Wednesday, October 2 is World Day for Farmed Animals, a day on which animal advocates around the world hold vigils, celebrations and other events designed to heighten public awareness of our treatment of fellow beings. So today, in honor of my animal friends, here are 20 questions for people who love animals. I hope my vegan friends will share this with the meat eaters in their lives; I hope our omnivore friends will read this post with an open heart and respond thoughtfully. I look forward to the conversation.
1. Are you aware that pigs, ranked the fourth most intelligent non-human animal, are as bright as young children?
2. Do you know that mother pigs, known only as "breeding sows," spend most of their lives in metal cages, called "gestation crates," barely wider than their bodies?
3. Do you know that they are also immobilized on slatted metal floors above vast lagoons of their own feces and urine?
4. Do you know that piglets have their tails docked, their testicles removed and their teeth broken off with pliers without the use of any anesthesia or pain relief?
5. Do you know that pigs experience chronic stress, depression, aggression and develop neurotic coping behaviors due to the barbarous conditions on factory farms?
6. Do you know that when you eat bacon or pork chops, you're eating piglets? Pigs are only six months old when they are slaughtered.
7. At Catskill Animal Sanctuary, a young pig named Moses (about the size of a Labrador Retriever), flops down in our laps and remains, grunting with joy, until we make him move. He is one of many extraordinary pigs we've known. Pigs are so much like humans that, tragically, science is awfully close to using their organs for human transplants. When you know pigs, it's easy to observe how their emotional range is as broad as that of humans. Does this surprise you?
8. Do you know that the dairy industry removes calves from their mothers just moments after they are born, and that the frantic, grieving mothers often cry for their babies for days after they are taken away?
9. Do you know that these same cows are forced to produce as much as 10 times the amount of milk their bodies would produce to feed their babies, leaving them "spent" and "useless" to the industry in just a few short years? Did you know that after the industry takes all their children and uses dairy cows as milk machines, rather than retire them with gratitude for their sacrifice, it kills them after just three or four years?
10. Do you know that the veal industry was created by dairy industry in order to profit from unwanted male calves? One million calves a year are removed from their mothers at birth. Some are killed immediately. Others live a few months in tiny crates or pens, fed a diet that gives them scours and makes them anemic, then are killed.
11. Catskill Animal Sanctuary took in an old steer named Samson from a horrible hoarding case. I was so lucky to be with him as he was being euthanized when, as a very old animal, he lost his ability to stand. As the sedative that rendered him sleepy was taking effect, Samson licked my face -- over and over and over again -- until he was so sleepy he could no longer keep his head up. I believe he was thanking me for saving him, telling me he loved me and saying goodbye. Did you ever consider that cows might be as emotional as we are?
12. Do you know calves raised for beef are often dehorned, branded and have their testicles cut off without sedative or pain relief?
13. Do you know that 90 percent of egg-laying hens live their lives stuffed into "battery cages" with many other birds -- cages so small that can't spread their wings or walk around?
14. Do you know that in these egg factories, battery cages are stacked many rows high in massive warehouses, so that the unfortunate hens on the bottom rows spend their entire lives with the feces of other birds raining down on them?
15. Do you know that in the U.S. alone, 300 million day-old male chicks are killed -- often ground up alive -- because they are useless to the egg industry?
16. Do you know that chickens raised in 1920 were slaughtered at 112 days and averaged 2.2 pounds, but that today's chickens are slaughtered at 47 days and weigh over five pounds due to selective breeding, antibiotic use and hormones? This is the equivalent of a 10-year-old child weighing 500 pounds.
17. Do you know that while hanging upside down in shackles, terrified chickens are submerged into a "scalding tank" -- a tank filled with scalding, electrified water -- to immobilize them and make it easier for workers to slit their throats?
18. Do you know that female chicks are often debeaked without anesthesia to prevent abnormal pecking that often occurs in intense confinement? A chicken's beak is filled with nerves, and debeaking can lead to severe and chronic pain.
19. Do you know that turkeys are bred to grow breasts so large that they cannot support their own weight? This abnormal weight leads to debilitating health problems -- abnormal, painful gait, hip lesions and skeletal disease which cause turkeys to spend most of their lives lying down, developing lesions, blisters and abscesses.
20. I understand that meat and dairy taste good. I loved burgers, ribs and barbecued chicken for much of my life! I understand that food is more than "nutrition" -- it is habit, it is pleasure, it is part of our social and family traditions. I understand that it's a bit overwhelming to consider substituting beans and grains, vegetables, tofu, ethnic foods, mock meats and more for steak, chicken nuggets, bacon and burgers. Do you understand why, on behalf of animals who are very much like dogs, cats and humans in the ways that matter, animal lovers, like me, are pleading with you to do so?