Pet Loss Grief Support Animals in our Hearts  Animal Communication Teresa Wagner
  • Everything that lives is holy.

    William Blake

Why I Became a Vegetarian, then a Vegan

copyright 2009 Teresa Wagner
all rights reserved

The thinking person must oppose all cruel customs
no matter how deeply rooted in tradition or surrounded by a halo.
We need a boundless ethic which will include the animals also.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer

I became a vegetarian because of the great love of a whale who spoke to me about this issue in 1988. He helped me see that if I love one species, to be whole I must love all species, and cannot knowingly act in ways that create harm for any of them. I have learned from him that for me to love some species and harm others is damaging to my heart and soul.

Since then, I have found that I can't be aware of the suffering of an animal, or a group of animals, turn my back to this suffering, and remain whole, or at peace. If I participate in harming animals, it not only harms them, but it harms me too. This includes what I eat.

Up until the day I met that whale, though I loved my companion animals dearly and talked with animals since childhood, I didn't think about the suffering of animals who were slaughtered for food and other animals abused for human consumption and products. I was blind to the contradiction and hypocrisy in my life of profoundly loving animals—and talking with them—yet participating in their suffering. Some of the information about their suffering I simply was not aware of. Some, I think, I didn't want to bring into my awareness. I didn't want my lifestyle disturbed.

I ate what my culture taught me was appropriate/acceptable/expected to eat, without thought. I ate animal meat without ever thinking about what it was like for the cows, chickens, turkeys, fish and pigs who died in terror and pain when slaughtered. I wore fur coats made from foxes—for glamour (!!)— without thought of the suffering of the magnificent foxes who died gruesome deaths from electrocution for my vanity. I savagely killed beautiful Japanese beetles in my garden with sex lure traps which "glued" them to strips of tape, and with my own fingers in the name of having more perfect roses. I placed poisons in the earth to prevent "weeds."

I didn't think for myself regarding these issues. I did what everyone around me did—ate what my culture ate, dressed like the magazine ads coaxed me to dress, used gardening practices the local rose society advised me to use. I made choices not from an open heart, but from a place of comfortable complacency and conformity to the norm, and from a then unconscious belief that there is a hierarchy of form on earth and humans are at the top. It never occurred to me that loving my cats so profoundly yet wearing a coat made from the torture of another animal was as absurdly hypocritical as the behavior of people I judged for being pro life in defense of unborn children but also blew up clinics killing adult humans. The contradictions I was living were just as irrational but I did not see it, did not want to see it. My heart was widely open to the animals I "preferred" but not to others.

Everything changed when I saw my first whale. I was on a weekend jaunt with a friend just to have a few days away. The whale watch trip was an incidental activity (or so I thought) of the weekend. I had no great interest in whales before that day, and knew nothing about them. But when I saw the one who came right to our boat and stayed, I immediately knew I was in the presence of family and a wise elder. I believe we all have certain animals (or people) who help bring us to the truth of who we are, and to remember the core of our spiritual identity. My heart exploded in joy, in recognition and in love when I met this whale. It was as if the whole world opened up to me in an instant. I sobbed just being in his presence, telling him over and over how much I loved him and thanked him for bringing his trust to us—the very species who all but wiped out his species with our monstrous years of whaling. As he was about to leave from his hour long visit by the boat, he gently and very non judgmentally said to me, "Thank you for loving us. Thank you for opening your heart to us. And as you go home to your land life, we'd like you to just think about how you now love us so much, love your cats so much, but still put our cousins the cows, chickens, pigs and fish in your belly when you don't need to to survive, and wear our cousin the fox on your back when you don't need to to stay warm." Still ever so gently, he said, "We just want you to think about it. We love you and will be here for you always. You can call on us."

That was that. The meat, the coat, and the poisons were gone from my life the next week. For me, the whales were my push into remembering—to borrow the lovely book title from Machelle Small Wright— that the God in all life matters. I was blessed to have help to remember that from the beautiful small Japanese beetles to the great large whales, all life is sacred, and is not on the earth for mindless human consumption, abuse, exploitation or indifference, but for peaceful co-existence with love and respect.

Twenty one years later, I became a vegan when my soul was jolted by witnessing the indifference of a few individuals on a whale swim journey as we were with a baby whale who was tortuously wrapped with fishing line, dragging over 150 feet of more line, floats, and heavy fishing traps. The month old calf's mouth was severely injured from the lines that ran through it like a horse bit, from the weight of the drag of all this fishing gear. His flesh was deeply cut above the fluke making it very difficult for him to dive. His breath was wheezy and irregular. His mother was in tremendous distress, obvious to everyone, not just those of us communicating with the whales telepathically. The calf's weariness and pain was palpable. Most of us in the small boat near these whales prayed and sent healing energy to this family, while a brave crew member worked tirelessly for four hours, diving again and again, near the fearful and distraught mother who flipped him with her fluke a number of times. Yet, there were a few individuals watching this trauma with the demeanor of being entertained at SeaWorld—laughing, joking and chatting throughout the experience, expressing no sense of empathy or compassion whatsoever for the pain of the whales right in front of us. Their indifference broke my heart. Though I knew it contributed nothing to judge this, it was very hard not to be astonished.

A day before we witnessed this tragedy, I gave a presentation for the group on the natural history of humpback whales, including their biggest threats. Number one? Fishing gear entanglements. The presentation included photos of whales being disentangled by the Center for Coastal Studies staff in the Gulf of Maine. The stories and images were tragic. But seeing it is person was like living a nightmare.

There was a great deal of discussion on the large boat after this incident about not only praying for this whale family and sending healing energy, but about how we can make personal choices that make a difference in the world. We talked about how supporting the fishing industry by eating fish and using fish products is the root cause of these nets ending up entangled and torturing whales. An estimated 1,000 - 2,000 whales a year are entangled. Only an estimated 3% of those entangled are fortunate enough to be spotted by humans and helped by those skilled to do the dangerous disentanglement work (see Meanwhile, of course, all of the fish, lobsters and crabs caught are tortured either by their method of capture or how they are later killed.

The whales are my family. Watching the indifference of others to their suffering broke my heart as much as the actually suffering of the whales. But I received an unexpected gift from this crisis as I sat with my astonishment, judgments and heartbreak: the blinders I wore about the suffering of animals used for dairy products fell away. As I saw the indifference to the whales' suffering in some people's eyes and became increasingly aware of my own judgment about it, I also became aware of the indifference in my own heart about the suffering of chickens and cows who are forced to live painful, stressful, unnatural lives for all the dairy food I have so enjoyed. Suddenly, a pair of my own blinders slid off. The decision to become vegan was made in that moment.

As I write this, home from the trip for a few weeks, my heart is still heavy with grief, still agitated with some anger and unrest, and greatly humbled realizing that it took me being angry at others' indifference about animal suffering to see my own. There is also a new lightness, a new wholeness I feel, knowing that my choice to not eat dairy products will reduce some suffering.

I talked with the baby, mother and her adult friend with her daily since this happened. Within two weeks of when we saw him, the baby died from internal injuries created by this trauma. He is, of course, in great peace now, whole, happy and in no pain. But his mother grieves as deeply as we grieve when our children—human or animal—die. She is also angry at the litter we humans so carelessly left in their ocean home which created this tortuous death. Just as human mothers must be when their child is killed by a drunk driver.

The day the baby died, he came to tell me and show himself to me. He was so beautiful, so whole, so luminous, and so full of gratitude and love. I was breathless feeling his love and joy. Then, when I went to his mother, she showed me herself moaning at his body. She said that the hardest part for her after he died was not being able to nuzzle him. Humpbacks are very sensual and mothers and babies touch and stroke one another quite a bit. After his entanglement at one week old, she could no longer touch him or even be right next to him, because it put her at risk of becoming entangled herself. She showed me vividly his little dead body, still all wrapped up in these foreign strings which killed him. Her pain was so big it was as if her heart was exploding in red and black fire. She breached and breached to expel some of it. She continued to moan and cry. I could feel many whales hearing, knowing and feeling her pain. The adult whale friend with her ("escorts" the scientists call them) is a strong and wise and loving female who holds her, soothes her and allows her her pain. After a day with her calf's body, she was persuaded to begin to leave. Still keening, she left with her friend to begin the journey to northern feeding grounds. I will remain in touch with them, as close or distant as they wish, for as long as they may want my presence.

Whales becoming entangled in fishing gear is, of course, only one of the thousands of ways humans impose horrible suffering for animals. I share this whale story here because they are the teachers who showed me how destructive it is to animals, the earth and my own soul if I participate in harming any animals, including eating them, or products made from their suffering. I hope that in the sharing there may be a gift for you.

As I was traveling home from this journey, exhausted in my heart and body, I came across a huge, brightly lit billboard sign within the Miami International Airport that read:

Coral reefs are thousands of years old. Respect your elders.
Keep your hands, fins and anchors away from our living treasures

I smiled, sending love to those who wrote, approved and paid for that ad. And I thought, well, whales have been on the earth for 50 million years. What right do we have, what right, to litter their home with fishing nets that entangle them, trapping them in float line, buoys and fish traps that maim, starve and torture them, digging into their flesh, creating a torturous life, perhaps for years, before death. What right do we have, I kept thinking, to create immeasurable grief for their mothers, friends and loved ones as they watch, helpless to help. What right do we have to create this suffering by fishing when we have more than ample opportunity to grow our food on the land?

Sitting in the hard seat in the airport waiting area surrounded by other weary early morning travelers, these thoughts ran over and over in my mind. I became acutely aware that after seeing the needless suffering of the baby whale, in person, caused by humans, changed me in a way that made me know I'll never be the same. I just sat and cried. I couldn't stop. People around me probably thought I had just left a lover. I didn't care. Sitting there, coming up for air, I realized something else: I was coming home not only a vegan but someone who now had to speak out. I have been very quiet—not in the closet but quiet— about being a vegetarian for twenty one years. I always viewed our eating choices as private and personal. But I can no longer remain silent. I may blunder as I learn to educate not judge, to influence not impose, to inspire not turn off, but I can no longer live with myself if I don't speak up about the suffering endured by the animals we abuse for food. If we love animals, I believe we must speak out on their behalf.


Well known Buddhist author and teacher Sharon Salzberg describes compassion as the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, defines compassion as not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for those who suffer, not only a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, but a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering.

I agree. I've heard people say, "It's Ok that we eat animals because it's their karma to come here as food animals." The dynamic of karma in our spiritual growth and evolution is a sacred one. Using it as an intellectual justification to participate in and to perpetuate suffering of animals is, in my opinion, a sacrilege. It's also a groundless excuse if not applied consistently to all situations of suffering. Would we find it acceptable to see someone bloodied and injured on the side of the road from a car accident and casually say to our driving companion, "Oh, no need to stop and help or call 911, it's their karma to be in this situation." If we found out that a young girl who is a relative is being raped and molested by her father, would we find it acceptable to respond with, "Oh that's OK, no need to interfere or help her; It's her karma." If we saw someone brutally kicking a dog on a street, would we walk by, unaffected, and think, "Oh that's OK, it's that dog's karma." I don't think so. We would probably feel compelled to do something to help each of these beings in harms way. The karma of one in harm's way is not an excuse to walk by or not care. To use the argument of karma selectively to justify the suffering of animals for food is a cop out—a very flimsy excuse. The possibility that someone's suffering is related to their karma does not seem like an ethically viable excuse to act without compassion or to perpetuate it.

I do believe that as souls we sometimes choose, unconsciously, challenging and dramatic roles and situations for our own learning and growth. This may include traumas such as coming to earth as a factory farm animal, being in a terrible car accident, or being a young girl who is raped by her father as a means to complete some past karmic lessons and issues. However, I also believe that if we see and learn of suffering we have a responsibility to respond to the suffering. That's our karma as the observers of suffering—to respond to this opportunity to care or not, to act or not, to make personal choices that either alleviate or contribute further to the suffering. To do nothing, to shrug our shoulders and say "well, it's their karma," is to shut down the sacred energies of empathy and compassion within us.

If we know about suffering by seeing it or becoming informed about it, and we participate in it or perpetuate it anyway, we compromise the integrity of the compassion and empathy in our hearts. We cannot be whole without these energies. To act without them hurts our souls as much as it hurts those who are suffering. Walking softly on the earth, making choices to attempt to harm no one, not only reduces suffering for others but fills our hearts with a fullness and wholeness that is not possible when we remain indifferent to or willfully participate in the suffering of others. Compassion heals everyone.

What unites us in sadness also connects us in the insistence that compassion is the ultimate empowerment.

~Molly Fumia


If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.

~Paul and Linda McCartney

Market demand supports the success or failure of businesses. When we boycott cosmetic companies that torture rabbits and mice to test products, we reduce the suffering of animals. When we choose not to eat veal we reduce the number of baby cows who live in tiny dark enclosures until they are slaughtered. When we choose not to eat fish we reduce the number of entangled whales and fish slaughtered. If we choose to not eat any animals at all, in the US alone we would save the lives of 10 billion land animals per year (The Food Revolution, John Robbins), and prevent the suffering they experience before and at the time of their death. Remember when we all boycotted certain brands of tuna because of the "incidental" dolphin catch in the tuna nets? We didn't want dolphins to suffer—so millions of people boycotted certain tuna brands. I never understood why it was considered acceptable for the tuna to suffer and not the dolphins, but at least enough people cared about the dolphins to carefully choose their tuna brand which saved the lives of many dolphins.

Our personal choices count. They make a difference.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

~Margaret Mead

It takes one person at a time to change the world for the good. If you doubt that being just one person can make a difference, ask yourself why you place your plastic, paper and aluminum in the recycling bin. I think we recycle now because we've been educated about the horrors for mother earth when we do not. In many contexts of social and environmental change we've seen that one person's actions DO make a difference. If it weren't for people who were willing to stand up and speak up about injustice, American woman still wouldn't be able to vote, and would still be the property of their husbands or fathers. Obama would not only not be President, he would not even have been able to vote for the white men who were eligible to run. Taking a stand changes the world for the good. Taking a stand is an action of both the heart and solar plexis chakra. Many of us as animal communicators and healers are more comfortable staying in those upper chakras of love and spirit, and avoiding the issues of power and conflict of the solar plexis. I believe that if we love animals, it's not enough to do the soft and comfortable work of the heart and spirit. I believe we need to use our own power to stand up for them—to make choices that prevent and stop cruelty to the animals we talk with and help heal.

If we feel compassion in our hearts for the suffering of animals, I believe we have a responsibility to find ways to eliminate the root cause of that suffering. We can put our forks where our love is. We can save lives. We can create more peace on earth by choosing to live in alignment with what our hearts know to be true: eating animals creates great physical pain and psychological trauma for billions of animals.

If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you can do. It's staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.

~ Paul McCartney

On this recent whale trip with the entangled whale, we sang the following chant (available from iTunes—"Ancient Mother" by Alice DiMicele) before giving our gifts to the whales.

Ancient Mother, I hear you calling
Ancient Mother, I hear your song
Ancient Mother, I hear your laughter
Ancient Mother, I taste your tears

As animal communicators, the first three are the ones that tend to bring emotional reward and evoke a spiritual high. They are the lovely encounters and exchanges. But if we connect with souls of animals with great empathy and compassion, we taste the tears also. And we don't get to pick which species' tears we feel. We feel them all. Every species counts.

Now I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you any more.

~Franz Kafka (While admiring fish in an aquarium)


If we cringe at the thought or a cat or dog being slaughtered and eaten, how is it that we do not cringe at the thought of other animals bearing this suffering? Why would we find it horrible on a whale swim trip if whale meat was served for dinner, but don't find it horrible if chicken meat or cow meat is served? Why did we find it horrible and outrageous that on national television Sarah Palin "pardoned a turkey" in Wasilla Alaska in 2008, while standing directly in front of live turkeys being forced down cruel shoots that cut them up while alive, with blood spurting all over the place, yet perhaps still sat down for dinner on Thanksgiving with a dead turkey on the table?

Why did so many of us find it horrific that dolphins were being caught in tuna nets and boycotted certain tuna brands until they changed their fishing practices. . .yet no one talked about the tuna? Why are we appalled by dolphins dying a slow horrible death but not tunas?

How is it that as a culture we blithely accept that cows, pigs, turkeys, ducks, chickens and fish are cruelly slaughtered for our food, yet feel outraged or sickened when we learn that horses are slaughtered for meat? Who decides what animals it's ok to let suffer while others are to be loved and protected?

Why are we outraged by the conditions of puppy mills for dogs, but not outraged enough by the conditions for chickens in factory farms to stop eating chicken and eggs?

Why would we be outraged if our cats, dogs or horses were in surgery without any anesthesia, but are not outraged that the lobsters that we eat are boiled alive?

Do we believe that some animals count and others do not?

Do we believe that suffering is allowable for some animals but not for others?

Do we believe that it is OK if some suffer, as long as they are not our favorites?

What does it do to our souls when we know suffering exists, and we participate in it anyway?

It can be awfully hard to change longstanding habits, even when we want to. It can be uncomfortable to eat "differently" from people you're with at a restaurant, a holiday gathering or celebration. And it can be challenging to find cruelty-free menu items in some restaurants. It can be inconvenient to change what's been a lifelong way of eating, or to give up tastes we've enjoyed as comfort foods.

These challenges are similar to what recovering alcoholics go through when giving up alcohol, and what dieters go through when changing eating habits to lose weight. To become vegetarian or vegan, however, brings benefits not only to our own bodies but prevents and reduces suffering for others—the animals we love so dearly.

May we all live together in peace and safety on the earth.
May we all put our forks where our love is and
eat lentils, not animals

Isn't man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife by the millions to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billions and eats them. This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year sends out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."

~ C. David Coates Old MacDonald's Factory Farm