An abused 3-month-old terrier rescued by San Diego County Animal Services after being found abandoned late in Santee. Photo courtesy County Animal Services

By Dr. Munish Batra

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it’s animals are treated.” This statement has always stuck with me.

I was raised Hindu and studied Buddhism and Sikhism. There is a general consensus in these eastern religions that animals are sentient beings. But during my youth, growing up in inner-city Cleveland, I acquiesced to my surroundings and didn’t think much about animal rights and never reflected on their actual consciousness.

The brutality inflicted on animals became emblazoned in my mind during a trip to China, where I saw a marketplace with dogs hanging ready to be skinned for food.  It made me realize that in the United States much of the same brutality exists, although it’s not “in our face.”

My son, Ayaan, who is now seven years old, refused to eat animal products starting at the age of three, and began asking deep and philosophical questions about why we kill animals. He became concerned about animal extinction. It led me to become more introspective and I began to ask myself, “Who is the Real Animal?”

According to Animal Clock, more than 55 billion land and sea animals die each year to support the U.S. food supply. In addition, PETA reports that over 100 million animals are killed each year for various research purposes and laboratory experiments, including chemical, drug, food and cosmetics testing.

More than 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized; 250,000 animals hoarded; 100,000 horses slaughtered; 5,000–7,000 tigers kept as pets; and 126,000 wildlife trophies awarded. Humanity causes 30,000 species to be driven to extinction each year; 33% of fisheries are being exhausted; there has been a 43% decline in lions; and the giraffe population is down by 40%.

What’s astonishing is this is only data reported in the United States — imagine the number of animal deaths and brutality throughout the world.

The culmination of these staggering statistics, questions raised by my son, and my own evolution, became the genesis of the novel Animal. As I became more conscious, I began spending a considerable amount of time researching animal cruelty in depth.  What I learned was disturbing — from killing baby orcas and trying to drown their carcasses with stones; to the brutality inflicted upon gorillas and using their hands for ashtrays; to the underground Ivory trade and the malice inflicted upon elephants.

Dr. Munish Batra

These and many other examples and news articles added additional motivation to complete the novel. The move “Blackfish” coincidently was released, and I felt compelled to take action to help people become more aware of the harm, abuse and inhumane actions inflicted towards animals.

Recently, with the outbreak of coronavirus, animals have been impacted more than ever. In the last year, we have seen a rise in animal abandonment and abuse.  Due to unemployment and loss of jobs, animal owners are unable to afford basic care, medical treatment, nutrition or food for their pets.

Although there has been an increase in pet adoptions, there has also been an increase in pet abandonment due to fear that pets can transmit COVID-19 to humans.  Hardship at home has also led to a surge in domestic violence, and 71% of domestic violence victims report that their abuser also targeted pets. All of this, and the forced closures and reduced hours of animal shelters and sanctuaries, have made it difficult to organize care that animals desperately need and deserve.

Like humans, animals have consciousness, feel pain, experience fear and are sentient beings. They belong in their natural habitats and environment and need the right attention and care. We must be cognizant of how we treat animals and reflect on our own behaviors toward them. Just the ability to reflect on these things can change your life and influence your own lifestyle and behavior.

My family has already implemented changes. I have stopped eating meat, though I do admit to occasionally enjoying fish. We are constantly exploring animal-free dietary options and donating to charities that uncover animal abuse and advocate for the humane treatment of animals.

I wrote the new book Animal to create attention and awareness of the inhumane actions and injustices committed towards animals. My goal is to make an impact, not only by creating awareness, but also donating a portion of the proceeds to the San Diego Humane Society and other animal sanctuaries.

Dr. Munish Batra is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in San Diego and the author of the book Animal.