Two weeks ago, I wrote about being speciesist as I found myself feeling both relieved and guilty when I discovered that the dead animal I removed off the road was not a dog or a cat but a raccoon. Upon reflection though, I think one of the factors that made me less upset involved human responsibility. Or irresponsibility, I should say. While it's always sad when a sentient being meets its end, living near humans (especially when we've encroached on their habitat) is risky for wildlife. And even though humans shouldn't strike an animal on purpose and should do their best not to run over them again in passing, squirrels, raccoons and rabbits who scamper across the road risk being hit.
Cats and dogs, however, have no business being on the road and unless they happen to be feral, it's up to humans to make sure that they're not. In other words, when I see a dead cat or dog on the road, I blame their guardian. All dogs should be leashed when walked (I always cringe when I see dogs off leash on the sidewalk because you never know what will cause them to suddenly dart onto the road), and cats supervised if let outdoors. No, when dogs and cats end up dead on the road, it's not so much an accident I feel, but a dumb decision leading to needless death. And that, I think, is partly why I get more upset with certain species getting hit by cars.
A reader mentioned being more moved to tears about stories involving animal than human suffering, and I wonder if the same element is at play here. Most animal suffering is intentional in some way or for the benefit of human desire (e.g. factory farming), so when we see, for example, stories about chicken or pig barns going up in flames, it's even more heart-wrenching because we know that raising animals for food isn't even necessary. It's based upon human greed and appetite, and a complete denial about a sentient being's emotional life and a right to live their lives as free from human harm as possible.
Stories of human suffering though, are often self-inflicted, and involve humans doing stupid things to each other when they should know better. Unlike natural disasters, man-made disasters usually reflect greed at some level, meaning that humans are at least partly to blame. Actually, one could argue that certain natural disasters are the indirect result of climate change and global warming, which are the more direct result of humans not being as bright as they claim to be. While any kind of suffering is to be lamented, there's a greater innocence where animal beings are concerned, especially when it's through direct human action.
Familiarity, though, is also a key factor. We respond differently to beings that we identify as being more similar, or that we have more knowledge of. It is thought, for example, that folk tend to think of cats as being so cute because their round faces and pleading meows remind us of human babies. (For an illuminating discussion of how we, women especially -- myself included! -- infantilize other animals, please read the comment section of veganelder's post.) People have begun to respond to Esther the Wonder Pig on a large scale because they can perceive her personality (through the photos and words her dads share) and realize that when they eat pork, they're eating someone who could be Esther, someone who shares traits with humans that they can recognize. They're experiencing what Krissa means when she wrote, "...the more interactions and experiences that one has with different species, the more it's revealed that we are all the same."
So am I speciesist? Likely (probably, given that I wouldn't max out all of my credit cards if my cat got sick, but maybe would for a relative), but it's a matter of degree. And just as it's foolish to claim that because no one can be 100% vegan one shouldn't even try, recognizing speciesism when it rears its ugly human head (are all species speciesist though?) is better than not recognizing or acting upon it at all.