I Was A Hypocrite About How I Treated Animals

<p> Anne E. McGuigan </p>

Let me begin by thanking everyone for the outpouring of love and sympathy offered to me after the death of my little kitty cat, Chimpy. I am truly overwhelmed and very grateful. I received e-mails, missives on Facebook and of course kindly comments on my website. It was my intention to follow up Chimpy's tribute with a post outlining how my veganism has changed the way I think about all creatures on this earth and just much how these furry persons we know personally can impact our lives, whether they live with us or not. I am sitting down to do so now, with all your kind comments, condolences and best wishes floating around in my bruised heart.

Faithfull Bertha
Photo: Anne E. McGuigan

Chimpy is not the first furry friend to whom I have said goodbye. In order of loss - not importance - there was mom's dog, Sal; our dogs: Bertha, Elfie, Mac, Lucy; my daughter's cat, Baguette and my mother's dog, Birdie. I had a relationship with all of these beings and loved them for their individuality, their personalities, their quirky ways and their varying degrees of return of affection to me.

Baguette and Me
Photo: Anne E. McGuigan

I advocated strongly for all of these beings when they needed me. I provided those who lived with me a warm place in which to sleep, food, medical help and companionship. I will admit freely and a bit ashamedly that when our children were young and we were racing around doing what we thought we had to do "make" it in this world, we did not take our dogs for enough walks or play with them as much as we should have. But we did care for them in a loving way. And they rewarded us by being devoted, wagging their tails, being happy to see us and providing comfort for us when we did not feel well. Baguette, the little kitty cat graced us with her fun loving spirit and contended purrs which filled the empty spaces in our home. Most were more than happy to share a sick bed with us in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of the week. That was always such a great and blessed feeling.

I valued the presence in my life of all these animals. It is crucial to note that while I was taking care of them I was also consuming their confreres enslaved on farms, wearing non-human animal skin in the form of clothing, shoes, purses and wallets, visiting zoos and aquariums. I lusted after cars with "leather" (a.k.a. hide) seats and furniture with that unmistakable smell and feel of skin, all the while keeping our abode and clothes and personal selves clean with products that had been tested on animals and most certainly contained the by-products of slaughtered animals.

Zoo-ed Lion
Zoo-ed lion. Photo: WikiMedia Commons / Public domain

There is a certain hypocrisy there that no doubt colored my understanding and acknowledgement of the inherent value my furry companions had and have for their own lives. We fast forward to present day and here I am an "enlightened" vegan having just lost a very good friend of mine - little Chimpy. But hey, this loss feels so different this time. It dawns on me slowly, like the spreading of ripples on a lake after a stone has been skipped on its glossy surface, that all feeling and sentient beings exist for their own reasons, for their own purposes, separate and distinct from any connection they many have with me. I had "book learned" this after becoming vegan and have, on occasion, expressed this view in writing. I never really understood it fully until a few days after I had looked into the eyes of a determined cat when he was fighting for his life and then, sadly, when he wasn't.

Bella, keeping watch
Photo: Anne E. McGuigan

It isn't just about me and my sense of loss, because little Chimpy was here not just for me, but for himself as well and most certainly for others in his life. People ask me how my other two cats are reacting and I realize now that I made a mistake when I brought Chimpy home to be buried. Overwhelmed by my sorrow and my tears, I did not give Bella and Rosie the opportunity to say goodbye. They might not have understood the ceremony of a funeral, but they most certainly would have an understanding of death and must have been aware that their friend was not well. I wish that I had allowed them to see Chimpy's body in order for them to have a bit of closure. Our serene Bella has taken to sitting in front of the patio door as if looking and waiting for Chimpy to come home. Rosie will stand in the middle of a room and cry, seemingly for no reason. I cannot say for sure they are mourning the loss of Chimp, but why not? I might be thought of by some as being anthropomorphic, but I beg to differ. On page 109 in his book, "When Elephants Weep:The Emotional Lives of Animals," Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has this to say about other species and grief:

"In the end, it hardly matters whether stags, beavers, seals, or elephants weep. Tears are not grief, but tokens of grief. The evidence of grief from other animals is strong. It is hard to doubt that Darwin's sobbing elephants were unhappy, even if their tears sprang from mechanical causes. A seal surely feels sad when its pup is killed, whether it is dry-eyed or not ... humans cannot know that the world of sorrow is beyond the emotional capacities of any animal. Sadness, nostalgia, disappointment, are feelings we know from direct experience; animals we know intimately hint at their parallel feeling in this dark world."

Grammie Annie's vegan view

With my somewhat enlightened eyes and heart, I will certainly not repeat the mistake of underestimating the emotional lives of the furry beings in my life and of all beings for that matter.

I have apologized to both Rosie and Bella for my insensitivity and mention Chimpy to them from time to time.

If, and hopefully when, we adopt another furry companion, I will show more respect for the family he or she is leaving behind - mother, siblings, cage mates, guardians. We took Chimpy away from his mother and Bella away from her sister without a second glance and I will forever regret that.

I am grateful for the enlightenment that comes my way from time to time in whatever form it comes. This time it was three little kitties who taught me something invaluable about the emotional lives of all species.