Into the Great Wide Open

Since going vegan in 2013, my view of animals has changed so much. I used to be that person who thought of animals as “just animals” and that eating cows, pigs, and chickens were “just the way things are”, never giving them any thought beyond that.

In June of this year, Julian and I adopted our first dog, something I know I would never have done had I not been vegan. Even the animals we are conditioned to love and care for and not eat, I viewed as more of a nuisance or obligation; I didn’t really “get” the love that people had for their pets and I certainly didn’t see those pets as individuals or companions, mainly because I’d never experienced it before. We had a dog when I was about 4 or 5 who was returned to the shelter when she tore the kitchen curtains up. We had a cat when I was in grade school who was given away when we moved cities. This attitude of animals being disposable if they inconvenienced us continued when my brother was old enough to get a dog (I don’t know what happened to his dog because I had moved out of the house by then. All I know is the dog did not stay long). By the time I was on my own, I knew I never wanted pets, which, on one hand was good because I still viewed animals as expendable but it was also – to use an expression I’ve learned from therapy – a missed experience. Had I developed a better understanding of animals and a proper empathy toward them, I could have provided a loving home to one for many years.

After going vegan, I still didn’t consider myself to be “an animal person” and in fact, it bothers me when people assume vegans are “just animal lovers” because choosing a vegan diet is about so much more than that. Yes, animals can be “cute” but that’s not why I don’t eat them – it’s because I don’t want them to be exploited or killed on my behalf.

As I continued to read more about animals, such as pigs being smarter than most dogs, cows having nearly 360° vision, and chickens being able to recognize up to 100 birds in their flock, I began to see all animals differently, including the ones I took for granted walking by the off-leash dog park each day.

The more I learned about animal behaviour, the more I saw them as individuals – just as people are – with their own likes and dislikes, their own capacity to feel joy and pain.  I started to think about adopting an animal but would push the thought out of my mind, afraid I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons: trying to fill some void in my life, or because they were “cute”, or because I wanted someone to love. Not that these are necessarily wrong motives but I didn’t want the reasons to be about me – it had to be about the animal. Too often bringing animals into our lives is only about us – filling our needs, adjusting to our desires, meeting our expectations – and that’s the whole problem with animals in the food supply chain and why abhorrent cruelty continues to be inflicted on them. I didn’t want to perpetuate this lopsided system by owning a pet.

But I also knew I had changed – I knew that if I adopted an animal, it would be with the attitude that our home would also be theirs – forever. I was not the same person I once was and my worldview toward them had dramatically shifted.  I also saw adopting an animal as a form of activism. After seeing animals on slaughterhouse trucks, and being unable to do anything outside of bearing witness by taking pictures and video to show others that these beings existed, I knew that adopting an animal was a way of providing sanctuary for at least one of them, even though tens of millions of farm animals will never get that chance.

After much thought and discussion and trying several local rescues, we reached out to Soi Dog in Thailand. Three months later, our girl Swimmer arrived in our home and already we cannot imagine how we ever lived without her.

As I was vacuuming up a pile of Swimmer’s hair this weekend, the thought struck me: there was a time when having dog hair in the house would have driven me crazy. Now when I see clumps of it in the corner I think, “Aw, our dog was here!” There was a time when the smell of a dog as I entered the house would have made me want to immediately light a scented candle or spray deodorizer. Now I go to my dog, put my nose in her fur and inhale. I love her smell, even when she’s rolled in something questionable. There was a time when I wouldn’t get up before 7:00 a.m. unless the house were on fire. Now we get up at 6:00 a.m. to make sure our girl gets a good walk before we go to work. I didn’t think I had the capacity to see an animal in this way or love one as much as I do Swimmer. But here I am, eager to be home each day because I can’t wait to see her.

Opening my heart to an animal has been one of the greatest joys I’ve experienced in recent years, and all because one day I decided to find out how animals became “food”. Being vegan has been a game-changer for me, and if you’ve already opened your heart to the companion animals in your life, I encourage you to extend that same openness to the ones on your plate.

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