Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals



Book excerpt 5

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You see life in our civilised society is not always so civilised and often the most vulnerable members of the community are the ones most victimised. The elderly, the poor, the intellectually disabled and the psychological troubled often find themselves destitute, alone, and defenseless against violence that is directed against them.
Animals are another group that often bears the brunt of society’s ignorance and hostility. Science, sport and agriculture are all responsible for pain and suffering in billions of beautiful creatures who have committed no crime and have no hope of salvation. They cannot even speak on their own behalf. Yet, so many people turn a blind eye and some never see their pain at all.

Animal lovers not only see these actions but they feel the pain. We suffer along with the animals we care so deeply about. We cannot ignore the hungry dog or cat or the rabbit being terrified by the school bully. We cannot forget them because we know how they feel and we have an overwhelming desire to help them.

As I discussed earlier, I strongly believe that many animal lovers are born loving animals. It is a part of their makeup, as much as their eye colour, preference in food or sporting ability. I also believe that a part of this ‘genetic code” definitely contains a heightened level of compassion for all forms of life, as it is one of the strongest and most common characteristics of animal lovers.

So what about non-animal lovers or the just plain animal likers? While I’m sure some of these people also possess heightened levels of compassion it is usually directed at other members of the human race. I think that for these people, their level of compassion for animals is influenced by a number of factors including:

  • Family life
  • Exposure to violence in the media
  • Religion
  • And the society in which they live.

1. Family life

I believe that the family environment is perhaps the most critical aspect governing the development of compassion for animals in the child. If a child is shown love and respect then it is fair to say that the child should reciprocate that love and respect for other human beings. If the family also extends their love toward non-human animals then the child should learn to accept animals as equals, worthy of their compassion and respect.

Alana and Bonny

Alana and Bonny

However, if the child grows up in an environment where non-human animals are viewed as subordinates or “objects”, it is unlikely that the child will afford them much worth. While this type of environment does not necessarily induce cruelty, it does produce a certain amount of ambivalence towards non-human animals. The child may not feel compelled to act on behalf of an animal in pain or protect them from acts of cruelty inflicted by others. Depending on the degree of ambivalence, the child may consider an animal as having less sensation of physical pain than a human does or in extreme cases – none at all.

While I believe that family life and the family environment has a huge influence on the development of compassion for animals, there are other factors which come into play including the child’s personality as well as the influence of other people close to the child.

To demonstrate this point, think about these five different scenarios…

  • Sarah lives in an inner-city flat. She is the only child of Tony and Marie, two dentists in a private practice partnership. Sarah has music and dance lessons and receives extra tuition in maths and science. They holiday each year at a resort on the Whitsundays. Sarah has no contact with animals apart from the pigeons that roost on the balcony and those that she sees on television. While they interest her to a degree, they also frighten her, so she has no real desire to make contact with them.
  • Luke is the third child in a family of seven. His family has a collection of animals including a dog, cat, rabbit and guinea pig. The animals are not allowed inside because they smell and have fleas. When the family goes away for the weekend, they simply leave out extra food for the animals. Luke used to have a budgie but he left it out in the sun with no water on a hot day and it died. Luke’s parents told him that it flew away and have promised to buy him another one.
  • Troy lives with his parents and little sister in the southern suburbs of Sydney. His family has two dogs and a cat, all rescued from the pound. They are wormed, vaccinated and treated for fleas and considered part of the family. When the family goes on holiday, they take their dogs with them and board Peter the cat. Magic, their old cat died last year and they buried her and planted a rose bush in her memory. They still talk about her and remember the good times.
  • Kate lives on a farm and is surrounded by animals. She helps to raise baby lambs which eventually join the herd and are sent to market. The family also kills their own pigs and chooks and Kate has witnessed this on several occasions. They have six farm dogs that are not considered family pets so Kate is discouraged from petting them. However her mother has a spoilt Maltese terrier that sleeps on the bed and bites anyone who tries to discipline her.
  • Shelly lives in the inner city. Both her mother and father drink heavily. She is often hungry and left alone to entertain her little sister Josie. Shelly’s mother bought her a puppy and a kitten to compensate for the lack of parental love, however her father strangled the kitten in a drunken rage because it wet on the kitchen floor. Shelly now tries to hide the puppy from her father.

While we can speculate about a likely outcome in each case, there are always exceptions to the rule. While some children accept the attitudes and beliefs of their parents unquestioningly, others will strive to make their own judgments and live life by their own code.

  • Will Sarah’s curiosity cause her to have contact with animals in later life or will she copy her parent’s lifestyle and remain estranged from them?
  • Will Luke grow up thinking that animals are expendable or will he learn to be responsible and conscientious?
  • Will Troy continue to be caring and responsible towards animals or will he lose interest and become obsessed with money?
  • Will Kate take over the family farm and marry a farmer or will she rebel, become a vegetarian and join animal liberation?
  • And will Shelly repeat the cycle of abuse that she has been unfortunate enough to be born into or will she find purpose and solace in looking after her little sister and the puppy and grow up to be a champion of the underdog?

While I believe family life has a huge influence on the development of a person’s compassion for animals, it must be viewed as one of a number of factors. One of these other factors is media…

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