why sentience matters
why sentience matters
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Why sentience mattersshapeimage_14_link_0
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"Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth
and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind."

-Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate


I wake up in the middle of the night, as I often do these days. I cannot get the images and thoughts of an undercover documentary about an egg factory farm from surfacing to my awareness. The lives of animals we use for food and other products are so very awful. Sometimes I cannot think or breathe with the horror of it. Daily, every day the lives of billions (billions!) of animals are suffering under human “care.” I have to shut my mind and pray for help for them and for human change; for humans to regain their potential to have awareness of animals as fellow creatures with the same capacity for suffering as ourselves. I keep learning what I can
about animal treatment in order that I may help my fellow creatures. They have to live the lives in which they are trapped in every day from birth to death. I can at least visit their existence long enough to witness it and seek help. To not do so would make me less than what I am. The world’s evils have not been changed by people looking away and saying I cannot bear it. And the animals have to bear it until they die of it.

In modern life, in a way as no time before, animals are treated as
things. When I say animals are treated as things I mean as inanimate objects. This means that their psychological and physical feelings are not at all considered. Food, leather, fur, and other animal-based factories are designed around how to make product most efficiently and therefore make more money.
The creatures that make that product are thought of only as how they can best produce. Imagine the cruelty that such a focus engenders. Imagine if your life, not an amount of time, but your whole life was lived entirely for what you produced and with no regard for your suffering. The lives of most “domestic” animals, surpasses any horror you can imagine. It is a daily fact of modern life that we
accept as ethical and legal such a way of treating others. Such institutional cruelty exists because of our willful ignorance and active willingness to allow it as if it were acceptable. Human beings also treat other human beings in unspeakably cruel and horrible ways. In most countries and under most circumstances, however, to do so is illegal and considered unacceptable. Animals are mostly not given these legal or moral rights. Distancing and dissociation from the accepted cruelty and plain ignorance of animal sentience is no doubt increasing our general de-sensitization and bad treatment of other humans. Cruelty and mistreatment of any sentient beings, both institutionally and otherwise, make all human beings less than who we can be as caring, humane, loving, whole and connected creatures. A powerful argument for humane respect and treatment of other animals is that it will make us more kind, whole and psychologically healthy as a species. The psychological and physical costs of human denial and dissociation are high. As a clinical psychologist by trade this is something I could write a lot about. I may in a blog, but for now suffice it to say that when we harm others we suffer from the behaviors we use to sustain resulting denial and dissociation. Distancing ourselves from the lives of the hens who lay our eggs, pigs who provided our bacon, or the truth of the cruelty to elephants who live in circuses is not really possible. We pay for the cost of such moral disconnection by being an addictive and physically unhealthy, de-sensitized, cruel, lonely and alienated group of animals. On a spiritual, moral, and psychological level we are less present, kind, loving, and whole. It will heal us as individuals and as a species to feel true connection with other species and thus take responsibility to prevent their suffering.

We are living in a time of
great danger for our planet. Humans are growing in number rapidly, and their demands for food and things grows with them. Money to be made on providing humans with “things” escalates greed. This endless cycle of consumption, is wearing out the planet and the other creatures that share it with us. The focus on consumption (the status
that having and owning “things” conveys) is blurring the focus on respect for others and their lives as sentient and precious. Other living people and animals become means, objects, things to be used to gain yet more things. Unless we take serious steps to change the tide animals will simply become a commodity - a means to an end. The issues of species extinction, domestic animal care, and animals as sentient beings are connected. How we view our fellow animals affects how we treat all creatures. To treat other animals without care for their feelings or rights to their homes is to be less fully sentient and whole as human. To close our eyes and our ears and our hearts to animal suffering is to shut down parts of ourselves and degrade who we are. It is to be less whole and sentient ourselves and will ultimately lead to humans being increasingly inhumane and in some ways dead: brain dead, heartless. We can change that course by opening our hearts, bearing witness to the suffering and the loss of other animals and speaking up about it to effect change.

The species extinction issue is immediate.

Animals are already vanishing at an alarming and desperate rate; 90% of the sharks gone (many de-finned and thrown back alive to die in the water - all for the commodity of shark-fin soup), ancient giant turtles used for their shells or caught in industrial fishing gear, elephants and rhinoceros murdered for their tusks, whales almost gone, bears poached for their gall bladders - which have become another valuable commodity, the snow leopard, the tigers (also for eastern “medicine”), 60% of American songbirds extinct, the gorillas,
orangutan, and chimpanzees (our nearest relatives) all virtually extinct in the wild, lemurs and geckos dwindling due to deforestation in Madagascar, hundreds of species of frogs and birds disappearing due to destruction of rain-forests and global warming, polar bears, walruses, pika, lynx, the list goes on and on from local to distant and large to small. In fact 50% (50%!) of the planets species are likely to be extinct by the end of the century and most of the ones with which we are so familiar will disappear in the wild such that our grandchildren will not see them as they have been for all of human memory. If
human greed and growth continue all will become commodities to sell, as will their homes. The beauty and wonder of the planets’ millions of sentient creations will vanish forever.

The only way to stop this is to take action. Action on
many levels. Important global actions include preserving the U.S. Endangered Species Act, supporting your government to support strict CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) rules, encouraging your government to keep The International Whaling Committee strictly protecting whales, and encouraging other nations to preserve their species and their habitats. This can be done by supporting organizations like the African Wildlife Foundation and other more localized groups, taking action with letters, emails, careful choices of travel destination, volunteerism, and donations and any other ideas that you can think of and share. Please use the our “Take Action” to find organizations that need your active help with signatures and use the web to find more.  Direct action regarding species extinction can be found at that is an example of an excellent program which you can emulate or in which you can become involved. This is one example of many ways, small and large, by which you can make a difference.

Dr Martin Luther King said that “Our lives begin to end the
day we become silent about things that matter.”  We must help to protect animals and change people’s perception of animals from things for people’s use to creatures of sentience with whom we share the planet. The issue of extinction is immediate, but with regard for suffering there are many additional urgent issues. The largest single issue is that of our treatment of animals we eat. These animals, the largest number being chickens, currently have no rights or protections at all and are regularly treated horribly from the beginning to the end of their lives. At this point there is a
kind of willful ignorance about the treatment of the animals we eat. I recently watched again an undercover documentary "Fowl Play" produced by Mercy for Animals ( I want to believe that if most Americans only saw some clips from that movie ( they would be unable to participate in the current egg industry.
However, mostly people want to ignore the
cruelty that occurs everyday and is now endemic in our culture. Why people want to ignore this is addressed in another page on this site. People do encourage this ignorance and this is spreading world wide and is part of our violent self destruction. We used to “husband” animals, that is to care for them in the true sense of the word. For thousands of years in all cultures there have been people who cared for their domestic animals. Jesus, for example, was considered a shepherd as his followers were his flock. These days we do not care for sheep that way. The idea of production has replaced husbandry and animals have been become cogs in the wheels of production. It is revoltingly gruesome the ways humans can treat living feeling creatures when the only goal is increased production. When animals become things and not beings. Sentient beings.

This shift in care for our fellow sentient beings closes our minds and hearts and cuts us off from our humanity and goodness. We become increasingly less responsible for ourselves and for our well being as we decrease responsibility for other’s suffering and ourselves as the cause of it. We are increasingly de-humanized and objectify those around us as merely potential sources of gain. Our psyches move into detachment and we are de-sensitized. Moving in this direction we become very unhealthy and self-destructive. This of course is true between each other as well as with other species. To willfully ignore suffering that our “wants” cause to other sentient beings and to separate ourselves from this behavior as though it does not matter is to move towards brokenness and the opposite of what it means to be human at its’ best. To care for other creatures and each other as sentient is vital for our own emotional, mental, and spiritual (and there is plenty of evidence also for physical) health. 

Any action regarding how we spend money,
conserve consumption, and treat each other (animals included) with respect are part of changing the future for all of us. All actions are choices. This includes what we eat for breakfast, what we say, where we shop and so on. It is very important to take legal action and social action. Action against animal cruelty, both domestically and industrially, action to educate other humans about animal value and sentience, and for environmental and species protection. Time is very short. We need to act now.

Because animals are sentient creatures it matters a lot how they are treated. This is because they feel. If an animal is not cared for in the same basic ways as we need to be cared for, then they will suffer in all the basic ways that we suffer. Animals, (certainly
including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, and invertebrates) get hungry, thirsty, bored, lonely, and feel physical pain and terror. They feel these feelings just as we do. They have the same range of reactions as we do. They struggle, get angry, get depressed, hopeless, desperate, give up, fight, beg and try to manipulate and change outcomes.

An animals range of responses varies with species and personality. Elephants or dolphins have much in common with humans so their reactions are very similar in expression. (for example elephants exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing violence and trauma to their community). A fish is less obvious in its psychological responses to inflicted hurt, though its basic responses of fear, pain,and suffering are clear. It is also clear, therefore, that we need to take responsibility, to act with care, compassion and respect towards other creatures.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,
may be judged by the way its animals are treated” - M. Gandhi

There are a number of ways we treat our fellow sentient creatures which are very disturbing if you start to open your mind to the fact that animals suffer. Taking the time and courage to open your mind and get honest is necessary in order for you to help change happen. It starts first within you,
vand then you can help change others around you.

Take a little time to look into the truth of factory farming. Just go to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (, the Humane Society of the United States (, Mercy for Animals (, Compassion Over Killing (, or just Google “animals undercover” and look into the enormous amount of data that appears. Really educate yourself about how the animals you eat or eat from (e.g. eggs, milk, cheese, ice-cream, etc) are treated. What their lives and deaths are like. It is appalling, repulsive, utterly disturbing, honestly there are not words to adequately describe the treatment of animals in factory farms, research labs, and other human-centered corporate and “educational” facilities.

George Bernard Shaw wrote “Atrocities are no less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called research.”

Please inform yourself as to what “free range”
actually means, and certainly look into what a (most usually consumed) “caged” chicken or other factory farmed animal’s life is like. Look into what “organic” means. It does not refer to the humane treatment of the animals. It refers only to what they eat, which is often not even what they would want to eat. Investigate how your mascara was tested (American Anti-Vivisection Society-, your rabbit fur gloves were produced, your Thanksgiving turkey lived, and how the military does some of its testing (New England Anti-Vivisection Society- and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine-

There is also the problem of using animals for entertainment. I recently watched a video of elephants playing soccer (with men riding them, of course). This is not an appropriate activity for an animal which would prefer to be with its community in the wild. Even more recently I watched some videos


of Ringling Brothers training baby elephants (meant to be with their mothers for a number of years). I was with heart aching nightmares for several nights. I always remember that I only need to bear witness
to these events and that the creatures involved are living in them with no option for escape. It is my moral and ethical calling to bear witness and therefore fight for these creatures as they cannot for themselves. Domestic animals may enjoy some of our human ideas of enjoyable activity, but wild animals belong in the wild enjoying their lives. They are bored, abused in many ways, lonely, and enslaved when we keep them as pets or force them into a life of servitude to entertain us. Dolphins and other water park entertainment animals, zoo animals, wild animals as pets, elephants, tigers, greyhound racing, horse racing, and other entertainment and “actor” wild animals are some examples of our self-centered animal enslavement. People do not seem to think about how unhappy a lot of these caged wild animals must feel or what is involved in their “performance.” It would be wonderful if we humans could increase our capacity for empathy for these other sentient creatures and their experience.

Albert Schweitzer once said “Think occasionally of the
suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”

Another important point about animal sentience is that people who really abuse animals rarely stop there. It is unlikely that the people who torture an animal (whether in further abusing a pig kept industrially for “breeding” or abusing a domestic kitten or puppy) go home and are sensitive to their partners or children. Statistically, they are violent towards other people if they are violent towards other animals. If people are violent toward sentient beings, they may like to see suffering, and they can see it in other species, of course, as well as in people. At the same time, such a person may also be unable to see the sentience within, unable to empathize, and thus able to objectify people as well as animals. Violence and disconnection from sentience of another begets more violence. As I have said, this is the bad direction all of humankind is going if we continue to treat animals as products and objectify them. Even violence
that is once removed encourages more violence and desensitization for suffering, pain, and abuse towards others. Cock and dog fighting are two examples of this sort of “spectator sport” of exacting enjoyment from animals hurting, maiming and killing each other. Some legalized examples of this are bullfights and fox/coyote penning (putting starving dogs in a pen with the former and watching the results). In all cases of the above situations people are encouraging enjoyment of violence perpetrated on other living creatures who are trapped and without choices. This can only increase human desensitization to violence and suffering in others who are “different” and
give credence to the myth that different sentient beings either deserve to suffer, or that they actually don’t suffer, and meanwhile it is fine to enjoy their suffering. Enjoy watching other creatures suffer. That is the definition of sadism. It is also the way we cut off from ourselves and the reality of suffering and thus the capacity for empathy and compassion. There is no positive psychology or spiritual path that would support this as a healthy direction for human expansion. And yet these and similar activities are well attended, socially supported, and often legal. This is bad for the psychological health of the human species as well as grossly unjust and heinous treatment of all other species involved.


There are so many examples of accepted animal cruelty, general desensitization, and promotion of animals as commodities for our use, rather than as equally valuable sentient creatures as we humans. The few following examples all point to people’s disconnection from the reality of animal suffering. Examples include trophy hunting, seal
clubbing, shark finning, line-fishing, canned hunting, cock and dog fighting, horse and greyhound racing, aerial hunting, animal circuses, marine shows and roadside zoos, wild animals kept as domestic pets, the value placed on fur, ivory, and other animal body parts, how our animals are raised and treated in factory farms, fois gras, anything that promotes animals for our use and misuse rather than as worthy of respect and care as fellow sentient beings. Additionally, there is the issue of habitat encroachment as though we were the only species that matter and that our endless need for more should mean the destruction of other animal environments and wild places to the point of extinction (remember, GONE FOREVER) of the planet’s other inhabitants.

In fact, we are getting to a crucial point of running out. Even the oceans that seemed so endless are emptying of iconic and keystone creatures, with the advent of international corporate search for profit. The whales can be hunted to extinction and so bothered by sonar that they do not reproduce and beach themselves. We have decimated the shark population in recent times so that they are 90%
gone in less than 30 years of concentrated violence (see the video “Shark-water” to learn more about these amazing, deeply misrepresented, and abused creatures). Tuna and the other keystone sea predators are also 90% fished out. We can wipe creatures out very quickly at this point, and we will unless the more caring and conscious of us act. Act now, act often, and act repeatedly.

It is to taking action that the creators of this website most want you to do.

  1. 1.You can donate money and download an incentive gift of pictures and we give your money to one of a number of wonderful organizations working for animal protection and welfare. Or, you can donate directly to organizations and/or give donations as gifts. 

  2. 2.You can look at our “Things You Can Do” page and do them. You can let us know more ideas to add to that page and if we agree we will add them to the list. Any time you make a choice that respects sentient beings and their need, you are making a difference.

  3. 3.Very importantly, you can use our “Take Action” page to link to action oriented organizations and sign petitions, write letters, call people as the various sites suggest and make very easy for you. Please do this and then check back monthly or sign up with the organizations themselves for e-mail alerts. Please keep checking in and taking political and social action. Please pass your concerns and cares on to influence your friends, family, teachers, children, and elected officials, and encourage all the people around you to do the same.    


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