their movements and don’t use them for other purposes just because they seem clever. I started seeing the hashtag “blackcatsmatter” a few years ago, and then following that “allcatsmatter”, “eartippedcatsmatter” and other combinations of cats mattering.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin and picked up speed after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, and it has continued to represent the killing of unarmed black people that just won’t seem to stop.
You know I love black cats, and eartipped cats, and all cats, and so on. But I find the modified use of this hashtag to be disrespectful to the Black Lives Matter movement, and its use waters down the effectiveness of the original movement. I know most people who use it would mean no disrespect, and it’s a natural thing in social media to co-opt clever language and hashtags. But this is one instance where we are not looking at what we’re doing before we do it. So, if you use it, please think about what you’re doing.
 “About Pets & People” https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html
 “The Link: Cruelty to Animals and Violence Towards People” https://www.animallaw.info/article/link-cruelty-animals-and-violence-towards-people
 “COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html
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