Standing up for what is right, even when it hurts.

Eight years ago, my passion was women’s health, particularly turning back to nature and giving women back their bodies- stolen by the male-led field of obstetrics back in the late 1800s. It is a worthy cause and sometimes I wish it was still my passion. Not to say that I know longer care about this: I do, it is part of the bigger picture of women’s still sadly unequal place in America. However, back when women’s health was still my passion, I recoiled at the word feminism. I had been taught that feminism was the agenda of crazy liberal extremists.

Eight years ago, I also became a vegetarian. From reading Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, I learned that vegetarianism is healthier than the typical American diet. I was a poor college student who couldn’t afford much in the way of meat beyond frozen chicken products anyway. Just as my conservative upbringing made “feminism” a cringe-worthy word, I was quick to spout, “It’s only for health reasons!” when people asked me why I was a vegetarian. I sure didn’t want to be associated with the people I had been told were wackos over at PETA.

I have learned and changed so much since then. As I began to feel burnt out on nursing just three years in and halfway through my master’s degree in Nurse-Midwifery, I began to really think about animals. I’d always had a place in my heart for elephants and I began to daydream about a career working with them. I knew it would sound crazy to everyone, but I decided to look for a career that made me really, truly happy. So as I sat through a Nurse Management lecture that held absolutely no interest for me, I looked up online zoology programs, and found Canisius College’s Anthrozoology program. I quit my nursing program that day and started devouring everything connected with elephants, anthrozoology, and the human-animal relationship.

My sister had already enlightened me about the deplorable animal agriculture industry after learning about it from a week spent at Farm Sanctuary in Catskills, NY. It inspired her to go vegan and everything I was learning about animals added fuel to my desire to do so as well. I’ve struggled with veganism from time to time, backtracking, making excuses, but I know it’s the right thing. I can’t and won’t ignore animal suffering of any kind any longer.

It’s hard to live life this way. Cutting animal products from my diet, refusing to attend zoos, aquariums and circuses that exploit animals, buying only animal-friendly beauty and home products—that is all easy. Its living with the knowledge of horrific nonhuman animal abuse, doing my best to share that knowledge, and seeing that the majority of the people around me JUST DON’T CARE: now, that’s hard. Having overcome cognitive dissonance, it is painful, stressful, and saddening to be surrounded by it everyday. I often feel hopeless and depressed. I sometimes wish I could be someone who didn’t care, that I could be living in a bubble that focuses solely on the health and happiness of myself and my family and friends. But I can’t go back.

The support of fellow anthrozoology students and professors at Canisius and the encouragement of the vegan and animal rights groups on social media are priceless. They are the people who have also learned that “animal rights” “vegan” “PETA” “feminism (which is strongly linked to speciesism and animal rights)” etc., are not dirty words. They represent movements seeking to save a more-than-human world. We challenge humanity, which so often (falsely) holds up our capacity for compassion as something that separates us from other animals, to be kind and fair and just to one another. It is hard to stand up and say “I’m a feminist!” or “I’m an animal rights activist!” but as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

P.S. I am still following my dream of working with elephants. I’m currently fundraising for my elephant welfare internship in Thailand and India. If you would like to help, please visit www.gofundme.com/carielephants

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