I write often about what makes people act. What motivates them to take action even when their friend, family and colleagues would find such action questionable? What their emotional tipping point is. In many cases people are motivated based on some unknown feeling deep within themselves – it defies logic, explanation or rationalization.
In the animal world this happens all the time. One has never been able to fully explain the true bond between humans and animals. Some people try and explain it by quoting scripture, Gandhi or a hundred other famous people whose words we have quoted in some cases for millennia. But it is one of those things that truly can’t be explained.
Even to me, trying to describe this bond defies explanation. A few years ago I had a job interview to run an elephant sanctuary and during the interview they asked why I loved elephants so much. In some ways it was the toughest question during the interview to answer because the only response I could muster was that there is an inexplicable bond between me and these majestic and gracious creatures. I think most animal people could relate to that response.
I remember once I was driving with a colleague on a cold and snowy night. Suddenly, without warning, she darted out of the car and began running into the darkness. I didn’t know what was happening. If it had been a date I would have understand such bizarre behavior! Then I noticed, faint in the distance, a dog running through the snow near a busy intersection. She must have possessed some magical sixth sense to even have noticed the dog, but at the risk to her own safety she did what she could to help this defenseless animal.
To me, that is the key. That is the reason. Every other living organism that possess the ability to feel, to act on those feelings, has a natural constituency to protect them. The elderly have their children, children have their parents, and we have our family and friends. Animals in the wild have that support. You see it in how gazelles follow the leader of the pack when they are in danger, you hear it when birds bellow out in a magical song instructions on where to go for food and you feel it when you see a mother elephant stampeding toward a poacher trying to harm her calf.
But in the world of humans, these animals have no protection. When we invade their homes, and take their refuge from them. When we inflict cruelty on them just for sport or in some cases for no reason other than exhibiting the cruelty that can exist inside a human. They are defenseless. Some people will try and rationalize this by claiming “it is the survival of the fittest” or “we are at the top of the food chain and so should be able to do as we please”. Let me be clear. I grew up as a hunter. I grew up hunting animals for sustenance. I ate everything I killed. To me, that is just as animals are. They feed on other animals for sustenance. But killing defenseless animals not for food, locking them in cages no larger than a piece of paper and subjecting them to continuous cruelty, killing them while their family watches just so you can make an ivory trinket, forcing a horse to have a specific gait by making them walk with chemicals and nails strapped to the bottom of their feet, shooting pigeons just so you can brag to your friends at church on Sunday, or testing cosmetics on them when other alternatives exist, bears no resemblance to the humans I wish to associate.
But it’s not only that. When dogs and cats that have been cared for by a human and then abandoned in our suburbs and on the side of our country roads, who is there to care for them, feed them, help them survive. They aren’t wild animals. They are domesticated animals and to me, abandoning them is the ultimate cruelty. They depended on us. They trusted us and we betrayed them.
So this is why we act. This is the reason we do what we do to help them. They are defenseless. They have no one else but us and in our society people who turn their backs on them and feel they deserve no representation, no defense is how we will be judged. As Gandhi said, “[t]he greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
This isn’t about giving animals the same rights as humans. This about doing what is right. This is about helping those that can’t help themselves. That is the mark of a society that I wish to live in and raise my children in.
But as is the case in most every state and at the federal level, the only way to bring about these protections is through new laws and the overturning of laws that enable this cruelty to exist. I am not a big government guy. I do not believe it is government’s responsibility to dictate morality. But I do believe that in a society when the people won’t do what is right, when they will use a law to justify cruelty, then I do believe that is government’s responsibility to take action.
But just as I wish people would do on their own what is right, government is no different. It is up to us to push for these protections. That is what I did in my years working as the Political Director for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund. We pushed government and elected officials to do what is right and to do what the people wanted and not what some special interest wanted that in almost in every instance represented the minority of our society. Don’t get me wrong, there are good people in government but sadly not always enough to do what is right. That is where the people come into the equation. They must be on the front lines of protecting those that can’t protect themselves. They are the ones having to remind our lawmakers what cruelty is. They are the ones who give selflessly of their time, their pocket books and their emotions.
When I sat down to write this blog I was concerned that I would have a hard time finding the words to explain how I felt and filling a page. But as is the case when talking about animals, once I started, and for some inexplicable reason the words just flowed. It is one of my emotional tipping points and there is little I wouldn’t do to help defend those that can’t defend themselves. I am proof of the power of finding that emotional tipping point. It exists within every voter, stakeholder, consumer and the general public – and when you find it, awaken it and harness it - there is nothing you can’t accomplish.
All the best,