My veganism journey started at a really young age by someone very special. I’m an only child and when I was young I had to amuse myself most of the time and find fun alone. When I was six, my parents bought me a puppy to keep me company. He was a Kelpie x Rottweiler and I named him Rottie.
Before they bought him, mum asked me if I wanted a “rich puppy” (designer breed) or a “poor puppy” (rescue). I said I wanted a poor puppy and to give him a loving home, so we went to the pound. I remember it so clearly, the litter was kept in a tiny concrete cage and they were all clamoring at the fence for attention. We took Rottie out to a small enclosed oval so we could meet him. He was about 9 weeks old and had never seen or felt grass before. As soon as he felt it under his feet he started running crazily around and around, with what seemed like a huge grin on his face. I could feel his excitement and happiness and it was beautiful and contagious. That’s the first time I experienced that animals have complex emotions like humans- that they feel love and joy and neglect and hurt just like we do. And most importantly, that animals and humans are connected spiritually, even without language - because of this shared sentience.
Rottie was my best friend. He was the best dog in the world. We lived way out in the bush in the Sunshine Coast, Queensland - surrounded by bush and endless places to explore. We did everything together. During and because of this time, I had more and more exposure and experiences that solidified what I had learnt about animals.
Our next door neighbour and friend had chickens and I would go around and play with them, feed them and collect their eggs with her.
We lived in a very outdoors and ‘amongst nature’ house, and every morning there would be mice stuck in our bathtub who had been looking for water. They were tiny little field mice and so adorable. We had a special box to put them in, and every morning I’d scoop them out of the bathtub and release them back into the bush on our way down to the bus stop. It was my favourite part of everyday. The mice couldn’t get out of the bathtub by themselves, and seemed so grateful when we scooped them up, they would walk straight into the box. They became my little friends and I really cared about them.
These were the early exposures I had to the idea that if dogs have emotions, then it would make sense and is evident that other animals like chickens, mice, sheep, pigs and cows do too.
My family and I ate meat as a child. It was the total ‘norm’ of my childhood for people to eat meat- in fact the only person I ever knew who was vegetarian until I was about 14 was my aunty. I remember when I was about 11, eating roast lamb and expressing that I thought it was weird that a baby sheep was alive and now we were eating it. My mum agreed that it was weird and not a very nice thing to think about, and we both didn’t finish our food.
I always loved vegetables and would sit and eat them raw as mum cut them up for dinner, but I think after that ‘light bulb’ moment, I really started eating more and more vegetables, and less and less meat.
I really loved animals when I was young and did everything I could to be around them more often. I was particularly obsessed with horses and spent as much time with them as I could. I would go away for weeks every year to spend time on a horse farm (for race horses- which for reasons I don’t support now, but didn’t understand when I was a child), but I continued to learn so much about animals from those experiences.
I loved to draw horses, and make up their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, family trees, likes and dislikes etc. I really started to view horses, and all animals, as people. I knew that dogs and mice and horses had emotions, so I began to make a connection.
The horse farm was I spent a lot of time on was huge, and there was a paddock of sheep right out the back. I used to go and pat them and try to cuddle them every day after we fed the horses. One day, I noticed that one of the sheep wasn’t getting up and looked really sick. I called Pete (our family friend and owner of the farm) over to have a look. The sheepie was completely windswept- flies had laid eggs under his skin and maggots were covering his entire bottom half. It was disgusting, and very grim. I could really sense this sheep’s emotions, and I could imagine vividly being in his position and crying in pain and despair. It broke my heart and I started crying uncontrollably, desperate with the feeling of alleviating his suffering.
(I should mention now that I think children have a beautiful innocence about them, and a spiritual and emotional connection to all living things. Their unbridled imagination allows them to feel and see things that adults have been conditioned to ignore. This is a whole other topic on negative experiences, memory, the conditioning of forgetting and disconnecting that adults learn to do.)
I begged Pete to help him. So we picked him up, and he sat on my lap, covered in maggots with me sobbing over him and rode on the quad bike the 10 minutes back to the shed. Pete and I cleaned the maggots out, washed and disinfected the wound and dressed his bottom half with bandages. We kept him overnight and he slept on the front porch with me by his side, and eventually released him back into the paddock with his sheepie friends.
This was another key in a series of locks of understanding about animals, their complex lives, their vulnerability to man, their inability to communicate with us, but - also knowing we were deeply connected to them on a level outside of language. Because I was a child, this was particularly evident to me.
As I got older a few kids at my school were vegetarian, and I tried out the idea of it multiple times but never stuck with it. I graduated, and started a degree in Journalism. I wanted to be an investigative journalist. I decided to write an article about the meat industry, and this is where my life changed. I was old enough and mature enough to think about things practically and analytically, and now understood animals and their relationship to humans in a whole different way.
I’m so thankful that I already had a deep connection with animals in an emotional and spiritual way, and now I could build on that. I researched animal agriculture and was appalled to find videos of animals being slaughtered for meat. I guess I had never really thought about the intricacies of eating meat and how that meat comes to be on a plate, before I started paying attention.
Becoming vegetarian was just the next logical step for me. I already ate and loved vegetables, I knew in my heart that animals have emotions, and I knew that I didn’t like where meat came from. This made me realise that I didn’t feel comfortable participating in a cycle that abused animals. So the result of that, for me, was change. And it’s a change I have never, ever regretted.
Rottie passed away a few years ago and his death broke our family's heart. He was a loyal friend and loved very dearly in our house. He became very sick and stopped eating. He had stomach cancer and lost a lot of weight, and was so weak couldn't move on his own. We had him euthanised in our home and he died in my arms, as I cradled and kissed his head. He passed on surrounded by those who loved him- something that every animal killed for food doesn't have the privilege of.
I know I will never eat meat again and I have absolutely no desire to- it seems like a crazy idea that I would eat another person’s body. I live a very happy and healthy life, and have absolutely no reason to hurt others for my food.