For 15 years I have fostered children, some convicted as criminals, many mentally ill after years of abuse, neglect or exposure to depravity. And through this decade and a half, I knew that if any of the kids in my care were becoming more whole, I could attribute it to the healing power of the animals on my farm more than any other factor (that and turning them into food snobs).
I fight for animals because they are truly "the least of these" and are not yet part of our moral universe, and because fighting for them is one way of fighting for people, for children and for my community.
People everywhere say they want to live in a safe community, and respectable people decry criminality. But what if having a safe place to live depends on a simpler ethic than having a hard-core justice and police system to chase and punish criminals? What if a safer community could be achieved through showing simple, Golden Rule kindness to animals as just one basic starting point (among others)?
If one of the first signs of psychopathy is abuse of animals, it is difficult not to extrapolate this fact out to the larger society, which, on the whole, tends to treat animals with contempt and worse. But just as there are degrees in anything, I do believe that how a community attends to the wellbeing of its animals is a sign of its health or disease. And people and communities can evolve, as in the recent change to EBI (lethal injection) from gassing dogs at the Athens County Dog Shelter.
Look out at your neighborhood. Do you see that lonely, bored, thirsty, flea-bitten dog on that three-foot chain? The children of the neighborhood are seeing that dog, too. And the message is that this is the way to treat a dog. Many kids are watching their parents spend large quantities of money on Petland puppies, who come from horrendous breeding farms, only to take the dog to the pound when it becomes too much trouble. Many other questionable practices are taking place in our county, among the more troubling instances of cruelty: dogs fed and watered infrequently, ignored most of the time, not vetted, shot if they don't hunt just right, dumped or thrown out of cars, bred in small cages or kennels till they are sick or nearly dead.
Cats are left to breed and starve and worse. Horses and farm animals more often than not suffer the worst abuse man can think of. All the while, our children watch and learn.
Most people think of themselves as good people. We wonder, actively ponder out loud, why there are so many drug-abusing young people who seem to lack any compassion or hope. And we go to church and worship a creator without thinking that this creator also created animals. And yet, many believe we have no responsibility to do the right thing toward them; there will be no consequences. We won't have to reap the neglect and cruelty sown because animals don't matter.
And all along, the consequences stare us in the face as our children go to pieces as young adults and our society seems crazier and scarier every day. This is how we reap what we sow: We have to live in, and send our children forth into a sad and violent society that doesn't honor life in its various forms, not even human life.
What if our children were taught to care for and honor animals as an important part of their upbringing, to ensure their mental health and ultimately, to build, for them, a better place to live?
If anyone is interested in joining their voice with
mine to address overpopulation, K-12 humane education and other local animal
issues, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From my last letter asking for help, I only got a single response.
Editor's note: Lily Reeves is an Athens County farmer and concerned citizen.