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'Animal Matters' (September 2014):


“...Know that violence is the root cause of all miseries in the world. Violence, in fact, is the knot of bondage. “Do not injure any living being”. This is the eternal, perennial, and unalterable way of spiritual life. A weapon, howsoever powerful it may be, can always be superseded by a superior one; but no weapon can, however, be superior to non-violence and love”.

(From a Jainist Prayer for Peace)

On November 11th, many people in the United Kingdom can be seen wearing red poppies… to honour fallen soldiers, originally in the First World War, where many of them died in the trenches in the red poppy fields of Flanders in Belgium. That ‘ War to end all Wars’, responsible for the massive carnage of young men on all sides for no good reason, has since been followed by untold numbers of other wars…wars that have also exploited untold numbers of animals…sacrificing them in service to humanity’s ‘greater cause’. Recently some people have taken to wearing purple poppies in remembrance of these unsung heroes. Unsung heroes who have, through their deeds of remarkable bravery, suffered and died, as well as served and saved the humans they worked alongside…Unsung heroes, though just as brave, if not braver than any human hero and innocent victims of mankind’s own madness. The words below can be seen near a memorial in London’s Hyde Park to honour animals for their service in war:

“Many and various animals were employed to support British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns over the centuries, and as a result millions died. From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten.”

One might also add “Especially as they had no choice in the matter and were not consulted beforehand!" Animals don’t start or conduct wars…only humans do. Yet, since time immemorial, vast numbers have been caught up in human conflict somehow… One such is Mary, one of literally millions of messenger pigeons that have been used in this way.

“Mary, an avian member of the National Pigeon Service during World War 1, was missing and it was presumed that she had been killed. She had never been late before and those who knew her were sure that only death could stop her. And it had. She had been attacked by a hawk and her neck and right breast were ripped open. Although it took her four painful days to do it, she got through the enemy lines. During her next mission, Mary was absent for three weeks. She must have braved hunger, pain and predators while she was too weak to fly and had lain on the ground, trying to nurse her wounds. This time she had three pellets in her body and part of her wing shot off. Later, a 1000 pound bomb exploded outside her loft, killing most of the people in the area but Mary somehow survived. The need for brave carrier pigeons was so great that Mary was again returned to active duty. On her last mission, the tiny survivor was discovered with a wound that had opened up the side of her head and neck as she tried to bear her message to the allies. She was given stitches and nursed back to health.” (Taken from “Peaceful Kingdom: Random Acts of Kindness by Animals” by Stephanie Laland)

One could say she was one of the lucky ones in that miraculously, she survived. In World War 2, Cher Ami, another famous pigeon messenger, returned to base, despite being severely wounded, carrying a message and saving 194 lives. Another unsung hero was Bob, a dog on the frontline in the Boer War. He carried water to troops under fire. He filled water bottles that were strapped to his body by lying down in a stream, returning them to the men when they were full. A dog named Peggy, during World War 2, trapped in a collapsing building, rescued a baby who was suffocating under fallen plaster. She dug an air hole for the baby and waited with her until help arrived… just to mention four animal heroes among the hundreds of thousands.

All kinds of animals have been used: cats, donkeys, elephants, pigs, dolphins and even sea lions amongst others; in particular, horses, dogs and messenger pigeons: Dogs for their rescue work, detection and scouting skills, dolphins and sea lions to detect underwater mines, horses, donkeys and oxen to transport heavy loads as well as ammunition and pigeons for their amazing navigation and homing instincts…certain pigeons will fly thousands of miles, braving predators, storms, war zones and all kinds of dangers to get back home, not just for food, but to be reunited with their beloved mate. Many animals have had to endure the terror of the battlefield and have loyally stood by their human companions until the end instead of running away and saving themselves. They are even used as mascots to bring comfort and companionship to soldiers on the frontline and sailors at sea.

These noble creatures have faced incredible danger and worked under terrible and terrifying conditions. They have kept on working even when they have become sick, weak and severely wounded. Multitudes have died in action. Sometimes they have been really appreciated but often not. At the end of their active service, many have been callously abandoned and left to fend for themselves or simply euthanased. What little thanks many of them have got for their pains and loyalty. Equally sad is the fact that thousands upon thousands of animals also suffer excrutiating pain and die in weapons testing laboratories where they are subjected to all kinds of explosives, nerve agents such as soman, mustard gas and agent orange, and much more, with horrific consequences… this must surely be one of the most brutal and horrific forms of animal testing in existence from all the available evidence.

Finally, just a footnote on St Francis, the patron saint of animals. October 4th is his memorial day and many churches hold a special service for animals around then, when people can take their pets to church to be blessed. Mother Teresa had a great love for St Francis. She explained why… “because he had a great love for animals. He used to talk with them and play with them—and scold them if they did harm to anybody. I love animals, too. Animals are such simple creations of God’s beauty.”

Let’s take to heart his advice to us then:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have the higher mission to be of service to them wherever they require it.” (St Francis of Assisi)

Postcript: On the matter of wars, what goes round comes round whether the victims are animals or humans. Tolstoy showed great insight when he said, “Where there are slaughter houses, there will be battlefields.”

And he is not the only one to make this connection as you will see below:

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.”

(Isaac Bashevis Singer, writer and Nobel laureate (1902–1991))

“As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love”. (Pythagorus 6th century Greece)

(Article written by Mercini Sherratt for Vedanta Empire's charity incentive)

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