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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

Albert Schweitzer 1875-1965

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.
Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer, born 1875 in Kaysersberg in the province of Alsace-Lorraine in the German Empire, is perhaps mostly remembered for his work in Africa as a missionary. He was however also a theologian, organist, philosopher, and physician. He also set in motion important ideas concerning our ethical treatment of animals, and was an important protagonist in the evolution of our concept of animal rights. He struggled with the paradoxes of the relationship between man and animal as no other philosopher had ever done before. His philosophy has altered attitudes, led to the passage of laws and helped the cause of animal rights in the latter part of the twentieth century.

 

Albert Schweitzer developed a philosophy which he called a "Reverence for Life", for which he received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize; he considered this philosophy his greatest contribution to mankind. He thought that Western civilisations were decaying as a result of the abandonment of its ethical foundation, namely the affirmation of and respect for life. Reverence for life was an essential part of Schweitzer's personal Philosophy which he hoped would be made known throughout the world by means of his books and talks and through his own example.

 

At sunset of the third day, near the village of Igendja, we moved along an island set in the middle of the wide river. On a sandback to our left, four hippopotamuses and their young plodded along in our same direction. Just then, in my great tiredness and discouragement, the phrase, Reverence for Life, struck me like a flash. As far as I knew, it was a phrase I had never heard nor ever read. I realized at once that it carried within itself the solution to the problem that had been torturing me. Now I knew that a system of values which concerns itself only with our relationship to other people is incomplete and therefore lacking in power for good. Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits our our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us.

 

Reverence for Life , Albert Schweitzer


Schweitzer's reverence for life philosophy has had a profound effect on the environmental movement. Rachel Carson dedicated her book A Silent Spring, widely attributed to the beginning of environmental awareness, to Albert Schweitzer. Moreover Schweitzer's  article published in 1936,  The Ethics of a Reverence for life may have influenced the rapid growth of ethical and charitable organizations of all kinds throughout the world.

Basically Schweitzer considered that all creatures possess what he called  "a will to live " for which we should empathize, and that this will to live should be respected in all animals without exception, and a person wishing to live in accordance with such an ethic should avoid whenever possible harming another creature. He insists that the fundamental principle necessitates responsible compassion for nonhuman creatures.  He advocated that humans should do as much good as is possible to all creatures in all circumstances. He considered that humans have an obligation to do so in order to atone for the "crimes against animals" perpetuated by human beings in the abattoir, laboratory and during the course of enforced labour. Therefore, although not specifically stated, in his philosophy it is of course obvious that killing animals for food, should be avoided .

Author of the Biography of Albert Schweitzer,  James Brabazon defined Reverence for Life with the following statement:

"Reverence for Life says that the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass—and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves."

Schweitzer once wrote:

"True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness, and this may be formulated as follows: 'I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live'

Schweitzer recognised that in nature one life must pry upon another. However as human beings we are aware of and have sympathy for, the will of other creatures who, like us, wish to live and therefore as ethical humans we should endeavour to rise above this contradiction whenever possible. Schweitzer's philosophy in this regard taught that although we cannot perfect this endeavour we should nevertheless strive for it. Schweitzer believed that respect for life encouraged the individual to live not only in the service of his fellow human beings but also that of every creature. He believed that the respect for the life of other beings is the highest principle and defining purpose of humanity.

Even though the basic principle of ethics themselves proceed from the need to respect the wish of other beings to live as one does towards oneself, Schweitzer found many instances in world religions and philosophies in which this principle was denied.

Below  are a selection of Albert Schweitzer's writings relating to his philosophy of a reverence for life, beginning with:

Excepts from The Ethic of Reverence for Life
by Albert Schweitzer
from Civilization and Ethics Part II of The Philosophy of Civilization

I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live.

Just as in my own will-to-live there is a yearning for more life, and for that mysterious exaltation of the will-to-live which is called pleasure, and terror in face of annihilation and that injury to the will-to-live which is called pain; so the same obtains in all the will-to-live around me, equally whether it can express itself to my comprehension or whether it remains unvoiced.

Ethics thus consists in this, that I experience the necessity of practising the same reverence for life toward all will-to-live, as toward my own. Therein I have already the needed fundamental principle of morality. It is good to maintain and cherish life; it is evil to destroy and to check life.

A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to help all life which he is able to succour, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred. He shatters no ice crystal that sparkles in the sun, tears no leaf from its tree, breaks off no flower, and is careful not to crush any insect as he walks. If he works by lamplight on a summer evening, he prefers to keep the window shut and to breathe stifling air, rather than to see insect after insect fall on his table with singed and sinking wings.

If he goes out into the street after a rainstorm and sees a worm which has strayed there, he reflects that it will certainly dry up in the sunshine, if it does not quickly regain the damp soil into which it can creep, and so he helps it back from the deadly paving stones into the lush grass. Should he pass by an insect which has fallen into a pool, he spares the time to reach it a leaf or stalk on which it may clamber and save itself.

Today it is considered as exaggeration to proclaim constant respect for every form of life as being the serious demand of a rational ethic. But the time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race was so long before it recognized thoughtless injury to life as incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility with regard to everything that has life

The ethic of reverence for life forbids any of us to deduce from the silence of our contemporaries that they, or in their case we, have ceased to feel what as thinking men we all cannot but feel. It prompts us to keep a mutual watch in this atmosphere of suffering and endurance, and to speak and act without panic according to the responsibility which we feel. It inspires us to join in a search for opportunities to afford help of some kind or other to the animals, to make up for the great amount of misery which they endure at our hands, and thus to escape for a moment from the inconceivable horrors of existence

To read the complete The Ethics of a Reverence for life click the link below

The Ethic of Reverence for Life, by Albert Schweitzer

Excerpts from The Light Within Us By Albert Schweitzer

As far back as I can remember I was saddened by the amount of misery I saw in the world around me. Youth's unqualified joie de vivre I never really knew,
and I believe that to be the case with many children, even though they appear outwardly merry and quite free from care.

One thing that specially saddened me was that the unfortunate animals had to suffer so much pain and misery. The sight of an old limping horse, tugged forward by one man while another kept beating it with a stick to get it to the knacker's yard at Colmar, haunted me for weeks.

It was quite incomprehensible to me--this was before I began going to school--why in my evening prayers I should pray for human beings only. So when my mother had prayed with me and had kissed me goodnight, I used to add silently a prayer that I had composed myself for all living creatures.
It ran thus: 'O, heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath; guard them from all evil, and let them sleep in peace.
 

More quotations from Albert Schweitzer

An experience related by Albert Schweitzer after being pressured by his friend Harry to Kill birds with a catapult:

This was a horrible proposal to me, but I dared not refuse for fear he would laugh at me. So we came to a tree which was still bare, and on which the birds were singing out gaily in the morning, without any fear of us. Then stooping over like an Indian on the hunt, my companion placed a pebble in the leather of his sling and stretched it. Obeying his peremptory glance I did the same, with frightful twinges of conscience, vowing firmly that I would shoot when he did. At that very moment the church bells began to sound, mingling with the song of the birds in the sunshine. It was the warning bell that came a half-hour before the main bell. For me it was a voice from heaven. I threw the sling down, scaring the birds away, so that they were safe from my companion's sling, and fled home. And ever afterwards when the bells of Holy Week ring out amidst the leafless trees in the sunshine I remember with moving gratitude how they rang into my heart at that time the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill. "

From that day on I have had the courage to free myself from all fear of men. Whenever my deepest convictions were involved I paid less attention than before to the opinions of others. I tried to escape from the dread of being laughed at by my comrades. The great experience of my childhood and youth was the influence of the commandment that we should not kill or torture. All other experiences pale before it.

Out of such heart-breaking experiences that often ashamed me there slowly arose in me the unshakable conviction that we had the right to bring pain and death to another being only in case of inescapable necessity, and that all of us must feel the horror that lies in thoughtless torturing and killing. This conviction has become increasingly dominant within me. I have become more and more certain that at the bottom of our hearts we all think so, and simply do not dare to admit it and practice it, because we are afraid that others will laugh at us for being sentimental, and because we have allowed our better feelings to be blunted. But I vowed that I would never let my feelings get blunted, and I would never again fear the reproach of sentimentalism.
 

Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live thoughtlessly and begins to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to give it true value. To affirm life is to deepen, to make more inward, and to exalt the will to live. At the same time the man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as good preserving life, promoting life, developing all life that is capable of development to its highest possible value. He considers as evil destroying life, injuring life, repressing life that is capable of development. This is the absolute, fundamental principle of ethics, and it is a fundamental postulate of thought. -
 

                 

It is the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. It was once considered foolish to suppose that black men were really human beings and ought to be treated as such. What was once foolish has now become a recognized truth. Today it is considered as exaggeration to proclaim constant respect for every form of life as being the serious demand of a rational ethic. But the time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life.


The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo...We need a boundless ethic which will include the animal also.


Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.
 

                  

The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every
will-to-live the reverence for life that he gives his own.
 

 

I would daily throw out crumbs for the sparrows in the neighborhood. I noticed that one sparrow was injured, so that it had difficulty getting about. But I was interested to discover that the other sparrows, apparently by mutual agreement, would leave the crumbs which lay nearest their crippled comrade, so that he could get his share, undisturbed.


The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret.... It has come to believe that compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.
 

                   

A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as well as that of his fellowman, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.
 

By having reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world,

 

                  


Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.



 

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. 
 

By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the universe


I am conscious that meat eating is not in accordance with the finer feelings, and I abstain from it whenever I can.


We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.

                  

It is man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man.


 

The exhibiting of trained animals I abhor. What an amount of suffering and cruel punishment the poor creatures have to endure in order to give a few moments of pleasure to men devoid of all thought and feeling.

                  


The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals. The time will come, but when? When will we reach the point that hunting, the pleasure of killing animals for sport, will be regarded as a mental aberration?



 

The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies.
 


By respect for life we become religious in a way that is elementary, profound and alive.


 

Let me give you a definition of ethics:  It is good to maintain and further life it is bad to damage and destroy life.


 

Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty therefore, are not so much strong as widespread. But the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought. Let us work that this time may come.
 

                  

When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another...

                   


I am life which wills to live in the midst of life which wills to live.



By respect for life we become religious in a way that is elementary, profound and alive.

Any religion or philosophy which is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion or philosophy


A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.

We need a boundless ethic which will include animals also.

The deeper we look into nature the more we recognize that it
is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret, and we are all united to all this life

Prayers For Animals by Albert Schweitzer

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends, the animals. Especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death.


We entreat for them, all thy mercy and pity, and for those who deal with them, we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.
Albert Schweitzer, from a Catholic Prayer Book

                 

Hear our prayer O Lord ... for animals that are overworked, underfed, and cruelly treated; for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death ... And for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words
 

Other items of interest relating to Albert Schweitzer's attitude towards animals.

The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer by Albert Schweitzer and Charles R. Joy (Translator)
 

This book consists of a compilation of excerpts of Schweitzer's encounters with animals he come across as a Doctor in Africa along with his ethical considerations concerning the treatment of animals, this book clearly shows that concern for animals was an important aspect of Schweitzer's ethics and life style.

Some quotations from The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer:

The courtyard border by the houses of the white members of the staff is a miniature zoo. Since no animal is wantonly killed near the hospital (the natives finding it more profitable to bring them to Doctor Schweitzer, who always makes a 'gift' in return), one never knows what animals will be found there. The domestic animals wander freely about: hens and chickens, geese, goats and African sheep, dogs and cats. But the wild animals are there, too. Always, under the doctor's house or in pens behind it, there are the antelopes. Monkeys scamper among the trees or on the corrugated tin roofs. The air is filled with the unmusical clatter of the weaver birds... A white owl may be sitting under the piazza roof, or a pelican above the doctor's door, or a stork on the ridge pole. A porcupine may be lumbering around the yard, or a wild pig rooting about, its hungry eyes on the chickens...
This is the animal world of Albert Schweitzer.

There are no formal gardens at Lambarene: Doctor Schweitzer does not like gardens where flowers are grown for the adornment of the house. To cut a flower needlessly is a violation of his fundamental ethical principle of reverence for life.

From the introduction by Charles Joy

Source and more quotations

http://home.pcisys.net/~jnf/schauth/rq17.html

Out of such heart-breaking experiences that often shamed me there slowly arose in me the unshakeable conviction that we had the right to bring pain and death to another being only in case of inescapable necessity, and that all of us must feel the horror that lies in thoughtless torturing and killing. This conviction has become increasingly dominant within me. I have become more and more certain that at the bottom of our hearts we all think so, and simply do not dare to admit it and practice it, because we are afraid that others will laugh at us for being sentimental, and because we have allowed our better feelings to be blunted. But I vowed that I would never let my feelings get blunted, and I would never again fear the reproach of sentimentalism.

I must interpret the life around me as I interpret the life that is my own. My life is full of meaning to me. The life around me must be full of significance to itself. If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine.

The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer Source and more quotations

home.pcisys.net/~jnf/schabout/ra3.html

Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer

Written By:  Ann Cottrell Free

This short book explores Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life philosophy through his own words as his philosophy unfolded throughout his life. It shows how  Dr Schweitzer inspired animal protection and environmental awareness and  how he lived his philosophy during his time at his African hospital, in the USA  and in Europe. Along with Photographs and illustrations, the book intersperses quotes by Dr Schweitzer with commentary by Ann Cottrell.

Quotations from Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer

Headings and Commentary by Ann Cottrell appear in a black font, quotation by Albert Schweitzer in a purple font

Even with his intense love of animals and nature, the clergyman's son struggled -- not always successfully -- with the temptation to conform to the general practices and attitudes toward animals, found not only in his village of Gunsbach, but everywhere. The young Schweitzer found the capacity to resist once he considered the consequences of such actions.

Forgiveness

During the holidays I was allowed to act as a driver for our next door neighbor. His chestnut horse was old and broken in wind and it was not good for him to trot much, but in my pride of drivership I gave way again and again to the temptation of whipping him into a trot even though I knew and felt he was tired.... But how my joy disappeared when we got home and I noticed during the unharnessing how the poor animal's flanks were heaving. What good did it do for me to look into his tired eyes and silently ask him to forgive me? "


Worms and Fish

Twice, in the company of other boys, I went fishing with a rod. But then my horror at the mistreatment of the impaled worms -- and at the tearing of the mouths of the fishes when they were caught -- made it impossible for me to continue. Indeed, I even found the courage to dissuade others from fishing.
 

...Albert Schweitzer had failed to prepare himself for one feature of his life in Africa -- the plight of animals in its cities. Not long after he first set foot on the soil of Africa at the port of Dakar, the strong and husky Albert Schweitzer was literally putting his shoulder to the wheel to help animals.

I have never seen such overworked horses and mules as here. On one occasion when I came upon two natives who were perched on a cart heavily laden with wood which had stuck in the newly mended street, and with loud shouts were belaboring their poor beast, I simply could not pass by, but compelled them to dismount and to push behind till the three of us got the cart on the move.

The White Heron

African wildlife appeared to be so plentiful that it was hard to believe that some species could be endangered. But Dr. Schweitzer noticed what was happening to one creature: the white heron.

Unfortunately, there are still hunters who pursue the white heron, whose feathers are the most sough after in Europe for hat ornaments. More and more these poor birds are withdrawing into remote and inaccessible stretches of water where they might hope to remain unmolested. They are hardly ever seen now on the river.

Fire

The custom of clearing the jungle by fire to make way for cultivation caused him deep sorrow because of the animals trapped within.

At this time of the year, with the red reflections against the evening sky, I am seized by compassion for the poor beasts that perish in these fires. In ancient China the burning of forests was regarded as a crime, because it meant painful death to so many creatures....

In his two-volume Philosophy of Civilization he offered, in all of its implications, the meaning of Reverence for Life.

Life

I must interpret the life about me as I interpret the life that is my own. My life is full of meaning to me. The life around me must be full of significance to itself. If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine. And not only other human life, but all kinds of life: life above mine, if there be such life; life below mine, as I know it to exist. Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.

You can obtain the full text for a small charge by clicking the link below; https://awionline.org/store/catalog/animal-welfare-publications/general-literature/animals-nature-and-albert-schweitzer

Comments about Albert Schweitzer's philosophy

James Cameron who lived with him in order that he might write a series of articles in the "News Chronicle" states : "The Doctor eats only fruits and vegetables - but considerably great quantities of mango, avocado, and soya bean, and above all, a specially huge species of boiled banana. The Doctor has no illusions about modern civilization and that is why he advocates a new one built upon Reverence of Life. He believes that modern civilization with its atomic bombs is based wrongfully on destruction of life."

From The Vegetable Passion by Janet Barkas (New York 1975): "...Schweitzer was convinced of vegetarianism as an ideal of reverence for life and regretted he could not fulfil that goal as completely as he would have liked. In his later years, he became a more consistent vegetarian."

The above was scoured from : ivu.org/history/europe20a/schweitzer.html

Where you will find more quotations and information.

As a young boy I was impressed by a book that I had read entitled The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer.  Dr. Schweitzer developed a  philosophy called a reverence for life.  He concluded that every living creature had something which was innate to it which it did not ask to have...a will to live.  He respected this in every species regardless of how small.  The story is told in this book of an instance where men had dug a number of post holes for a fence late one afternoon.  They waited to put the posts in the holes the next morning.  Before they could start, Dr. Schweitzer came running out of the hospital with a flashlight and insisted upon getting on his hands and knees with his flashlight to insure that no creature or insect would be squashed needlessly as a pole was dropped into the hole.  He feared that during the night some innocent being might have fallen into the holes.  The story stayed with me throughout my life

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/15327114/Veganism-and-Biblical-Customs

Read more about the Life of Albert Schweitzer:

Various information from a number of sources and quotations.

In 1951, Dr. Albert Schweitzer gave his permission to the Animal Welfare Institute to strike a Medal in his honor to be presented for outstanding achievement in the advancement of animal welfare.

In granting his permission, Dr. Schweitzer wrote,

"I would never have believed that my philosophy, which incorporates in our ethics a compassionate attitude toward all creatures, would be noticed and recognized in my lifetime."

In December 1953, a gold replica of the Medal was presented to Dr. Albert Schweitzer by Dr. Charles Joy in Oslo, Norway, where Dr. Schweitzer had gone to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
Continue reading: https://awionline.org/content/schweitzer-medalists

Article: Albert Schweitzer

"It was unreasonable to me--this was even before I had gone to school--that in my evening devotions I should pray only for people. So when my mother had prayed with me and kissed me goodnight, I used secretly to add another prayer which I had myself composed for all living creatures: Dear God, guard and bless everything that breathes; keep them from all evil and let them sleep in peace."

Unlike so many children who begin their lives with a caring heart, Albert Schweitzer did not lose his capacity for love and concern when he became an adult. His empathy was all-encompassing, and led to a lifetime of service to all forms of life

In his autobiography, Schweitzer wrote that when he was twenty-one he woke one morning with the thought that because he had been so blessed in a world of so much suffering and sorrow, he must give something in return. "So with calm deliberation, while the birds were singing outside the window, I decided that I could justify living my life for scholarship and art until I was thirty." But he promised himself that after thirty, he would devote his life to the service of others.

Dr. Schweitzer believed that whatever path of service is chosen, compassion and concern for all creatures must be incorporated into that service. Reverence for Life leaves no breeding ground for cruelty. It is a "boundless ethic" which includes all beings regardless of race, religion, or species.
 

Extractions from an article: Albert Schweitzer

all-creatures.org/hr/hraschweitzer.htm

Credits

Photo:Hippopotamus mother & calf - Queen Elizabeth, Uganda

Original imagine and licensing details

flickr.com/photos/david_o/4923186724/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Photo: Albert Schweitzer
 

Original imagine and licensing details

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-D0116-0041-019,_Albert_Schweitzer.jpg

Important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

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