I was a happy, middle-aged, leather-wearing meat
eater when Czar passed away. He was eighteen, a
ripe old age for a sixty-pound shepherd-samoyed
mix. Sixteen years earlier, I had adopted him
from a shelter just two hours before he was
scheduled to be killed, and he had been with me
through thick and thin ever since--through three
changes of residence, a divorce, and all the ups
and downs of living. So when the machine finally
wore out and he couldn't stay with me any longer,
I was broken-hearted. Czar was part of my
family, he was my friend. When Aristotle and
Aquinas said that humans and
animals cannot share friendship, they were speaking from the heights of exalted

Czar was a person. He had a personality as individual and well-defined as any
human being. He could love, he could trust, he could share, he could enjoy, he
could fear, he could worry, he could look forward to the future and remember the
past, he had a sense of who he was, and he would have sacrificed himself for me
without a moment's hesitation.

As it happened, Patti Rogers, a close human friend who years later became my
wife, lost her two canine friends to old age about the same time, and in the course
of consoling one another by reminiscing together about our departed loved ones,
we began asking ourselves a question. If Czar, Judge and Buba (her companions)
were people, what about other animals, such as cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens.
Weren't they people, too?

Our friends had certainly been able to suffer--physically and emotionally--just as
human beings do. Was there any reason why the animals we eat couldn't suffer in
the same ways? How could we form deep and lasting friendships with some
animals and cook and eat the flesh of others?

It was hardly an original question. I would later learn that Henry Spira had been
inspired by his cats to ask it almost ten years earlier. And others had asked it
before and since. But even so, it has been posed all too seldom, and only rarely by
those whom we regard as the sources of our collective wisdom.When I went
looking in religion, philosophy, and literature for a deeper understanding of my
belated discovery, I was dismayed to learn that from the animals' standpoint,
almost the entire history of human thought--especially in the West--is the story of
a millennia-long, self-serving, dishonest effort to justify and reinforce humankind's
tyranny over our weaker neighbors. Our "great minds" call it "truth," but it is
really an apology for power exercised unjustly, a series of disingenuous rationales
for "might makes right," that we accept only because we want so urgently to
preserve our privilege and power.

That epiphany came in 1984, and before long, Patti and I had become vegetarians.
Within a year, when we had learned more about the suffering and death that are
caused by milk and egg production, we were vegans.  In 1987, we attended our
first animal rights conference, and we have been active in the animals’ cause ever

Religion has always been a primary focus of my animal rights activism and
writing. Raised in a devout Southern Baptist family, in 1985 I took refuge vows
from the Ven. Kalsang Gyaltsen and became a Tibetan Buddhist in the Sakya
tradition, a spiritual path that I still follow. In 2003, Patti and I joined the Unitarian-
Universalist Association, and I am now an adherent of both traditions, neither of
which demands exclusivity. I am a founding member of the Society of Ethical and
Religious Vegetarians (SERV) and a member of Unitarian-Universalists for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA).

In 2002, I wrote
The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible,
followed in 2004 by
The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights, and in
2007 by
The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, all
published by Lantern Books of New York.

I have published articles, essays, and book reviews in, among other periodicals,
Satya, The Animals’ Voice, VegNews, Philosophia, and the Journal of Critical
Animal Studies
and spoken at numerous conferences, including the National
Conference on Organized Resistance, the University of Oregon’s Public Interest
Environmental Law Conference, several of the annual Animal Rights Conferences
sponsored by FARM, and the Compassionate Living Festival.

Norm Phelps
The Day that Changed           
animals and ethics