The question “why don’t animal activists care about people?” has many worthy responses, including the toll of animal agribusiness on workers and the environment, and the food and water resources that are used to feed animals that could feed hungry people instead.
All these answers are of course given to assure others that yes, we do care about people. And it’s absolutely true that people who care about animals tend to care about other social justice issues too.
Another response to this challenge comes from quotable thinkers like Gandhi and Schweitzer. “The greatness of a society and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals,” said the former; “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace,” said the latter.
Worthy as these sentiments are, in both cases the meaning is clear: we care about animals because it benefits human society to do so.
But this question deserves another kind of answer, one that is animal-centric rather than human-centric.
Here’s one simplistic answer: because somebody has to. Ask any PTA mom or neighborhood watch captain why they do it, and they’ll tell you: some of us do so much because other people do so little. Very few people are wiling to speak up for animals, therefore the call to do so may feel stronger than other causes.
If you gathered a cross-section of 100 intelligent, aware people in a room, I’ll bet 99 of them will tell you they care a lot about children. 90 of them will say they care about human health. 85 will say they care deeply about homelessness, hunger, and poverty. 80 of them will care about racism. 70 will care about the environment. 60 of them will care about reproductive rights. 50 of them will care about LGBT rights. Statistically speaking, less than half a person cares about animals, at least to the extent that they’re willing to stop eating them.
It’s often said that less than two cents of every dollar donated to charity goes to support animals. While I can think of no way to verify that factoid, those two cents have to stretch to cover a broad variety of issues from dog and cat rescue to farmed and exotic animal sanctuaries to wildlife conservation to animal activist defense.
We care about animals because the need for our support is so great. As our friends at I Heart AR say, “Because there are very few laws protecting animals, who cannot defend themselves against abuses by humans, it is that much more imperative that we stand up and ensure the defense of their lives and safety for them.”
Given the vast number of lives lost, animal activists address the number one cause of death in the world today. Animal exploitation is a holocaust whose proportions cannot be underplayed. Staunching this suffering, as best we can, should need no justification and no apology.
It may make people uncomfortable, but that shouldn’t stop us from explaining the animal-based reasons for animal activism.