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All Beings Are Sentient

A blog by Laura Buchenlicht

A black and beige striped cat is cuddled up next to a woman in bed, with the woman's hand resting on the cat's back

In my last blog posts I wrote about most people’s disconnection from nature. Of course as vegans we know that being disconnected from non-human animals is a huge aspect of that.

What better example is there for this than the current trend of science news proclaiming that non-human animals are actually sentient. A truth that most small children will know instinctively, as well as any adult who has ever interacted with an animal (or just observed properly).

In their recent podcast interview, founders Mark and Sharon talked a bit about what they learned over the years from the animals they care for. After some thinking, Sharon said. “We are very similar beings.” She added that animals weren’t created to fulfil any human needs; they have their own needs and are our equals.

Mark responded in an equal vein, saying that they are so much more like us than you’d consider possible. And he shook his head (or at least it sounded like that) at the fact that scientists have only now realised that other animals have feelings like us. “You just gotta look at them and you see it!”

Just take Piece Of Heaven Project resident Tilly the highland cow for example. She has a strong personality matching her physical strength, but is actually very gentle and prefers to let other cows lead the herd. She loves bread rolls and has come to enjoy being stroked.

Or Cedric the goat – he came from a herd where he didn’t fit in and had both of his horns burned off as a kid. Non-human animals can be traumatised just like humans, so understandably Cedric was very scared and ran away when he first arrived at the sanctuary.

But after experiencing good treatment at the new place and getting used to it, he has shown to be very affectionate and loves to be hugged. He is also very curious, and always interested in anything new going on.

Just like Ruby and Cedric, each one of the 150 animal residents is an individual person with quirks and preferences. As mentioned above, when you spend time with non-human animals, or just observe them consciously, it becomes impossible to continue thinking that they aren’t sentient and unique.

Any pet keeper could tell you that. But sadly speciesism keeps most of them disconnected from other animals. And even within the vegan movement, some exploited animals get more attention than others. Fishes, for example, are rarely campaigned for or even included in educational material about veganism.

Since I was a small child, I’ve felt a deep fascination and affection for these animals. When I joined the animal rights movement, I was appalled to witness carnist people expressing the belief that fishes don’t feel pain. As I learned, this is a very common belief among people, though I’ll never understand why.

So it was a great joy to recently interview Gwendolyn Church, founder of the Friends Of Philip Fish micro-sanctuary in Reno, Nevada. She looks after about a hundred fishes from over 20 species, and just like Mark and Sharon, she has lots of stories of her residents to tell.

One of them is Sam, a yellow cichlid. Before he was given to the sanctuary, he had been kept in a mismatched group with three other fishes in a tank that was far too small, without access to sand or other good hiding places that his species need. As a result, he was very pale and incredibly skittish. He would dart away and hide whenever someone entered the fish room.

But now he is bright yellow and far more sociable and curious, thanks to added algae that partly cover his tank. What a wonderful example for the fact that it does not matter how small someone is – we all want to be safe and have needs.

But as we know, almost every vegan had to have their eyes opened at some point. Such was also the case for POHP volunteer Coleen, who came from the unlikely background of being a cattle rancher.

However, at some point she realised that it was a horrible, abusive business. As she put it during the first podcast of POHP: “It was a life where you thought you were doing the right thing, but you really weren’t.”

Her vegan journey began when she came to understand that the animals on her farm had their own emotions like joy and grief, and that they suffered pain – after that, there was no turning back. She’s now been volunteering with Mark and Sharon since the inception of POHP, relishing the opportunity to give back to the animals and make a difference for them.

Everyone is constantly making experiences in which the sentience of another animal is obvious. Whether it’s on a farm or in the middle of a city, maybe seeing pigeons escape from a running child, or a fly buzzing at a closed window, searching for an exit.

People just need to make the conscious connection and become aware of it.

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