About that dog: A dog died on a plane earlier this month.
My Facebook and Twitter blew up with the story of the 10-month-old French bulldog who died on a United Airlines plane after the flight attendant required the animal to be placed in the overhead bin during the flight. A “shaken” passenger began posting on Twitter and the story spread. Three days later, the Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was introduced in the Senate, calling on the Federal Aviation to make rules against animals in overhead bins.
In 2017, 40 animals died on planes. When one dog’s story went viral, pet protection legislation was introduced in three days.
About the elephant: Killing elephants for “trophies” is legal again.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) this month withdrew its conclusions from the 2017 Endangered Species Act and will now consider trophy import permits on a case by case basis. “Trophy” means animal parts — raw or preserved — which may include “bones, claws, hair, head, hide, hooves, horns, meat, skull, teeth, tusks or any taxidermied part, including, but not limited to, a rug or taxidermied head, shoulder or full mount.”
Our collective conscience is alerted only when we see a picture of a man triumphantly displaying his trophy, like the severed tail of the elephant he just killed. Sometimes, he is the son of the president of the United States whose administration is appointing trophy hunters to staff the International Wildlife Conservation Council.
African elephants are at high risk for extinction. If elephants had a voice we could hear, they would introduce themselves to us as active stewards of the eco-systems where they live. When elephants go, so will a number of other plants and animals. A piece of our planet dies with each elephant trophy.
Elephant slaughter stories are not going viral. No U.S. senators are rushing to protect the elephants. There is no one elephant whose name we know and whose story relates directly to us. Over 60 million of our households own dogs and about 47 million own cats.
But there was this cow . . . who escaped from a Brooklyn slaughterhouse. Some of the 120 spectators used their cellphones to broadcast the escapade to thousands who followed online. Even a steak-eater was cheering for the cow who eventually was granted sanctuary at the Skylands Sanctuary and Animal Rescue in New Jersey.
Each year, 29,000,000 cows are killed or maimed by the U.S. animal agriculture industry in dairy and meat production. Each of us could personally save 95 animals a year, most of which are fish, if we didn’t consume animals and their by-products.
Unquestioned in our faith communities is our enthusiastic participation in animal agriculture and the big business interests that are fed by our food choices.
Animal consumption affects not only animals but the welfare of people and our faith-based justice work:
- Water shortage
- Water pollution
- Rainforest destruction
- Hunger relief
- Health care crisis
- Institutional racism
- Land and energy resources
Our care for these may not turn anyone away from hamburgers and hot dogs immediately.
But as we strategize our faith responses to justice issues, why can’t we bring into the conversation the effects of animal agriculture?
My own United Church of Christ recently lifted up World Water Day without a mention of the impact of animal agriculture on water. Why can’t we talk about it?
Can we at least talk about how animal life and human life is interdependent? Can we talk about how violence toward animals is often a sign/precursor of violence toward humans?
Last Saturday, millions of students and supporters participated in “March for Our Lives” all around the world. Students challenged us to vote out the politicians who support the big business of gun sales which supports a culture of violence. And yet, some would silence them. Some say that the answer to violence are more people with more guns.
Can we talk about how unnoticed violence against farm animals contributes to a culture of violence?
Dare we explore the intersection of our food choices with our justice commitments?
And if we are going to talk about children leading, can we include animals and their well-being as part of that picture of interdependence and redemption?
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)
Engaging with the elephant in the room — and giving voice to the cow and the dog and the children who lead — it’s challenging, no doubt. Let’s do it anyway, faith-full-y. Those hard-to-have conversations might very well nourish body, soul and the planet.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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