By Michael Croland
We were graced with the company of our dog Emily for nearly a dozen years. For as long as I can remember, we have also had a poster in our house headed: “All I need to know about life I learned from my dog.” The poster’s content features various simplistic quips. Nevertheless, I learned the most profound lesson of all from my dog.
Since I was 8 years old, she showed me her different but respectable take on how to live what we live: life. When I rubbed her too hard, she moaned in pain. When she smelled food, she belted out in alleged hunger. When she let you rub her belly, both you and she felt the mutual aura of love. When you taught her behavior or anything else, she could process it mentally, understand it, and act according to her conception of right and wrong. Through it all, she communicated in her own way, she acted through her mind, and she felt pain and emotions.
Looking at the big picture, why is she different from any other being with those capacities? Why is it that she became an integral member of our family, and another dog might be experimented on or even eaten in some countries? How could a beagle in vivisection facilities endure futile medical research when they feel pain and suffer as we do? If not a beagle, then why should a monkey? And if neither the beagle nor the monkey should suffer for the benefit of selfish humans, then why should the rat, the rabbit, or the famed guinea pig? They are all victims of a systematic ideology that takes animals and subjugates them as mere absent referents to eat, turn into clothing, and be test subjects. Should these sentient beings be victims of a species hierarchy that dismisses their rights and welfare? No. No. A thousand times, no.
Instead, if we can love a dog or another human being, we recognize in that bond a reverence for the qualities inherent to life itself. Dominion does not mean domination. It is the responsibility of the human species, the supposed animal of reason to whom G-d granted stewardship over the animal kingdom, to take such rights into active consideration.
We must assert tolerance and respect for all life and denounce prejudice and systematically oppressive neglect. Emily had at least equal capacity to feel pain as a pig, cow, or other victim of this system. Her intellectual capacity was perhaps comparable to a newborn child or a retarded member of our own species. Why should we then hold up the faulty barrier of “species” to only respect people? We understand upon meeting an individual animal why his or her life is sacred. It’s important that we extend this consideration to all animal species and recognize their suffering, as well. A cow is not a burger, a mink is not a coat, and a beagle is not a research tool. A beagle was a member, or is a potential member, of a family with whom to share a loving bond or appreciate life’s precious qualities. And if not that, she’s a citizen of the natural world with rights to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Emily never had much respect for the squirrels she’d chase or the chickens she’d eat, but I do not fault her. I was fortunate to live with Emily this long, and she did teach me a fundamental life lesson: Animals are not mere objects; they are sentient beings with capacities for pain and pleasure whose rights and welfare we must not neglect. Emily taught me this lesson better than any activist, philosopher, or religious authority.
Emily, you may have only lived about 14 years, but I’m still young and fighting. I tried to explain this to you in the wee hours of the morning on the day you died, but rest assured: I will honor your lesson in my personal conduct and spread it far and wide with my writing and activism until the day I die. Thank you for being my teacher and sister.