Have you ever thought back to when the seeds of compassion were planted in your heart?
I can recall a sense of enlightenment and contentedness at seeing my beloved childhood companion animals—Tootsie and Sandy (a Maltese and Cairn Terrier, respectively)—play with my other beloved childhood companion animals—Cluck and Doodle (an orange and black chicken, respectively)—in the backyard. The chasing, taunting, and playful provocation went both ways, and it was easy to see that these two species were more similar in their mental and emotional sensibilities than most people recognize. I knew then that loving one and eating another just didn’t make sense, and so, at the ripe old age of 9, decided that I would be the first in my family to become vegetarian.
Last summer I had another revelation. In the midst of moving, I came across all the books I had grown up reading: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, Bambi, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Dr. De Soto, Misty of Chincoteague, The Linda Craig Adventures, The Peter Rabbit Library, Just So Stories, The Berenstain Bears, Every Living Thing, the Animal Inn series, and The Little Kitten (as well as the Little Puppy, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Duck). While not all of these convey the perfect animal rights message (I also enjoyed Curious George as a kid though didn’t realize at the time how tragic it was that he ends up in a zoo), it’s clear that reading about animals early on helped me empathize with them and ultimately influenced me to advocate for them.
It’s interesting to reflect on how I developed my compassionate values, and to realize that my own story is the result of my impressions from all the animal-friendly stories I’ve read before. Even more interesting is that I’m still discovering new books being published which include animal rights themes. I’m just starting the last novel of The Inheritance Cycle, and have been pleased that, in addition to bonding with his dragon companion, Saphira, our protagonist, Eragon, spends much time pondering the humanity of vegetarian eating, and that the elves—the most athletic and intelligent race depicted in the narrative—are actually vegan.
And because every good story has a moral…
If my own experience is any indication, encouraging children to spend time with animals (whether in real life or in books) at a young age can help set them on the path to compassion. Contact us for help locating an animal sanctuary near you, or to learn how you can partner with your local library to read animal-friendly fiction to youth. After all, the next generation of cows, chickens, and pigs would love to live happily ever after, too.