I stumbled on a lovely volunteer organization called Animal Assisted Happiness, courtesy of a friend at the Care2 network. Vicki and Peter Higa are the founders of AAH, and their goal is to facilitate interactions and relationships between animals and children with special needs or challenging family circumstances.
Seeing the looks of joy and discovery on the faces of the kids, many of whom were making friends with an animal for the first time, I started thinking about a post I wrote a few weeks back. In my attempts to figure out whether it was ethical to support family farms over factory farms, I wrote, “The most dangerous threat posed by factory farming is not the inevitable suffering and death of animals. The most dangerous threat is that the relationship between human beings and animals would be irrevocably severed, so that we no longer see them as living creatures, but instead as strange, abstract and inconvenient things. As this happens, we lay the groundwork for an exploitation of animals so total in its cruelty that only machines, or human beings reduced to machines, could carry it out.”
Growing up in farm country, I had plenty of chances to play and work with animals. Chickens, goats, cows, horses, even llamas all played an important part in my childhood. Unlike some, I wasn’t smart enough to immediately make the connection between the animals I loved and the animals I ate. However, as I think back on my childhood, many of my strongest memories revolve around animals. Their sweetness, their playfulness, their unselfconscious care for each other all made a strong impression on me and helped keep my heart a little bit soft. So as I read about the systematic extinction of family farms, I contemplated a future in which children would never have the opportunity to see a mother cow nuzzling her baby, or a baby goat playing hide and seek with his friends. For this reason, I wondered whether it was ethical to support family farms as the lesser of two evils.
I posted the article to a forum for vegetarians and received some thoughtful comments from readers. The opinions ranged from those who thought that any kind of support for animal slaughter was monstrous to those who understood the point, but still felt uncomfortable with the idea. No one, including myself, could muster any enthusiasm for supporting a tradition that ultimately ended in the untimely death of innocent animals.
So I was excited to hear about Animal Assisted Happiness because it involves no moral compromise and because their efforts are so practical. Instead of spending their time trying to convince people that animals have rights, or feelings, they create the conditions for people to come to those conclusions themselves. If the goal of supporting family farms is to make it possible for people, and especially children, to form relationships with animals, maybe we could just cut to the chase and start creating more places like AAH whose sole mission is to help those relationships form.