“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

As a child, I was amazed by animals. Like any other child ridden with curiosity, I buried my head in books so I could learn more about interesting creatures; page after page, I gazed at images of different animals, absorbing information while wishing that I got to see them live and up close someday.

That wish came true when I was in first grade, and my family and I travelled to Davao via a passenger ship. Being at sea for three days, we would see dolphins riding alongside our ship. On several occasions, we saw a sea turtle bobbing up and down in the water, numerous flying fish breaking out of the sea’s surface and diving back in, and schools of tuna swimming freely in the open sea. I was in awe.

While staying in Davao City, I tagged along with my uncle-in-law’s beach property in Samal. It was an afternoon during a low tide, and there for the first time I saw animals in their natural habitat up-close and personal. Sprightly fishes, different sized sea urchins, colorful starfish, and even the notorious banded sea krait, were all scattered about on the ocean floor. Fleshy corals attached on rocks were also exposed, and even though I didn’t know back then that they were animals, I had a sense that they too were alive. I was completely absorbed and astonished by everything I saw. It was during this trip that I fell deeply in love with nature and animals.

Benefits of human-animal interactions

Several studies have shown that interacting with animals reduces levels of the stress hormone called cortisol and increases the production of the hormone oxytocin, responsible for feelings of love and trust.

Bonding with animals produces positive effects on the well-being of people, even those with long-term mental health illnesses, giving them a sense of security that supports their emotional and social needs. Equally, animals feel happy just by being around their beloved humans.

Why do we love animals?

It’s not hard to fall in love with animals especially those whom we share our homes with. They bring us joy and laughter, they are loyal and are there for us on our toughest days, they relieve our stress and bring us a sense of calm. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that they trust and love us, too, and unconditionally at that.

Despite them not having the ability to speak our language, they push all our happy buttons effortlessly; likewise, we don’t have to become animal whisperers for us to know what their needs are: a simple eye gaze, an exposed belly, a wagging tail, a constant meow – we rely on both nonverbal cues and sounds to communicate. What we have with animals is a unique bond, a relationship so special that it breaks even the toughest language barriers.

Tainted love

Although our fondness for animals comes so naturally to us, we have unfortunately developed a double standard in loving some animals while also exploiting others (albeit unintentionally). Isn’t it a bit weird that we find eating dogs in Yulin to be barbaric, yet we do the same cruelty to pigs who are as intelligent and as adorable as dogs? That we condemn whaling in Taiji while feasting on aquatic animals, even driving our native tawilis to become endangered? That we feel so angry at trophy hunters but at the same time support having wild animals imprisoned every time we go to zoos and sea parks? It is a challenging quandary to find ourselves stuck in this animal lover paradox.

But what solution could there be for such an ethically charged issue?

How to show animals we love them

1. Adopt, don’t shop

There is an overabundance of stray animals who need loving homes. Every time we buy from breeders, we are denying homeless animals a chance to find a family. It is important that we look at animals not for what they are but who they are.

2. Spay and neuter you companion animals

We need to step up and take responsibility for keeping the feral population at bay. Our companion animals could also lead longer, happier, and healthier lives if they are sterilized.

3. Volunteer at an animal sanctuary

Animal sanctuaries are always in need of help, from feeding and playing with the animals, to cleaning their houses, to the more general tasks, there is plenty of things to do that will keep your hands busy. But as not all of us can offer our time, we have the option to donate and help the good-hearted people behind these sanctuaries maintain their facilities and make sure that the animals in their care always have food in their tummies.

4. Purchase cruelty-free products

Let’s aim to keep animals out of labs and away from testing! Always choose cruelty-free options.

5. Don’t support industries that exploit animals

Cruelty and abuse happen every time animals are used for profit. Please consider not supporting traditions, establishments, events, and shows that treat animals as objects for people’s pleasure. It helps to ask ourselves, “how would I feel if I were in their situation?” If you don’t want it done to yourself, then it’s best not to do it to others. No exceptions.

Making the connection

Growing up, my family has had the opportunity to provide shelter for a myriad of animals; however, it wasn’t until I saw raw footages taken from slaughterhouses, labs, and farms that I learned what it means to truly love animals. Those videos, although taken from different places, had one thing in common: suffering. No, the animals who were in those videos didn’t need to be able to talk to convey their pain – the look in their eyes said it all. And one look was all it took for me to realize that the cause of their suffering was me. Because I wanted their flesh, or their skin, or their honey, I was directly supporting the demand for harming them.

Right then and there, I knew I had to get myself out of the animal paradox (that I never even realized I was stuck in) if I were to call myself an animal lover.

In his blog for Psychology Today, ethologist Dr. Marc Bekoff said, “Animals are not property or things but rather living organisms, subjects of a life, who are worthy of our compassion, respect, friendship, and support.” Indeed, if we were to respect animals, we need to extend our compassion and sense of justice to all kinds of animals, not just the ones we find cute, cuddly, or exotic.

Animals are amazing beings who have the power to inspire, bring happiness, aid healing, and awaken compassion in humans. English primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall perfectly articulates what it means to love animals when she said, “We are beginning to learn that each animal has a life and a place and a role in this world. If we place compassion and care in the middle of all our dealings with the animal world and honor and respect their lives, our attitudes will change.”

It is this change in our attitudes and perception that will lead us to better understand that no matter what an animal’s role is in our planet, all of them are worthy of life. Our very existence depends on the organic relationship of nature and animals, from the most minuscule insect to the most massive mammal –we all exist for our own purpose, and it is crucial that we recognize this if we are to aid our species to evolve into one that is more intelligent and more compassionate. As humans, it is our duty to protect the world and all its inhabitants – and it’s through these selfless acts in which we can show animals that we truly love them.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s August 2019 issue.

Related stories:
– Do our pets really love us or do they just stay for the food?
– Love at first sight: Stafford woman and her possums
– Love lock: Finding the one