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AASB History


The foundation of Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc. is based in the generosity of many human beings and in the values and love of my parents. Some people who have given a lot of time, attention, and support to the start up of Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc. include Maura Stumpf, Craig Akira Fujita, Bill Colangali, Patti Levin, Mary Stewart, Lia Spiliotis, and Arlene Schuler. I am incredibly grateful for their help and support.

The people whom have especially influenced my desire to want to start such an organization include Zeph and Mary Stewart, my father and sister. Their appreciation of other creatures, their intuitive clarity as to what is wrong and right behavior with regard to treatment of other creatures and the planet, and their ability to think outside the construction of culture have helped me grow my mind and listen to my heart.

Thank you to everyone, to my mother for her integrity, and to both her and my brother for their love and support.
I also have many friends who have responded to my desperate concerns about animals and have been open to learning and changing, as well as simply listening to me and my hopes, dreams, and heartbreak for the planet.

My name is Sarah Stewart and I am the founder of Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc. I am writing about myself because people tell me that organizations do better with a face on them. I feel mixed about this as faces and stories create the possibility of people reacting, finding difference and “not me” and I really want for the animals of the planet to have as much and varied support as possible. They need all the help that they can get. So as I tell my story behind Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc. I ask you to ignore all that does not appeal to you and just see if you can relate to the discovery that animals are sentient beings and that kindness and respect for their needs is what helps us be better and happier people.

My first real sense of caring and being cared for by another animal was when I was about four years old. I was a rather scared and lonely child and was very comforted by a black cat called, imaginatively enough, Blackie. Blackie was one of the outdoor farm cats and was not allowed in the house. Every night she would climb the ivy up to my second floor bedroom and spend the night on my bed. Blackie’s warm body and presence was an enormous comfort to me, and I was quite aware that it was her sentient presence that made that comfort real. She was not an inanimate toy or even a living plant. She was an interactive and loving responder to me and “spoke” to me of her wants. I felt very lucky to have her kindly presence and remain grateful today. My friendship with Blackie was my first real awareness of animals as sentient beings and my first remembered experience of friendship with anyone.

My relationship with animals was not always kind. I hear that I tried to bury a kitten in a sandbox at age two, no doubt being attracted its tail as a sort of wagging plant the way cats disguised themselves in my dear Orlando books (e.g. Orlando the Marmalade Cat). I remember mistreating the family cat as an 8-9 year-old, doubtlessly taking out my anger at my world on another creature less powerful than I. I also remember injuring my pet hamster by closing a window on it by mistake. I was too frightened of getting in trouble to ask for help and my body and heart still constrict with distress as I recall trying desperately to help it all by too (too young) self without adult supervision. I was well aware that it was in pain, and yet I was immature enough with regards to empathy and compassion that I was more afraid of my punishment than of the hamster’s continued suffering. I do not remember what happened to the little being, but I still ask for its forgiveness and my heart still hurts.

I write about all this to say that we all have split-off aspects of ourselves with regards to animal suffering and our ability for sentient and deep contact. We all can become more conscious and aware and therefore more whole and heartfelt. I was fairly self-centered person and likely in many ways still am. I am definitely happier, however, as I become more caring and aware of others in the world. My heart hurts more, but it also expands with love and contact more and I see and feel much that is moving and beautiful.

Anyway, back to my story. I moved through my first three decades without a lot of consciousness about animal suffering in the commercial industry, though I was aware of habitat encroachment, the idea of extinction (always very disturbing to me that people could wipe out whole other species on the scope of the passenger pigeon) and endangered species, domestic animal abuse, and eventually global warming as a threat to the planet. My love of the American Rockies and the wildlife there had me see first hand the erosion of the home of other animals and the behavior of man putting his own needs first as exemplified by the almost complete decimation of the ever-present prairie dog (a much loved presence of my youth) because it was in the way of man’s business.

I would have described myself as an animal lover throughout my life, even with some of my childhood cruelty and self-centeredness. I always had pretty well cared for pets and was always a nature lover and animal photographer. I played with stuffed animals and rarely with dolls (Barbie being a bizarre exception). Looking back, I felt things inside like circuses and sea-worlds gave me the creeps and that the rangers feeding the bears at Yellowstone was wrong. But these were often unexamined and unarticulated thoughts and I now can see that I was not exactly really conscious of animals as sentient beings with their own rights and deserving of respect for their feelings. The fact that I had as much consciousness as I did is attributable both to conscious parents with regard to animal care and some sort of natural attunement that I believe we all are born with but gets eroded by experience and often dissociated.

I say that I would have described myself as an animal lover because in the last decade I have come to see that there are levels of loving which probably deepen as we are capable of stepping outside our own self involvement and compulsion for acquisition of externals to manage our mood and self image. At least this was my path towards increased awareness of other animals and to a more true loving awareness of their suffering at the hands of my species.

It has only been in the past decade that I have actually wondered and sought to learn what lies behind my food, hair products, cleaning products, clothing, entertainment, toothpaste, cheese....Prior to that I simply did not think, had bought into a myth that people who did think were “weirdoes,” and I probably did not want to let go of my comforts and comfort in the world as a nice place where milk came from happy dairy cows raised on a happy dairy farm, etc. Once I began to loosen these myths I could not help but start to wake up and as I did I became increasingly horrified. I also became deeply disturbed, and continue to be, by how many good people do not want to take responsibility for the treatment of animals for our human needs. They do not want to know. This does seem to me like many historical examples of human ignorance of holocaust violence being perpetrated by man. If people are offended by this analogy I recommend closely examining the inside of a pig or poultry factory and then come talk to me.

In getting aware of how we treat animals, from commercial whaling to animal testing, I have had to manage many feelings, with varying degrees of success. I have felt compelled to do something to speak up for animals. I now find that I do that in many ways. 

Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc. is a product of my wish to take action and to hopefully help others to do the same and to use my wildlife photography to help towards that cause. My time in nature with quiet and sentience all around is incredibly precious. I grow increasingly afraid for our planet and that other people as well as animals will have less and less chance to share the natural world and all its beauty together. To make eye contact or simply share conscious presence with a wild animal is such an essentially alive experience. I feel all my self and whole. I feel honored and lucky. My heart is open and I am totally present. To try to catch a whiff of that with a camera is yet another type of experience which fills me with challenge and excitement. To take these pictures and then use them to raise appreciation and money for animals is another pleasure.

So that is an outline of my journey to creating Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc. I hope that it helps you to want to help animals in any way that you can. As I say again and again in this website, any kind action is better than none and the more that you can do the better. In the face of man’s self-centeredness and greed animals cannot take care of themselves or their homes. If we are all to survive then we humans must be the actors and the speakers. I hope that you will join me and many others. For the animals.