“It is written in our own hearts – more clearly than in any book – that we should take pity on animals in the same way as we do on humans.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Albert Einstein. Leonardo Da Vinci. Abraham Lincoln. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mark Twain. All of them great people in history from various backgrounds. They also all had at least one thing in common: A deep concern for the rights and well-being of animals.

Animals are more than resources for humanity’s use. They are conscious beings, individuals with needs and emotions. The animal rights movement has been a vehicle for seeking justice and compassion for the animals consumed or threatened by people, even brought to extinction by humanity’s destructive impacts on the environment.

Animal Rights Awareness Week, observed this year from June 19 through 25, is a celebration of the unique relationship humans have with animals. It was created to educate the public about ways by which people can bring about a more fair and kind world for the many creatures that live on it. Animal Rights Awareness Week advances the conviction that animal rights and human rights are complementary, not contradictory, and explores the many options for lifestyles and choices which benefit both animals and humans.

Upholding animal rights influences American life beyond regular citizens simply providing pets with food, water, shelter and exercise. The welfare of animals that make it into the food chain can have an enormous impact on human health. Chickens raised in unsanitary or overcrowded conditions contribute to food borne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli. Stress and poor welfare often results in sick animals. Unscrupulous, profit-driven animal abusers try to sneak ill livestock into the food chain, passing contaminants like mad cow disease and even hepatitis A to unsuspecting consumers. Animals should not have to suffer on their way to our dinner plates.

Animals’ rights extend to wildlife as well. As humans develop more and more land, other species are being pushed out when their habitats are taken over by subdivision. Some creatures are even being pushed to the brink of extinction, if not utter annihilation. When the number of predators like wolves, mountain lions and lynx are reduced, it’s necessary for humans to manage populations of grazing animals through hunting, opening up a whole new can of worms regarding sportsmanship. Additionally, when species like the honey bee or brown bat are threatened as a result of human activity, people could be at risk, too: One species pollinates most of our crops while the other keeps insect populations in check.

Fortunately for animals, more and more people are becoming concerned about their welfare. Friends to creatures big and small are fighting for their welfare, whether it’s striving for their right to a loving home or the liberty to live wild without human encroachment.

Animal Rights Awareness Week is an excellent time to acknowledge their hard work and sacrifice. Maybe it’s even the right moment to learn about what is being done in the Minneapolis, Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota areas and what volunteer opportunities might exist. The Animal Humane Society of the Twin Cities is often involved in activities that ensure the welfare of pets.