Bert Stoop

My very first pet was a young rabbit I had "earned" as a six-year old by helping someone gathering potatoes for an hour. I thought it was incredible: being given a rabbit for so little effort. After that first rabbit, many would follow. The first rabbit was given a house made of two stacked potato crates with some wire in front. Instinctively I felt that animals needed space. Because we lived on a market gardening business, there was plenty of space to make an enclosure on a grassy area, where the rabbits had a relatively large space. They could dig a burrow that was many meters long, and that even went past their enclosure. They did not escape and this way they created a safe space for their own.
Later I let my rabbit run free for an entire winter. It made me feel kind of special that the animal always stayed close by. One day in spring my father was working in the vegetable garden and his foot broke through the soil. It appeared that my rabbit had had six young from some wild rabbit. Rabbits dig burrows half a meter long, and they close the entrance off, to open it in the morning and evening to feed their offspring. That's how they protect their young.
I also had an aviary with budgies. The birds had a large area in which to fly around. Sometimes I would catch a pheasant, and I'd put it into the aviary. I thought I was doing the creature a favor. It was cared for, didn't have to be afraid of getting eaten anymore. In exchange I wanted to look at it now and then. But every time I came near the aviary, the pheasant started walking up and down nervously and tried to find some way of escape. I was hoping it would get used to me, but that never really happened. There's a reason that keeping animals from the wild is illegal.
In the meantime I'd started getting doubts whether I was doing the right thing, keeping animals from the wild. Once, I was about fourteen years old, I caught two partridges. It may have been a couple, I couldn't see what sex they were. After a while one of them died. Was that because of their captivity? And what value did the life of the remaining male or female have now? What would make it valuable again? I remember the moment I took the other partridge in my hands and tossed it into the air to let it fly off. It took some effort, because I had gone through so much trouble to catch it. I really had to overcome something inside myself to let that bird go. It was a literal act that I later sometimes experienced in a figurative sense when a relationship with a girlfriend ended. Never again have I wanted to keep a person or animal dependent on me.
A few years later I went to university to study psychology. That was a time in which you talked a lot about the important aspects of life. At first I lived in a student flat where I met a vegetarian, who quickly convinced me to stop eating meat. It was a logical and easy decision in a process that had taken place gradually. I've been a vegetarian for over 33 years now, and I will always be one, maybe one day I'll even be a vegan.

I realize that for a lot of animals I determined how long they would live and whether they would have young. That doesn't bother me, what does bother me is that I kept animals in captivity. This insight makes that I campaign against factory farming, and that I think it should be banned because the animals in factory farming don't get enough freedom. I have no objections to other people eating meat, as long as it doesn't come from factory farming. I think the quality of life before death is more important than determining the time of death. I will never eat meat again myself, I can't say why exactly. Eating or abusing animals is something you just don't do.

So my insight that animals have a right to freedom was not a sudden one, but one that grew gradually. Because I've been around pets for so many years, I have been able to experience that animals aren't really "grateful" that you care for them. They prefer to go their own way. I still like looking at animals, and the best thing for me is when an animal greets me by smelling my hand for a moment and that we each go our separate way then.

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