I Swerve For Butterflies

Lessons From My Dogs

I Swerve For Butterflies

That’s right, I do. I swerve for butterflies. I brake for turtles, rabbits and squirrels (still the domain of “crazy women drivers”) and all other life. I’ve been known to serve to avoid a Wooly Bear and to stop every five feet for the tiny toads so ubiquitous after a spring shower. All these beings are important and deserving of life—the dog, because of size or domestication, not better than the bug. The human not better than the dog. Just all and equally good.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago perhaps life was more “equal.” Sure, the Saber-Toothed Tiger killed the antelope, and the man, if he was able, killed the mammoth, but each took only what he needed and didn’t harm otherwise. Yet somewhere along the way in the eons of years since (the very last few hundred to be exact, and the very last few decades to be even more precise) things have gone a bit off course and man is at the helm.

There is something inherently wrong within our world when some dogs (my own for instance) are flying on airplanes and sleeping on plush pillows while 10 billion farm animals never know one good day of life. Or when lovable beagles, again no different from my own, are bred for man to use as he pleases. These beagles, never feeling the air on their skin, never feeling sunlight on their faces, lead lives so unnatural and so miserable they could qualify as torture in the worst prison camps. I speak of the lives of millions of laboratory animals.

One might argue that this is no different for people: some live in multi-million dollar homes in Marin County while thousands starve and die in third world countries. What’s important is the desire to help end suffering for all. People who are not animal lovers, who don’t understand devoting large amounts of energy to animal causes, often see me as crazy and accuse me of caring nothing for people when I speak up about wanting to “save the chickens,” my euphemism for ending factory farming and the exploitation of animals in general. Yet it defies reason to think that we have limited amounts of compassion, that if you use it for animals you don’t have it for people. Compassion is like love, the more you give of it the more you have. It is dangerous to start excluding certain beings from our compassion and concern because once we do it becomes easier to exclude others as well. Hitler’s ideas weren’t born overnight.

If we cannot rescue all the animals behind bars in factory farms and labs, we can educate ourselves about which products test on animals. Just think, if everyone who cared about the animals stopped buying from the bad companies, what a difference we’d make. And what about the worst torture chambers of all? The industrial farms. We can choose vegetarian diets or try to avoid meat in grocery stores; unless otherwise stated, it’s loaded with hormones and antibiotics which are not only bad for the environment, but bad for you. The suffering perpetrated on the farm animals is bad for them (and our karma too.) Buy only from local farms where pigs and cows and chickens and sheep roam about and can live the lives they were made to live.

I once heard on the radio the question, “What would be your reaction if all the animals, trees and flowers on earth were to suddenly vanish for good and we were left with only man’s creations?” The thought of this to most people is simply too horrific and unbearable to contemplate. But consider the next question: “What if one were to remove all the people?” Here, people had mixed emotions, wanting their loved ones, a few friends and some saints, but not minding the removal of the vast majority, which seems troubling if not sad. Would the world carry on without the people? Of course it would, as it always has, perhaps more easily and more beautifully. But a world bereft of animals and plants would mean impoverishment beyond what most of us can imagine.

And yet we seem to be opting for SUVs over the butterflies. Each year I notice the decreasing numbers of box turtles. And as we swap priorities (choosing technology over nature) and whap off thousands of butterflies each year (as more and more drivers hit the highways), the likelihood of one day finding a world without turtles or butterflies becomes a real possibility.

I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who’d stop for box turtles in the road, and over the years there have been some pretty precarious stops! My mother, well into her sixties, continued to teach her kindergarten class every year about caring for turtles and by extension wildlife and all of nature. I think this is one of the easiest and most effective actions we can take to raise awareness for the animals. We can take every opportunity we see to say a few words to the youngsters, the future generations, about what the animals we hold so close in our hearts mean to us, so that we will never end up without them. And I’ll continue to swerve for butterflies.

Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. Kay donates 100% of profits from her books to animal organizations. www.kaypfaltz.com.