Back in the day, when I was an idealistic young animal welfare activist, I was challenged with this question so often! It was usually accompanied by a value judgment, and phrased as some version of:
"How can you spend your time with animals when there are so many injustices to people?"
I've spent years with this question, and if you're an animal lover, maybe you have too. Of course, we have nothing to answer for, no need to defend. We can just go on about doing our own thing. But I like to have some good answers at the ready to help curious folks question their assumptions.
Now I've identified at least 5 ways of addressing this question (along with plenty of talking points!), no matter what's going on in the world. Here's Gandhi's answer:
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." ~Mahatma Gandhi
In other words, in a just society, all beings would be respected. Ethics are not only for persons or species in power.
When animals suffer, people do too. Problems affecting animals and people intersect in ways more complex than we fully understand. (I don’t like to make animal welfare all about us, but it’s persuasive to most people.)
Compassion knows no boundaries or hierarchies.
- Caring about animals does not mean that we don’t care about election debacles, or racial profiling, or poverty, or rape culture. But who gets to determine this supposed hierarchy of needs? (Usually, those in power.)
If everyone devoted their attention to the cause célèbre, most social ills would go unattended.
To think that caring is finite is a scarcity mentality. Working for change is hard, but everyone can make a difference, even if that just means being kind to a critter.
Generosity and love ripple outward - infinitely.
We are all individuals with unique affinities and talents.
We also have different knowledge and skills based on our lived experience. It can be most effective to work with one’s own inclinations rather than conforming to someone else's dictates.
The same logic extends to the creatures and causes that call to our hearts. How can someone else know who we have the passion and ability to help?
Telling others not to care is a form of power-over that does violence to individuals and communities.
One size (or answer) never, ever fits all.
To say that we should help humans to the exclusion of helping animals is based in speciesism and human exceptionalism.
Not everyone will agree with this, but a growing number of very smart people believe that for the good of the planet, we must shift how we think about humans in relation to the Earth’s ecology.
We must finally let go of the idea that humans have dominion over nature, and that humans are the most (or only) important species on Earth.
And if all else fails, bring it back around to self-interest.
We should care about animals because we are them. There would be no us without them. They have shaped humans, and are connected with human lives, in countless and inextricable ways.
The future of species is interdependent. In a very real sense, if they go, we go.
These are pretty much my go-to responses if I decide to engage with someone who is critical of my choices or values. Hope they help stir some inspiration!