Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Inkindness to Aminals

It’s hard to tell how I as a teenager came to be interested in animal welfare. Like many of my friends, I had a pet dog. I’d had it for seven years when my dad, let’s say for business reasons, had her put down. I was fourteen, and I remember that this experience of grief and loss was far more painful than when either my maternal grandparents had died ten years earlier, or even when my other grandma passed away about a year later; later, that is, than my dog. My knowledge of animals apart from my canine companion was severely limited. We lived in Ardwick, near the heart of Manchester. We were fortunate to enjoy occasional visits to the nearby Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, but there again I preferred the more human spectacle of Speedway Racing, the famous Belle Vue Aces, and the funfair. The characters in the books I read as a boy were in the main human. My fictional heroes were Biggles, Just William, and Superman: so human if not superhuman. The only animal characters I found at all sympathetic were Rupert Bear and King Kong, though I must say that as a teenage boy I did find mermaids strangely alluring. I was perhaps more familiar than most young people with dead animals, in that my father, a grocer, frequently took delivery of pig carcasses, which he would then bone and cut and sell as bacon, gammon steaks, ribs and pork joints. During my teenage years we lived as a family over my father’s shop. We were as you might say ‘open all hours’.

I know that by my late teens my conscience was troubled. Apart from sex (and mermaids) and the things that trouble most teenagers, I had got religion. I’d presented myself earnestly as a confirmation candidate at the age of seventeen and in so doing had come to know our local Rector who was an ardent. outspoken, and extremely courageous pacifist. For him Christianity meant loving your enemies and not killing them. It made simple sense to me at the time, perhaps not quite such simple sense as I got older, but the thing that really grabbed me was the underlying philosophy of reverence for life. The Rector was fond of quoting Albert Schweitzer, and it might have been this that influenced me more. Schweitzer’s teaching went much further than a prohibition on killing other human beings who happened to be on the wrong side of a war. He taught that Christians should refrain from the killing of any creature, great or small, wondrously fashioned as they all are by God. And this presented me with a conflict that I still struggle to resolve. At mealtimes I began to imagine the messy and possibly painful process that had brought the meat to my plate. And the more I imagined, the less I liked what I imagined. The less I saw on the table a slice of bacon or beef, and the more I saw a bit of dead pig, or dead cow, slaughtered in the prime of it’s life, the less I enjoyed my dinner. The obvious solution was to become vegetarian, which very soon I did, and have so remained for about the last forty of my sixty-two years.

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