Today I woke up to the news that Arturo died. He was 31 years old. The word of his death was one of the first tweets I saw when I turned on my phone. It was a bittersweet announcement. Arturo, imprisoned in the Mendoza Zoo, had a pool 20 inches deep. His prison sentence there had been 22 years. Arturo, who had been transferred from the United States to Argentina, was finally free. I would have liked for him to have known a different kind of freedom, one where he didn’t have to stare at a cement wall in the South American heat. A kind of freedom where he didn’t have to put up with humans gawking at him as he suffered.
And he did suffer. No one can see photos of Arturo and deny that animals can feel pain. He was depressed not only because he was stuck in an inappropriate environment but because he lost his life partner two decades earlier. Arturo had been dubbed “the saddest polar bear in the world” and over 700,000 people petitioned for his release. Yet his behavior was a cry for help that the world — especially Argentina officials who refused to move Arturo because he was “too old” — ignored.
As I write this, I have a chicken named Penelope at my feet. She lives with my friends and their nonhuman animal companions: a rabbit named Leo and two cats named Rumple and Farrah. Penelope was rescued from slaughter almost two years ago. And as I write this, reflecting on Arturo’s death, the smell of a nearby BBQ enters the window. I can smell death. It’s the Fourth of July and America is celebrating “freedom” and “independence” by grilling the body parts of animals who were confined, tortured and killed. Is this how we should be celebrating independence, by ensuring the oppression of others? The body on that grill could have been Penelope’s. If things were a little different here in America, the body on that grill could be Leo, or Rumple or Farrah. It’s wrong either way.
Just like it was wrong to confine Arturo to a lifetime of suffering.
If you think your day to day choices don’t matter, think again. Our actions, especially our purchases, have far-reaching consequences. After all, the personal is political. With your dollar, who did you vote to oppress today?