No Kill, No Evil

For the soft-hearted or squeamish, the idea of an animal
shelter that does not euthanize can be enormously gratifying(p. 14). Living in San Francisco in the 1990s, I was relieved to learn that the city shelter had a “no-kill” policy, meaning my search for the perfect cat would not sentence every other animal in there to death. Who wants that on their conscience?
        By the same token, it was a great relief to decide in my late
30s to take the last step toward vegetarianism. I wanted to fulfill the Buddhist precept not to kill, and the sacrifice seemed small compared with its huge emotional and spiritual payoffs. Unfortunately,vegetarianism wrecked my health. A reluctant omnivore for more than ten years now, I still feel a jab of guilt at recognizing in its shrink-wrapped tray the chicken or pig that lived without joy or affection, sunshine, or exercise, and whose misery is the price of my well-being.
        Similar failures of virtue attended my cat adoption at San Francisco’s
“no-kill” shelter. Rejected because I confessed to wanting a“mouser,” I ended up calling a rescue group way out in the country,which promptly delivered a skinny, ugly cat that had been found in the bushes, and that I really didn’t want when the relieved volunteer drove away.
        Within 12 hours, though, that cat had sent every mouse in the house packing. And as he settled into a fat, leisurely
life as my companion, Bosco grew amazingly handsome, vocal, and intelligent. Within a year it was clear to everyone that he was the coolest cat that had ever lived.
        Being an irresponsible and inexperienced cat owner, however, I let Bosco come and go, and never cared that he
spent long periods missing. Agitated by a stressful newspaper job, I would vent my fury on Bosco if he insisted on being fed as soon as I walked in the door, yelling at him and kicking him away. Finally he stopped coming home at all. It wasn’t long before two lonely bachelors in my building reassured me that Bosco had a fine future with them.The city shelter was probably right not to let me adopt.
        Now that I dote over my pets like children, my reaction to stories of animal abuse like the one Joyce Fay tells
(page 17) is denial, followed by the reassuring thought that such wicked acts must be caused by bad people. But then I remember Bosco, and have to admit that wicked acts are caused by anyone who is sufficiently stressed, angry,lazy, drunk, or ignorant—all of us, at one time or another. In a society where violence is acceptable and injustice is normal, we all bear the responsibility for not knowing any better and not doing anything about it.
        Just as distance from the slaughterhouse does not absolve meat-eaters of the horrors of factory ranching, so
the neat borders between kindness and cruelty turn into a large terrain of gray upon honest self-examination.
        Goodness is not so simply bought as by declaring “I shall not kill.” Just as vegetarianism takes effort, time, and
risk, “no-kill” animal shelters work only if a large number of people are willing to invest the time, effort, and risk of making hard and wrong choices.
        Abuse and neglect of animals must move anyone with a heart to want to act. But acting can be so inconvenient.
How much more satisfying to vow abstinence from evil, to hug my puppies tight and promise never, ever to let anything hurt them. That’s loving myself. To truly love animals is to begin by recognizing, like Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”