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Diet For A New Americaby John Robbins.
"If an animal does something, we call it instinct.
- John Robbins
In chapters with titles such as "All God's Critters Have a Place in the Choir" and "Brave New Chicken," author John Robbins begins this section of his book by examining the role that animals play in the world today. He documents in this section of his book some heart-warming stories of extremely unusual animal behavior. So unusual in fact, that it is most difficult to imagine what could be the motivation behind the actions of these animals. Here is one such example.
For many years, a dolphin guided ships through the French Pass, a channel through the D'Urville Islands off New Zealand. This dangerous channel is so full of rocks, and has such extremely strong currents, that it has been the site of literally hundreds of shipwrecks. But none occurred when Pelorus Jack was at work. There is no telling how many lives he saved.
He was first seen by human beings when he appeared in front of a schooner from Boston named "Brindle", just as the ship was approaching French Pass. When members of the crew saw the dolphin bobbing up and down in front of the ship, they wanted to kill him - but, fortunately, the captain's wife was able to talk them out of it. To their amazement, the dolphin then proceeded to guide the ship through the narrow channel. And for years thereafter, he safely guided almost every ship that came by. So regular and reliable was the dolphin that when ships reached the entrance to French Pass they would look for him, and if he was not visible, they would wait for him to appear to guide them safely through the treacherous rocks and currents.
On one sad occasion, a drunken passenger aboard a ship named the "Penguin" took out a gun and shot at Pelorus Jack. The crew was furious, and when they saw Jack swim away with blood pouring from his body they came close to lynching the passenger. The "Penguin" had to negotiate the channel without Pelorus Jack's help, as did the other ships that came through in the next few weeks. But one day the dolphin reappeared, apparently recovered from his wound. He had evidently forgiven the human species, because he once again proceeded to guide ship after ship through the channel. When the "Penguin" showed up again, however, the dolphin immediately disappeared.
For a number of years thereafter, Pelorus Jack continued to escort ships through French Pass - but never again the "Penguin", and the crew of that ship never saw the dolphin again. Ironically, the "Penguin" was later wrecked, and a large number of passengers and crew were drowned, as it sailed - unguided - through French Pass.2
Once picked up, this book is far from easy to put back down. When the reader does turn away, to try to comprehend and make sense of the many messages that are within the book, it slowly becomes clear that the impact that animals, both domestic and wild, have on our everyday lives goes largely unnoticed. Only with books like this does the true extent of our debt to the animal kingdom become apparent.
Studies of inmates in a number of U.S. prisons reveal that almost none of the convicts had a pet as a child. None of them had this opportunity to learn to respect and care for another creature's life, and to feel valuable in so doing.
But these attitudes can be reversed, even in criminals. Heartwarming research has been done in which convicts nearing their release dates were allowed to have pet cats in their cells with them. The result? "Of the men who loved and cared for their cats, not a single one later failed as a free man to adjust to society."6 This in a penal system where over 70% of released convicts are expected to return to jail.
It is clear that this debt that we owe continues to go well and truly unpaid when unspeakable atrocities are being inflicted upon animals every second of every day.
Mother dolphins nurse their young for 18 months, and the mother child bond is deep and enduring. Dolphins four to six years old have been known to seek out their mothers from a group when they become sleepy or frightened. So devoted are these animals to the welfare of one another that they will not abandon or desert a fellow dolphin who seems to be injured or distressed even if it costs them their life. When infant dolphins are caught in tuna nets, their mothers will go to extraordinary lengths to join their doomed young. Once in the nets, they will huddle together with their offspring, singing to them. The tuna industry takes note of this only to acknowledge that the majority of dolphins killed in their nets are females and infants.35
Having now established that our estimates of the intelligence of animals are grossly underestimated, the author now turns his attentions to each species of farm animal in turn. Before looking at the pig, the cow, and the sheep, he looks first at the chicken, and in so doing tears wide open for all to see, the practices employed by the poultry industry.
It's not a picture to bring joy to a mother's heart, but over half-a-million little baby chicks are "disposed of" in this fashion every day of the year in the United States. In the seconds it takes you to read this paragraph, over 2,000 newborn male chicks will be thrown by human hands into garbage bags to smother among their brothers, without the slightest acknowledgement that they are alive.
And they are, perhaps, the lucky ones. Because for those chicks allowed to live, the "life" that follows is truly a nightmare.
And so the first of many of the incorrect assumptions about the vegetarian lifestyle falls. The reader learns that because of modern factory farming methods, it is no longer the killing of the animals that is the most important issue here, it is rather the unspeakable quality of the lives that these animals are now forced to live.
Animals do not "give" their lives to us, as the sugar-coated lie would have it. No, we take their lives. They struggle and fight to the last breath, just as we would do if we were in their place. The friendly and intelligent pig whose life we take does not simply accept his death as a necessary step in the production of bacon. And he does not line up for his turn at the slaughterhouse singing about how happy he is to be on the way to becoming and Oscar Mayer wiener. Chickens do not approach the knife that will kill them wanting to dance and sing about how much we will enjoy eating their legs. The gentle and patient cow does not surrender docilely to the knife. She twists and bellows for all she's worth, even as she hangs upside down by a leg broken from the strain.
The poet Dylan Thomas once admonished us, "do not go gentle into that dark night." The animals whose lives we methodically take by the millions day in and day out would have understood his meaning. They do not go gently. They go kicking and screaming, bellowing their protest, fighting for their lives, and calling, to the last, to be saved. Calling for somebody, somewhere, to please hear them.
We wonder if River was thinking of this paragraph when he said, "Animals can't really voice their opinion. We feel as though we can be on of the spokespeople on their behalf."
2 - Account adapted from Henkin, B., "Eight Unusual Dolphin Incidents", in Wallace, I., et al, Book of Lists #2, Bantam Books, 1980, pgs 107-108; and Amory, C., as per note 1, pgs 14-15; and elsewhere
6 - Amberson, R., Raising Your Cat, Crown Publishers, 1969
35 - Regenstein, Lewis, The Politics of Extinction, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1975, pgs 52-59
10 - Mason, J., and Singer, P., Animal Factories, Crown Publishers, 1980, pg 5
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