For What I Believed In

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| This is the 377th story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in Taynuilt, Scotland, in 1986, the year of the tiger. I grew up with a love of animals. As a child, I looked forward to my birthday each year as my parents would ask me what I would like. While most kids my age would have asked for the latest toy or gadget, I always said the same thing—I wanted to go to the zoo. Once there, I would head straight for the tiger enclosure. I loved watching these amazingly agile animals. Some of them would be asleep in the long grass, others having a wash by licking themselves. I would will them to come closer so that I could get a better look.

Those innocent years flew by in joy. My family often enjoyed walks in the forest that surrounded our house. I spent long summers playing outside with my older brother, younger sister and our dog Monty. I wanted to hug every dog and cat that I saw, and you could often find my eyes glued to the TV when programs like Animal Hospital and Wild Things were on. From a very young age, I knew that I wanted to work with animals when I grew up.

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The forest near our house.

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As I got older and heard distressing stories about how animals were treated, I felt sad. I was angry about animal abuse and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hurt a helpless creature. During my yearly visit to the zoo, I began to worry that the animals in captivity weren’t happy. Were they being properly looked after or were they just locked up? They’d probably be happier in the wild, I thought.

When I was a teenager, I stopped going to the zoo altogether. I felt sad about the animals and didn’t want to see them suffer, but I didn’t know what to do to help. When my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I would just shrug my shoulders. They offered to take me to the zoo several times, but I always refused. I think they thought that I had just grown up, that the zoo was for younger children. They didn’t know that my heart was being crushed by the world’s cruelty.

Growing up, I had also found it challenging to socialize and felt like I didn’t fit in. Sometimes I would feel very lonely, but talking to my dog or cuddling my cat would always make me feel better.

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When I was 18, I moved to Glasgow to study zoology at university. Here I met like-minded people and joined an animal-rights organization to help make a difference to the life of animals. At the weekends, we would actively campaign for animal rights by handing out leaflets and arranging protest marches. We also demonstrated against shops selling fur and animal-testing laboratories, often spending the weekend travelling to London to protest. I finally felt like I had made friends, and my loneliness started to disappear.

Later, I became involved with a more radical group, who would take direct action, physically fighting for our cause. The police were often called in at our protests, and I was even arrested and taken to court a couple of times. I saw being detained as part of being an animal activist and knew that the police couldn’t keep me in a cell for long. I would bind my time and wait to be let out.

I was friends with a lot of angry people. To them, there was pride in how many times they had been arrested. After going to court or spending the night in a cell, they always had tales to tell. I looked up to some rough people, people who weren’t scared to fight.

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One of the protests for animal rights.

During this time, I became disillusioned with the world, I became very angry. I hated anyone who I thought was hurting animals or children and hated the government for letting it happen. I was constantly troubled by the world’s problems. I donated as much of my money as I could to help make the changes that were needed. I joined other organizations, such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace. I put all my time into helping their causes, barely scraping a pass in my final exams at university.

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After graduation, I threw myself into my campaigning work full time. I would do odd jobs when I could get them but lived a nomadic lifestyle, sleeping on friends’ sofas to save money. I moved to London as I had friends there and there was a lot more need for activists. I was irate and would start an argument with anyone that looked at me the wrong way. I was also drinking heavily and getting into fights regularly. I thought I was fighting for a better world.

I gradually started to realize, however, that I couldn’t change the world, no matter how much I wanted to. The organizations I worked with helped in small ways, but the scale of the world’s issues was too much for me to think about. I felt powerless, it was as if no one cared about anything or anyone anymore.

I was sad and helpless. I wanted my life to be different, but I couldn’t see how it could be with all the evil going on in the world. How could I just ignore that? Anger and despair consumed me.

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One night, I came home drunk. At the time, I was staying with a friend on the tenth floor of a high-rise flat. There seemed to be an ever-changing group of people sleeping there. We all crashed on the sofa or floors.

That night, I was the first one home. I felt fed up and like I had had enough of my lifestyle. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. My dream was to help animals and other less fortunate people, but all I seemed to be doing was getting myself into trouble and making myself miserable in the process.

I stood on the windowsill and opened the window wide. I looked down and started to lean forward. What would happen if I jumped, I wondered? Would anyone really miss me?

Then, I felt a cool breeze against my face, which seemed to sober me up instantly. I thought about my parents and knew that they would be upset if I committed suicide. I quickly got down from the windowsill and slammed the window shut. I was shocked by what I had been considering and at that moment, I knew that I needed to change my lifestyle and move away from the negativity that seemed to engulf me.

There had to be a more peaceful and happy way to help animals.

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The next morning, I packed my bag and hitch-hiked home. My parents were shocked at the sight of me. I had let my hair grow long, and to be honest, I probably needed a wash. My clothes certainly did.

I told my parents I needed time to think about what I was going to do with my life. I was able to talk it through with them, and they made me realize that animal activists weren’t really helping animals. In fact, we had harmed people in the process of trying to make life better for the animals. Something that I now feel bad about.

To help out in a more positive way, I applied to do voluntary work at a local cat and dog shelter. Here I made friends with happier people and people who I now saw were making more of a difference than many of my activist friends. I continued volunteering full time for the next six months.

During this time, I reconnected with some old friends and also made a lot of changes in my life. I quit smoking and binge drinking. Now that I had started feeling happier, I no longer needed alcohol to cheer me up. I also cut my hair and cleaned up my appearance. I was able to adjust my attitude toward authority, and no longer had such angry, negative thoughts about the police or the government.

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I used to have a very black-and-white view of society. People where either good or bad. And most time I was only seeing the bad in the world. I was always angry and ready to react to people who I saw as being evil. Now I have calmed down and had new experiences, meeting more positive people. I no longer feel intense hatred for other people. I’ve also realized that I was hurting myself by giving my money away and then not being able to eat correctly. I’ve changed my attitude and look after myself a lot better.

I’m now working at a sanctuary where I help to rehabilitate animals who have been neglected, abused or abandoned. I often take my work home with me and currently have a cat with one eye and no tail, a dog that can’t be re-homed, as well as three turkeys that there wasn’t space for at the shelter. I’m happy to be able to help make a difference in the world, however small. It has always been my dream to work with animals, and I am now able to do so in a peaceful and happy way.

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A rabbit we rescued at the animal sanctuary.

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This is the story of John Cooper

John has loved animals and nature since he was a child. After moving to Glasgow to study zoology at university, he became an animal activist, participating in causes he believed in. However, after seeing the world’s problems and feeling helpless that he couldn’t change the world, John spiraled into anger and negativity. It was his suicide contemplation one day that shocked him into changing his perspective and improving his life. John currently lives with his menagerie in Taynuilt, Scotland. He has also recently joined a vegan organization called Vegan Scotland, helping educate the public about veganism by handing out leaflets and doing food demonstrations at festivals and craft fairs. John still enjoys walks in the forest, as he did as a child, and goes kayaking whenever he can.

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John’s dog, Toby.

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This story first touched our hearts on July 5, 2019.

| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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