Animals Strive for Compassion in Today’s World

In 2005, not too far from Fairfax, Va. was a property that housed over 50 American Pit Bull Terriers. The blood-stained walls were a sign of previous victories. As two dogs get ready to fight, not a sound can be heard. There was no crying or barking. These robust animals had one job and that was to kill.

This was the scene at Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels in Newport News, where onlookers would gamble on who they thought would win the deadly battle. Vick isn’t the only person who partakes in animal fighting, but being a public figure, he became a face for the crime. It probably surprised most people that something so gruesome was taking place so close to home, but that is the reality of today’s society. No city is immune to animal cruelty. As more stories of the brutality toward animals come to light, many are making changes and doing their part to help these creatures. This can entail animal rights activism, but also an altering of one’s diet to decrease consumption of animal products.

According to a 2008 poll conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau on behalf of the Vegetarian Times, 3.2 percent of adults, or 7.3 million people, in the U.S. are vegetarian. Of that percentage, 0.5 percent, or 1 million people, are vegans. This means they consume no animal products such as dairy, eggs and gelatin. A more recent study conducted by Harris found that 2.5 percent of Americans in 2012 identify as vegans. The number of those turning to vegan and vegetarian lifestyles is also increasing. Paul Shapiro, the vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said 16 percent of Americans are following a flexitarian diet, where they eat more vegetarian meals but still occasionally eat meat. That’s about 50 million people. The reasoning behind these changes varies, but the majority of participants cited animal welfare and health improvement.

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Upon entering the Whole Foods in Fairfax, grocers are met with walls of fresh vegetables and fruit. Whole Foods carries many varieties of meat-free alternatives for vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians alike. Photo/Kaitlyn Reitz

Americans have a desire to help the animals who are unable to help themselves, giving a voice to the pain and suffering that these creatures go through each day. Vick’s arrest brought attention to the world of animal fighting, but that is just one of the many animal-related issues that exists today. Factory farming has become a horrific and painful experience for the animals involved.

For starters, animals are kept in the equivalent of jail cells, albeit smaller, dirtier and just all around more miserable than human cells. Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the HSUS said in his book The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, “The confinement system is only a symptom of the larger problem of agribusiness controlling every aspect of the animals’ lives and treating them like objects and commodities.”

The majority of the farming industry has become so profit hungry that money comes above the wellbeing of the animals. Many farm animals are now genetically modified to produce more. More eggs, more milk, more meat. Turkeys have been engineered with fatter and heavier bodies that make it almost impossible for them to walk or stand. This is a struggle for a bird that, in the wild, would spend half of its day searching for food. Wild turkeys can run up to 25 mph and fly at speeds over 50 mph. The genetically modified turkeys are “caricatures of the wild turkeys,” Pacelle said.

Chickens are also becoming bigger and in less time. “They now reach ‘market weight’ in half the time they used to,” Pacelle said.  According to researchers at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, “If you grew as fast as a chicken, you’d weigh 349 pounds at age 2.”

As the public gains more insight into factory farming and exactly how their food gets to their plates, the demand for animal products may go down. New York Times writer Mark Bittman wrote that beef consumption has been in decline for almost 20 years. Between 2007 and 2012 meat intake dropped 12.2 percent. The switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle may seem difficult to some at first, but there are a wide variety of animal-free products in the market today. It’s not strictly tofu and lettuce. There are many meat-free alternatives from sausage to chicken to shrimp. There are also a larger number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants popping up with food that’ll make you forget there’s no meat or dairy in it. There are many options for vegetarians in the Fairfax area, including Sunflower Restaurant and the Loving Hut.

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