The Ghosts In Our Machine

Why I Became Vegan

There are many reasons to become vegan:  it is good for your health, great for the environment, and better for animals.  My decision was based on the latter, but what propelled me to go on this journey was a four-legged dog named Madison.

As I write this, I am sitting at my home office.  I have a collection of animal related books that are piled up at the corner of my desk and accompanying the books are animal related DVD’s that were lent to me by a dear friend.  If you met me five years ago, not much on my desk would indicate to you that I had an interest in animals.

So let’s rewind to five years ago.

I remember the call like it was yesterday.  My sister was in conflict about which breed of dog she should get.  It was either the Schnoodle or the Shih Tzu Bichon Frise cross.  As we were conversing over the phone, I, not knowing much about dogs, did a quick Google search for both breeds to get a sense of their physical appearance and temperament.  My sister, a student and budget conscious, decided on the less expensive of the two breeds, but the dollar amount did not sum up her worth, for she is priceless to me today.

A couple of weeks later, home from university, there was Madison, the Schnoodle. I met Madison on a brisk, but appropriately sunny December afternoon.  Upon meeting Madison, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight.  I wasn’t raised with animals and never received much education about animals at home or at school so my understanding of animals was limited and I didn’t know how they were relevant to my life.

I was quite frightened by her introduction to me, which I am embarrassed to admit today.  All I remember is that she liked to jump on me, a lot.  At the time, jumping on me wasn’t as an endearing quality to me as it later became.  Obviously, being as afraid as I was, I began to run away from her and of course that only escalated her level of excitement and she began to chase and jump on me some more, which didn’t make her more endearing.  I asked my sister and her friend to please remove her from me and so they did, chuckling at my request.

A couple of weeks later after that incident, I was in a situation where I would have to be alone with her, just the two of us.  My sister informed me that she would be in her crate, but to let her out when I got home if I can muster up the courage.  When I got home, there she was.  Being less afraid now that she was behind steel gave me the opportunity to examine her more closely.  Why couldn’t I overcome my fear?  There she was, so cute and precious, pawing at the crate, wanting so desperately to get out.  She was as curious about me as I was about her.  I took a few deep breaths, and reminded myself she is a lot smaller than I.  I unlocked the crate and she proceeded to jump and sniff me for what felt like an eternity, but once she got a good sniff of me, she was off to explore the smells of the house.  That wasn’t so bad I told myself.  I must have looked at her as if she came from space, because to me, animals were so different, or so I thought, but she was the most mesmerizing creature I had ever laid eyes on.

Over the course of the next few months, my sister would bring her back and forth from campus and each time, I fell more deeply for her than the last visit.  Each time, I became less afraid until soon that fear completely vanished and that is when life really changed for me.

A year later, with my sister graduated and living home, I now had access to Madison full-time.  The bond that developed between her and I was so fervent and divine that I really could not fathom if it could be possible to love her any more than I already did.  My mother sent me a timely PETA video that was discussing the fur trade industry in China.  The animals being killed for fur were very much like Madison, but what really affected me was a close up of the eyes of a fox that were the spitting image of Madison’s, and literally, in that moment, the connection for me was made.  The abundance of love I had for her now encompassed all animals.  That was also when veganism entered my life.  It was a transition for me, I didn’t give up all animal products at first, but the more I educated myself about the exploitation of animals, veganism was the only option I had to live an authentic life.

Madison tragically died on April 30, 2011.   When I heard the news, I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen and I began breathing heavily.  I can’t explain that moment, but that I just wanted to believe that it wasn’t true.  I even pinched myself to ensure I was not dreaming.  My father had accidently left the front door open, there was a German Shepherd across the street, and Madison being the free spirit that she was, ran towards the dog and a vehicle hit her.  The offender didn’t even stop to check on her.  It was if she meant nothing, like she meant nothing to anyone, but she meant the world to my family and I.  This was just more evidence to me on how society had not yet fully extended their circle of compassion to all living beings.

Fast forward to today, I look back on my actions towards Madison when I first met her and I reflect on her life. The fear I had in the beginning came from ignorance.  I didn’t know how to think about them in a healthy way or how to behave around them, but once the fear was gone, I was able to open myself to her completely, and to every animal completely.

I miss her everyday, I think of her every day and I think how I must give her a voice so that she didn’t die in vain, so that people understand how precious animals are.  She opened the doors to a world I didn’t know I belonged in, a world that challenges my every thought and action and a world that enabled me to be part of such a worthy project, The Ghosts In Our Machine.

I now have a painted portrait of Madison in my home office.   She was my greatest teacher and I look to her for inspiration and for motivation, but mostly I look to her and say thank you, thank you for coming into my life and showing me what it means to embrace differences, but at the same time, showing me that we really are all the same, human or non-human, and most importantly, what it means to love wholeheartedly.

LINA TRICHILO
Researcher.

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9 Comments

  1. Sylvain Le Bourhis June 19, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    My dog’s eyes are also part of the reason I became more aware of the (mis)use of animals by humans. A chain of events in my life combined with the horrors of factory farming discovered on the internet led me to an amazing path: the vegan lifestyle. Will never look back.

  2. Khadeejah June 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    For some time now, I have been playing with the idea of becoming a vegetarian, or less of a meat-eater. I’ve always been conscious of eating more veggies for health reasons of course, but lately I’ve been more aware than ever of my love for animals, and how I do not wish to eat them anymore. How can I love animals but still condone evil and cruel living conditions by purchasing a chicken sandwich at my local cafe? That is straight up hypocrisy! I have so much unconditional love in my heart for people, plants, animals, and other biotic organisms and that love grows everyday! Especially for innocent, helpless animals all over the globe that have been enslaved and mistreated. I imagine to myself, what if I knew this animal.. What would it’s name be? How could I ever want or need to eat a friend of mine?? I couldn’t! The story of your friendship with Madison and how you became Vegan is truly beautiful and inspiring; It even made me cry.. My heart goes out to you & your family for the loss of such a sweet little girl. Your story, along with the Jo-Anne McArthur We Animals blog, have sealed my heart, mind and soul to stand up for animals and become Vegan. There’s such a rush of adrenaline and emotion for me right now, that I holding back more tears so as not to wet my keyboard, but especially because I know in my heart that this is right. Thank you for sharing and thank you to the internet for somewhere making it so that I’ve stumbled upon your blog. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate you and I would love to be a part of this project somehow. Thank you for reading : ) Peace , Khadeejah

  3. Clarice July 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    While becoming a vegan is commendable on many fronts, the reason for choosing to be so should not be derived from the ownership of a companion animal.

    As a pet owner, you are fully complicit in the abuse of animals every time you open up a can of food as it is more than likely that the pet food is from a factory farm. While some advocate a vegetarian diet for canines, it may be at the cost of the animal’s health. Additionally, certain companion animals such as felines would perish without animal protein present in their diet.

    Furthermore, if your sister purchased the dog, she was complicit in the associated abuses of the pet trade. This story only reaffirms the commodification of animals and the hypocrisy of companion animal ownership by vegans.

    • Lina Trichilo July 19, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Thank you for your comment Clarice and thank you for taking the time to read my piece.

      The intention of the piece that I wrote was to demonstrate that everyone’s journey is unique as I am sure yours was.

      Madison was my point of entry to this world, but I didn’t become a vegan overnight. Her presence made me ask questions of myself that I never had before and as I stated in my blog, the learning was a progression as I am sure it is for most.

      What I think is important to note is that as animal advocates we should rally behind those who make changes in their life however large or small. I once read – change does happen, but it happens in small steps. It is mostly incremental, rarely revolutionary. This was very true for me as it is true of society. I like to embrace and support those who are transitioning into this world because the issues we are dealing with are very complex and it can be overwhelming for many. None of us are perfect, but what is imperative is that we are committed to making this world a better place for all living beings.

      Thank you again.

      Sincerely,

      Lina

      • Coach Rosemary July 19, 2012 at 9:59 am

        As one of the Coaches of the Ghost-Free Journey, I can attest to the uniqueness of everyone’s entry point to the vegan path. For some, the door opens and they run a marathon along the way, and for others, they may open the door and take baby steps in the process.

        Clarice, you raise important issues for everyone to consider regarding companion animals, contributing to over-breeding, and also the objectifying of them. We can all be thinking about these choices with awareness and consequence, and do the best we can. However, I don’t know a “perfect” vegan; this world is far too complex and life way too short to worry about perfection.

        The bottom line, is that we’re all in this together, and could be assisting one another along the path with encouragement, compassion and kindness. After all, isn’t that what we’re trying to impart to others who haven’t even opened the door yet?

  4. Kelly July 20, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Beautiful story and message. I would be lost without my pup!! Dockers made me truly see that he has a soul, feelings, feels pain, and joy. It helps me see those attributes in other animals and try to live a cruelty free life. If more people could see that I know that the world would be a better place!

  5. Clarice July 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    While unique, your reason may not be compelling to those unaffiliated with veganism. You know your colleagues are already convinced so it is important to construct a message that is compelling to those who have yet to change their view on animal rights. My advice may seem harsh, but it is grounded in positive intention.

    Change is typically incremental but it can also occur rapidly. Regimes have been overthrown and paradigms change and so presumably this is the outcome animal rights activists hope to actualize. In order to achieve any increment of change, be it large or small, the underlying message must be logical and compelling to a broader range of individuals.

    A more compelling argument against eating animals would be to shed light on the gruesome conditions faced by billions of sentient beings raised for consumption. Alternatively, the argument for reducing meat consumption can include environmental concerns. Choosing a reason that is of tangential relevance to the issue at hand (i.e. your pet dog) is not compelling.

    Finally, it is imperative that the vegan/animals rights community remain open to dialogue and constructive feedback otherwise your message is in danger of becoming discredited.

    • Nina July 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      Hi Clarice – this may be a simplistic question – but how do you envision caring for the countless quantities of strays and rescues who have been rescued from the system? These animals need to be taken in and cared for, don’t they? I don’t see any other option other than leaving them to starve or letting them remain ‘in the system’? Doesn’t there have to be a middle ground to mitigate as much pain and suffering as possible?

  6. Coach Donna July 25, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Hello Clarice!
    I am also one of the coaches of the Ghost Free Journey. I am always curious about what motivates/inspires somebody to embark on a journey that is so non-mainstream but so full of love. I’ve been a vegan for a very long time (23 years) and in the earlier years was very active with a number of animal rights organizations – about the only conclusion that I could ever come to is that people are inspired by a variety of experiences and encounters. For many, like Lina, it was making the connection between the sentient being she had come to love and the sentient beings tha were on her plate. For others, it might be seeing the film Earthlings – or getting a hand-out from Vegan Outreach. There simply isn’t any 1 size fits all answer. I can say that many of the conversations that I have had in my shop about vegetarianism/vegainism have started off with people talking about their companion animals. I think that anything that engages the heart and opens the eyes is wonderful. What was the experience that made you become aware – I’d love to hear about it if you don’t mind sharing. I think that we always learn something new from another person’s journey.
    For the Ghosts,
    Donna