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 vegetarian since 1976 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.