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Growing Up

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had this fondness for animals, all animals, especially the ones that few other people care about. This is what led me to become vegan, to intern at Farm Sanctuary, to adopt my two pigs, Riley and Petunia, to write about animal rights and veganism, and to try my best to promote changes to the way our society treats nonhuman animals. Before all of that though, I just enjoyed being around them.

When I was young, one of my favorite things to do was to wander through the woods, the creek, and the fields, looking for creatures. It was so exciting for me to lift up rocks or logs and see what sort of animal might be hiding underneath. I feel rather guilty about this now, thinking of how much I must have frightened them but, at the time, I just wanted to see them, hold them, understand them. Of all the various species I caught, my favorites were always the snakes. I found them endlessly intriguing.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was homeschooled as a child. So, it wasn’t until I went to public school that I found out other people didn’t think about nonhuman animals the same way I did. I mean, I knew that some didn’t; I grew up in a very rural area, so hunting was a favorite pastime of many people. I always thought, “As long as I stay away from the hunters, I’ll be fine.” Of course, this was challenging in and of itself, but I soon learned that killing animals for no good reason (not that there even is such a thing as a good reason) extended far beyond that one group.

            I don’t even know how many times, during my early years, I heard other kids talk about how they or their parents had killed a snake they found in their yard. More often than not, this snake was a “copperhead” despite the fact that, in all of my years actively seeking out snakes, I had never seen a single one. I would explain to these kids that copperheads were actually very rare and that the snakes they found were almost certainly not copperheads, and not dangerous at all, but they never cared. It didn’t really matter to them what kind of snake it was. Claiming that it was venomous just made for a better story. Or perhaps it was that their parents had instilled such a fear of snakes in them that they saw all of them as deadly. Either way, it became quite clear to me that other people simply didn’t value life to way that I did.

I remember a particular incident, in middle school. We were in gym class, and someone noticed a bug crawling across the floor. There was a whole group of us standing around and the creature was running frantically, trying to get away from us. One girl started screaming and stomping her feet in an attempt to kill it. I dropped to my knees and began trying to scoop the bug up. Of course, he didn’t know that I was trying to help him and was just as frightened of me as he was of everyone else. So, I kept chasing him back and forth between the cluster of feet, all while the one girl continued to yell and try to smash him. I failed that day; eventually, the bug dodged me, and her foot came right down on top of him. As soon as this happened, she instantly acted like everything was fine. I’m sure she completely forgot that this incident ever occurred. I, on the other hand, thought about it every time I saw her all the way through high school. 

Not long after that, one of my teachers took our class for a walk. On the way back, I found a baby bird lying on sidewalk. Luckily, this was my last class of the day, so I scooped the bird up and brought her back to school with me. (Just to clarify, my family had raised several abandoned baby birds, in the past, so we knew how to take care of them.) When we got back to the classroom, everyone gathered around to see what I was holding in my hands. I showed them the bird and explained that I had found her on the sidewalk. Most of them seemed somewhat intrigued, but one boy said, “You should’ve stepped on it.” At that point in my life, I think that was the most horrible thing I had ever heard anyone say. I couldn’t comprehend why it would even occur to a person to murder this helpless baby, just because she was there.

There had been plenty of times, before this, when I had been alerted to the fact that I was not like these other kids. I already knew that I didn’t think like them, or act like them, or care about the same things they did, but this was when I realized how deep the difference between us truly was. It was around this same time when I stopped eating meat, and when I decided that I had no interest in what the vast majority of people thought about me. For me, growing up meant seeing all the ugliness in the world, and in people, and leaning to exist along side it, to see it, to acknowledge it, and to do what little I can to fix it.

Whitney 


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