Today is International Animal Rights Day, the aim of which is to persuade humanity that kindness and respect is due to all sentient creatures.
It has taken place on December 10 every year since 1998, with candlelit vigils to promote the rights of animals, which suffer in places such as factory farms and laboratories all over the world.
The animal rights movement – sometimes called animal liberation – believes that non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration human beings and should not be used as food, clothing, research subjects or entertainment. Most of those who believe in animal rights are vegetarian, meaning they do not eat animals, or vegan, meaning they don’t consume or wear anything that comes from an animal, including milk, eggs or wool.
Now, here’s my confession. I’m not vegetarian or vegan – although very many Wiccans are. Many believe that the Wiccan Rede of “An it harm none, do what ye will” means that no animal should be harmed for any reason, and certainly not killed for food.
I was vegetarian for about 10 years, back in my teens and early twenties. I was also a member of several organisations against cruelty to animals, I went on protests to stop fox hunting and marches to save the whale. I am still opposed to cruelty to animals, but my outlook is more akin to the animal welfare position – that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating animals so long there is no unnecessary suffering.
Death, in my opinion, is part of the natural cycle of life. although I also believe that every animal – humans and beasts – should be able to die with dignity and without pain.
I gave up being vegetarian after a lot of soul-searching. Most of my friends were vegetarian, as was my boyfriend at the time. He strongly disapproved of my change of heart. But I had long known that our attitude towards the death of animals differed.
One spring we decided to create a pond in his garden. Shortly afterwards, we noticed some tadpoles in it. At first we were both delighted.
But tadpoles, we soon learnt, do not all survive to become frogs. Some die. Some even eat each other. My boyfriend was horrified at the carnage in his beautiful pond and decided the tadpoles had to go. He said he would rather have a pond devoid of animal life than have animals dying in his garden.
My attitude was different. I was fascinated with watching the tiny creatures grow and develop. I wanted to see them turn into frogs, even if there were some casualties along the way. To me, this was all part of the natural cycle of life.
I offered to put extra food in the pond to deter acts of cannibalism, and to visit the pond regularly and remove any corpses so my boyfriend didn’t have to witness them. But it was to no avail. So we scooped up the tadpoles and transported them to a public ponds where other frogs were already living. I hope they were happy there.
It was shortly after that I stopped being vegetarian. I came to the conclusion that so long as animals had a happy life and were killed humanely, I was not opposed to people eating them. Humans are naturally omnivorous and that, to me, is as much part of the natural cycle of life as the tadpoles dying in the pond.
My boyfriend was shocked. We had a big row – several big rows in fact. Then we split up.
To be honest, I still rarely eat meat and when I do – like the Walrus in the poem by Lewis Carroll – I feel a little guilty.
I very much respect those who campaign for animal rights and for International Animal Rights Day I am happy to support the cause by lighting a candle for all those animals that have been badly treated by us humans, and by being vegetarian for the day.