Turning Empathy into Action

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF's Executive Director on January 8, 2007

I was listening to the news on the radio last night on my drive home from the office. There was a story about efforts to deliver hay to cows stranded by deep snows in Colorado. Thousands of cows and calves were slowly starving due to their inability to reach food supplies. Even the National Guard was helping, dropping hay bales from helicopters. It was a race against time for some of the animals who had been trapped for days.

The story made me proud. I realize that some of the motivation for the “rescue” was not so much the welfare of the cows but the threat of economic loss to the cattle industry. But many of the rescuers were clearly seeing this as a mission of mercy. One young National Guard trooper compared the cows’ suffering to that of people stranded in snowstorms as he loaded hay onto an all-terrain missile-launcher turned hay delivery vehicle. It was clear many of his fellow troopers also saw their mission as saving the animals.

The story made me proud because it shows me the level of concern people have for animals. There is an intuitive understanding we have that animals, too, can suffer. That is the sensibility that we have tapped into as a society to enact laws that protect animals like our anti-cruelty laws. We understand that animals are vulnerable and have the capacity to feel and so we must be responsible in our treatment and protection of them. It’s amazing to me how crisis situations like this can mobilize that compassion we share.

There is some irony in the fact that despite the cows being rescued in Colorado the situation for most animals raised food in our country is bleak and has gotten worse, not better, in the last few decades. The demand by the industry to raise more animals in less space to generate more profit is largely to blame. But that can and must change. Our job as animal advocates is to make sure it does by remembering how easily people from all walks of life can be motivated to help animals in need. Let’s keep thinking about how to turn that empathy into action.

Happy New Year everyone!