How Could We?
by Delisa Renideo

(Seventeenth article)

As our culture evolves, we recognize the mistakes we have made in the past. I’m talking about things like slavery, racial discrimination, and gender bias. The thought of upstanding and respected men like Thomas Jefferson being slave holders seems so incongruous as to be almost unbelievable. Separate drinking fountains for black and white people seems totally ridiculous. Not allowing women to vote sounds illogical and inconceivable. How could good, intelligent people accept such circumstances? Yet we know that good, intelligent people not only accepted, but participated in these and other discriminatory and cruel practices. Thankfully, we now recognize how inappropriate and uncompassionate these conditions were. And we realize that we, as a culture, suffered from a form of blindness in not recognizing it at the time.

Now, much of our culture suffers from blindness regarding how we treat animals. We have animal slaves who have lost their freedom in much the same way as the human slaves who were stolen from Africa. Wild animals are stolen from their families, taken from their mothers, and brought to our zoos, circuses, and laboratories. They are confined or chained, separated from those they love, and forced to submit to cruel conditions and practices.

How could we do this? Well, we do it the same way we did it with human slaves. We deny that they have feelings, emotions, and needs that are basically the same as ours. We see them as objects rather than living, loving, feeling beings. We deny that they feel pain in the same way we do. We don’t look deeply into their suffering eyes where we would see the question, “How could you?“ This blindness on our part allows us to accept cruelty without question -- without guilt.

We consider it sport to play hide-and-seek in the woods with a high-powered rifle, and when we find our playmate, we kill him. And then we put his head on the wall of our den to show others what a great sport we are. Upstanding and good men and women engage in this sport, never considering it cruel, barbaric, or even uncompassionate. There is no thought given to the life that was taken, or the grief caused by this loss to those left behind. In our blindness, we never ask the question, “How could we?”

Some of our dogs and cats have a good life, curled up under our chair, playing chase the ball or string, and giving and receiving love and attention. We enjoy coming home to wagging tails, purrs, and that special look that says, “You’re the most important person in my life.” Research shows that our blood pressure is lower and we live longer and healthier because of these special relationships. The reciprocity of these relationships benefits both of us.

But sometimes our circumstances change and our friend becomes an inconvenience. Instead of curling up under our chair, Rover may now be chained to a doghouse in the backyard, where he waits all day hoping to see his favorite person. He now subsists on 30 seconds of attention when his meal is brought out each night. We have done our job, and turn back to the house without seeing the hurt and disappointment in his eyes. And if this gets to be too much trouble, we may just have to drop him off at the Borough Animal Shelter. As his eyes follow our retreating back, they register, “How could you?”

I so look forward to the day when we look back upon these situations the way we now look back upon slavery, racial discrimination and gender bias.

Delisa Renideo is a co-founder of Rays of Hope and can be reached at 373-1526.

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