Goethe wrote, Knowledge without action is meaningless. This philosophy is core to The Kerulos Center mission. Recognizing animal sentience only makes a difference to animals if this understanding is translated into concrete action.
However, sometimes we encounter contradictions.
During the shift to a trans-species paradigm, we must contend with the legacy of the human society in which we still live.
Paraducks explores such conflicts in people's lives and how they are able, or not, to resolve these difficult ethical paradoxes.
In our current ParaDucks installment, we feature VINE Sanctuary co-founder and director, Miriam Jones, who reflects on the tension between safety and freedom in animal sanctuary work.
Miriam Jones: Security or Self-Determination?
Photo credit: VINE Sanctuary
Things can get tricky when an animal liberationist (someone who believes that it is only ethical if non-human animals initiate contacts and relationships with humans) devotes years of her life to working in sanctuary. It is important to note that sanctuary, while it serves animals, nonetheless entails thousands of feet of fencing to confine and keep hundreds of animals where you want them.
None of the animals who live here at our sanctuary, with the exception of those born here, have come of their own will. It is true that they were rescued from extreme abuse and near certain death and brought to a place that ensures lifetime care and love. However, often they are subjected to things that are not pleasant and not given the choice.
For example, think about forcing a pigeon to live in a cage for four months while you force food and water down her throat and wait for the PMV (paramyxovirus) outbreak to subside, or forcing a cow into a "comfort chute" to trim her hooves.
Jack shares his meal. Photo
We are also in the position of taking (often fertile) eggs away from chickens so they don't have babies in full knowledge of the fundamental right this violates as well as the posibility of causing psychological trauma. Chickens, parrots, and others sometimes go into profound depression when they lose their eggs.
All of these activities and others are commonplace at sanctuaries. They are activities most of us think nothing of, because we have determined that they are in the best interests of individual animals. Yet they effectively rob animals of their right to self-determination.
Just because we believe (or even because we know) that rescued non-human animals have avoided exploitation, torture or death by living at sanctuary does not change the fact that we too are guilty of imposing our human will upon them.
A Mindful Choice
At VINE Sanctuary, we keep these questions, and knowledge, in our minds at all times. At every turn, when making every decision, we consider whether or not it's conducive to maximum freedom while at the same time taking into consideration the vulnerabilities created by thousands of years of domestication, forced breeding, restrictive environments, and so forth. Millennia-old intrusions by humans have animals to live lives of compromise.
We do our best to ensure that the (non-human) people who live here are provided with the most freedom to be who they are and do what they wish given their personality, where they are on the feral-domestic continuum, and the presence of predators in this part of the world (including fisher cats as well as pick-up trucks).
Letting Her Decide
Pacifico, aloft. Photo credit: VINE Sanctuary.
If a former cockfighting hen chooses to sleep 50 feet up in a tree, we don't stop her. We've seen and gotten to know enough hens over the years to know that they retain knowledge and instincts despite what humans have done to be able to make this decision wisely.
Ethically, we can't imagine taking that choice away from her. On the other hand, if a chicken who's been bred and raised for her flesh (i.e., so-called "fryers") wanted to sleep out under a bush, we wouldn't let her. Our decision is based on knowledge that her self-protective instincts, as well as her lean, fit, able body, have been stolen from her, and she wouldn't stand a chance with predators. We know that, even if she doesn't.
Once all decisions have been made, we rejoice in the voluntary contact that we receive from many of the animals who live here—the times when BooBoo, the 14-year-old tiny rooster, calls for one of us to pick him up; occasions when Snowball the elderly cow decides to give us a slimy kiss; moments when Brooklyn the cat barrels into us out of nowhere when we're weeding the garden.
These and other moments are precious. Nonetheless, our joy is tempered by the knowledge that true consent is all but impossible in the rarefied sanctuary world. Still, we have learned to take joy when it comes. All we can do is watch and try and hope that the animals who we've brought here experience their own forms of joy as often as possible.
Pancho and Jasper. Photo credit: VINE Sanctuary.
Ethical dilemmas aside, we are committed to this work. Every life saved from the clutches of human society's death machine is a valuable one. It is a powerful statement. It is a powerful statement to the world that there are humans who choose to spend money to care for "farm" animals instead of making a living on animal suffering.
Every human we encourage to become vegan (i.e., plant-based diet plus clothing and other items not made from non-human animals) saves hundreds of animals from misery. At the same time, we never forget—not for a moment—that most of our actions at the sanctuary are a compromise for the animals, and make sense only in the context of the ongoing war being waged against non-human animals.