I recently completed a course through the University of Edinburgh on Animal Welfare and Behaviour. It covered everything from dogs and cats (pets, meat, street dogs) to lab research animals to dairy cows and egg laying chicken to slaughterhouses. As an animal lover, long time vegetarian, and recent vegan, a lot of it was kind of a refresher for me, but there were also a lot of things I hadn’t been aware of.
If I had to sum it up, though, the one take-home message that really stuck with me is, “how does the animal perceive it?” In hindsight, it seems like it should be intuitive, but I’d never quite thought of it that way before. A dog has no ability to comprehend that she is a pet vs being raised for meat, that she is being raised for meat vs living as a stray on the streets; all she has the ability to comprehend is her immediate surroundings.
I think it’s easy to write off farmed animals especially (“Well, they’re being raised for meat anyways and will be killed soon – does it matter how they’re treated? That’s their purpose!”); but the thing is, it does matter. Because that cow doesn’t understand that it’s being raised to be food – it just knows it’s immediate circumstances.
I think it’s really helpful for all humans to try to think, regardless whether they’re looking at their pet dog, a fish, a cow, whatever, “How does this creature perceive it’s surroundings and quality of life?” rather than as “This one is a pet, that one is meat, and that one is for fashion.” These creatures didn’t choose their purpose in life. Humans did. And we have a responsibility to make that life as happy and safe and healthy as possible.