Katie Costello – In all things find beauty

Costello profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Magazine Volume One December 2020

Katie Costello was born and raised in Hubbard, Ohio, USA. Her greatest passion in life has always been to help animals. She is lucky enough to be a licensed veterinary technician and owner of The Canine Campus Training and Wellness Center where she helps animals through behavior work. A vegetarian since she was 6 years old and a vegan for the last 13 years, she currently has 6 dogs, 6 cats, 6 chickens and 2 roosters and 3 farm pigs that are amongst her dearest friends. She is founder of 2 non-profit organizations, K-9’s for Compassion (Co-founded with her father), a therapy animal group and The Together 3 Journey, a service dog organization. She has been on the board of many animal organizations throughout her life, including Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary and C.H.A.I.N. (Community Helping Animals In Need). She enjoys freelance writing about (mostly) animals for different magazines, with her favorite being Live Encounters! http://thecaninecampustraining.com/

Photograph by Katie Costello
Photograph by Katie Costello

the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…” Written by Jeremy Benthem (1748-1832). Brilliantly said so many years before his time. I found this quote when I was in high school, and it started me down a different path.

Animals have always been my answer to everything. When I was a child and growing up I loved to go to my grandparents farm. I was little, and didn’t have an understanding of what a farm was. I would spend endless hours watching the cows, collecting chicken eggs, playing with the baby pigs, and on special days, my Grandmother would open the door to a small barn where a barn owl would turn his head, open his eyes and give us a “Whoot”, or we would go looking for Argiope spiders. Their striking yellow and black bodies and their amazing webs were always something I loved to see. At the pond we would watch the frogs jumping as we walked by, and the butterflies dancing in the fields were always plentiful. Caterpillars were in the garden, and lady bugs for good luck were always near the grapes.

I learned at that early age of less than 5 what a wonder we had in all the different species in the world. At 6 I realized part of what was happening on the farm, becoming vegetarian, followed by becoming vegan years later. My entire life has been an adventure of learning more and more about animals and respecting that they are sentient beings.

I had a dog named Charlie from the time I was born until I was 5. Charlie was a mixed breed basset hound who was incredibly tolerant. I lived in the country where there weren’t many children to play with and Charlie was my best friend. I also had 2 cats that I loved dearly, and these sweet creatures would sit in little chairs with me and we would have tea parties, and get on the swings and pretend we were at a carnival. They were my playmates and my friends.

Photograph by Katie Costello
Photograph by Katie Costello

I remember my Grandmother buying me a book for Christmas called “Animals can be almost human” that I would read over and over. As I grew those books lead to deeper understanding. I would study the with the wildlife explorer cards that had facts about animals from around the world. I couldn’t read enough, and every year brought a bigger understanding, and understanding brought more respect, and respect brought more empathy, and empathy brought more wonder. It was, and still is, a never ending cycle that brings me a greater understanding of animals. Figuring out why they perform different behaviors, studying different species and figuring out why they do certain things is so much fun. I delved into identification books.

I appreciate all creatures and recognize that we share this earth with them. Of course, some are more difficult than others. I have to admit when I am saving a tick and taking him back to a remote area in the woods I totally understand why people might think I am crazy. Or my relentless need to try to stop people from killing flies or gnats. But, I need to be consistent. We can’t pick and choose which animals are worthy of life. That isn’t for us to decide.

And the “I” part of this is where I really hope to impress upon you. From pet ownership, to farm animals to critters in the garden, we decide, from a very human point of view, who gets to live, and when they die in many cases.

Why is it that we from our human perspective get to choose such things? Our pets are “property” in the eyes of the law, and farm animals have even fewer rights. It seems incredibly barbaric to think that in 2020 we are still killing animals to eat. Yet, this all goes on every second in every corner of the world. Somewhere along the way we were told that “this is the way it is” and we have believed it. I challenge you to think from their perspective, and see if you feel differently.

Puppies cry when taken from their siblings and mom. Cows have a soul wrenching sound when removed from their mom that goes on for days. Yet this is a routine thing that is done. This is accepted practice by humans.

Even people that don’t love animals should have respect for them, for the sentient beings that they are. To recognize that they are breathing, they have a life, a brain, most have the same organs that we have. They aren’t exactly like us, and they don’t need to be to be worthy of their own lives. Dogs can smell a dead body a mile under water or 3 miles under earth. Cats know that a mouse is walking in a field many yards away. I challenge you to try those feats. They have lives, they have a desire to continue to live, and they can reason, fear, and care for young, at a bare minimum.

57 billion-yes, billion land animals and one trillion aquatic animals will be consumed in the next year. That is 1 trillion, 57 billion sentient beings.

In looking for a good definition of sentience, I really liked Gary Francione’s, “A sentient being is a being who is subjectively aware; a being who has interests; that is, a being who prefers, desires, or wants. Those interests do not have to be anything like human interests. If a being has some kind of mind that can experience frustration or satisfaction of whatever interests that being has, then the being is sentient.

Photograph by Katie Costello
Photograph by Katie Costello

I have 3 pet pigs. 2 were thrown from a truck headed to the slaughterhouse on a random day at 5 am. Their names are Thelma and Louise. The first 2 weeks that these girls were safe at home they were scared to death. They would sleep touching each other and NEVER leave each others side.

Once, Thelma got up to walk around the pasture, and I watched as Louise awoke, realized that Thelma wasn’t touching her, and stood up running and squealing. The panicked look in her eyes broke my heart. This subsided after they realized they were safe.

When I picked them up in the median strip on route 80 where the accident happened, there were blue paint lines across their back. Marking them for market. I remember crying that day. I saw these beautiful creatures that were so scared. And yet, an entire profession found it okay to kill them. I also cried because on that truck they were the only two that were thrown from it that day.

Nearly 50 pigs were killed from the weight of the other pigs as the truck lay on its side. And, sadly, even after all of that trauma, the rest were picked up and taken to slaughter. The news media arrived and asked to interview me, which I did. I will never forget the one reporter rolling his eyes at me, and saying “But what about the farmer? Don’t you care about him?” Talk about missing the point. The truth of the matter was that I wasn’t “stealing” those pigs. I got them to safety and I went back and handed my business card to the person from the USDA, and told him I would happily pay that farmer full price for the pigs, but they weren’t going to slaughter. Pigs are said to be the fourth smartest mammal on the planet. Yet, they are killed in horrific ways for food, food that isn’t a necessity.

I think if people saw the process things would be very different. We can hide behind a huge profession geared at making sure you never see the truth, and there is big money behind that. Most see a packaged container that looks nothing like the animal who died for it. This is acceptable.

I remember as a young child knowing there were so few vegetarians let alone vegans. The numbers keep growing. This is becoming more and more accepted. I hope to inspire maybe a few from this article, as a matter of fact. We have an open barn policy where anyone can bring vegan food to our pigs and feed them. The reason for this is that we want people to get to know them. See the amazing creatures they are.

Realize that there are other choices and you don’t have to kill them. Thelma and Louise are great spokespigs for veganism. They love belly rubs, being brushed and petted.

Once I was at a county fair. I watched as a boy was crying because his pig was sold and he felt so badly. I stood watching horrified. I watched as his friends made fun of him, and he replied “I don’t care, he is my friend.” I went over to the boy and told him I would do everything in my power to adopt that pig and he could come and visit. I called the company that bought him, I offered to match their cost and was told no. I told the boys story and offered to pay double. “You are being ridiculous. This is what happens. You can’t have him.” I have never went back to that fair or any other that has livestock. I think of that boy every day that in another situation would be applauded for his compassion, but because of the pervasive lie that this is what pigs are for, and a society that buys into that, this child was taught that his feelings were ridiculous, and that this is the reality of life. I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper and while certainly some supported me, I also unleashed an outrage that was turned towards me because of my beliefs.

How is it that some societies value some that others eat? In America dogs and cats, and pot belly pigs are pets, yet in some Asian countries dogs, cats and pot belly pigs are eaten. In America cows are eaten while in India cows are revered.

Photograph by Katie Costello
Photograph by Katie Costello

How do we decide this? So we criticize and have disdain for people that eat dogs and cats-because we value them in our society, at the same time sitting down and eating cows, pigs or chickens. There is a break in the system. All questions that I think we should be able to think through and reason.

Every day I go out of my way to make certain I am not stepping on ants, I move earthworms from sidewalks and streets and move them back to the earth, and I rush to gather wooley bears off of the street so they aren’t hit. I smile with every single one I save. A turtle crossing a road I will grab and move to the water, and anything injured on the side of the road I help. What can possibly be wrong with that? I often think that if everyone would extend that courtesy to all animals, how much happier the world would be. Spiders grow up in generations in my house and we admire them and their perfect works of art webs.

My call to action? Spend a moment admiring nature, hug a cow or a pig, save an animal from a local shelter. Move an earth worm off the sidewalk, catch the bee in your house and move him outside. These simple things make a huge huge difference in their lives. Respect for all beings should be deserved. Look at their world through their eyes, and not your own. Study their behavior. You just might be surprised by the truth and find a whole new world unfolding. Maybe, just maybe, if you look, you too can find beauty in everything.

© Katie Costello