Benign predators?

Last week, a veterinarian was out to look at one of the goats. While she was here, we got to talking about end-of-life situations. The goat in question, Flo, is elderly with renal failure. She has weeks, maybe months left. While we try to gauge how content and comfortable she is by her behaviors, we are left in the dark to how she truly feels.

The vet made a comment that really struck me as strange. The vet called us benign predators because, when it comes down to it, we decide when an animal lives or dies.

At first, I almost agreed. Yes, we are these bipedal creatures wielding a lot of power. Right or not, we do decide when pain and suffering exceeds quality of life. We end their lives.

But then I rebelled against the argument. Majorly. Yes, humans act like predators. Our species slaughters and consumes 50 billion animals worldwide annually. In the United States, humans slaughter 10 billion land animals at a rate of 320 animals per second. It would be hard to argue that humans act like natural predators, with their large farms, mechanized operations, captive bolt guns, and large processing facilities. Most humans certainly do not hunt other species, instead preferring plastic-wrapped body parts to the whole body. And there is hardly anything benign about any predator.

Coming back to what sanctuaries do when it is time to end the life of a beloved animal. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, predatory about it. Obviously, we do not eat the sanctuary resident (eating prey is a big part of being a predator, no duh). No instinct drives us, like a predator, to chase and kill. Every decision to euthanize is agonizing. I mean, agonizing. There are quality of life discussions, meetings on deciding pain-level and overall happiness of the animal. It is not easy, there is no spur of the moment decision to destroy the life of any cow or chicken. Nothing is fun or exciting or exhilarating about euthanasia. It is a heart-breaking decision that, while at its core ends an animal's life, is never made because we want to end that life, because we somehow need their flesh to survive.

So while I agree that sanctuary animals are not truly free, I just cannot fathom calling our relationship with these animals as predator-prey like. Sanctuary residents receive medical care that wild animals do not. Their pastures are large but fenced. When they are hungry, they get extra food, no animal starves at the sanctuary. There are many benefits to being cared for as much as there are drawbacks. We do our best to find that balance between providing the "freest" life possible while also making sure the animals are safe and healthy (meaning they sometimes endure trips to the vet or isolation, neither they enjoy). Certainly we do insert human restrictions and concerns into their unique worlds, and maybe an argument can be made that that in of itself is unfair and wrong, but if given a choice of a kill floor and a sanctuary pasture, my guess is that those 50 billion slaughtered animals would have chosen a sanctuary, even if it meant a hoof trim now and then.

So here's your chance to make a choice. You can choose to be a part of a system that relegates animals to bits and pieces or you can choose to abstain from that cycle of cruelty. Being a predator in the wild is what it is, there is nothing glamorous, benign or endearing about it - it's about life and death for both hunter and hunted. Eating meat, drinking milk and eating eggs is not the same; we don't need them to survive nor do we need to be part of such a violent system of oppression. Going vegan fits perfectly with our biological system and our behavioral desire to be kind, compassionate creatures.