Over the past several weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with friends and colleagues about how often we are questioned on our choice to work in animal welfare. And how, as a consequence, we often feel the need to defend that choice.
Now let me get something clear here, I’m not talking about defending the extreme or illegal actions sometimes associated with animal activists, I'm simply talking about my choice to work in animal welfare and my reasons for doing so. When I tell people what I do I’m met with a variety of responses, but the one I'm talking about here is when I’m occasionally expected to defend my choice of profession to someone who questions my priorities or my sense of compassion. When I've said that I work in animal welfare I've, more than once, been asked, ‘Why do you only care about animals? What about... children being abused or homelessness or poverty or cancer or heart disease, and so on and so on." It makes me wonder whether, in their eyes, does me choosing to work in animal welfare preclude me from caring about other things? And when did there suddenly become a right or wrong thing to care about? It’s not like we wake up each day with an allotted amount of compassion. “I only have enough caring inside of me for these things today; everything else is just going to have to wait until a space opens up.” And it’s not like my caring about animals causes more suffering in other areas. A child doesn’t die of malnutrition because I’m rescuing a dog. But this is exactly my point. Why do we still feel the need to defend ourselves? Why is my default position to try and justify that I actually care enough about something that I am prepared to dedicate my life to it? How did that ever become something that needed defending? And one thing I've never understood is why animal welfare is so often seen as the poor relation to other areas of compassion? If I were as dedicated to child poverty I can’t imagine people coming up to me and questioning my choices then. What I have found is that sometimes, the people who question my choices the most are not people who have made an equivalent choice elsewhere but people who've made no choice at all. I wonder what they care about. Does belittling my beliefs somehow make theirs stronger? Are their moral values better than mine? Compassion isn’t something you should have to pick and choose. Everything is important. We don’t spend Saturday mornings wandering around the morality section at IKEA deciding how we should furnish our lives so we can sleep better at night.
We make sacrifices and compromises every day because in the real world we have to. We can’t save everything and everyone but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There’s a difference between what is right and what is easy. If our aim is to end suffering, in whatever form it comes, human or animal, then we should never feel the need to defend ourselves. It's the people who question and criticise the need to help and show compassion that should have to defend themselves. The question isn’t why do I care but why do they not.