9-11's other lesson

By Jason Baker

As I write this, it is September 11, exactly one year since the attack on the
United States. I was in New York City at the time, visiting from my adopted
home in India, where I head PETA's Asia campaigns, never guessing that I
would become a part of such a shattering event: thousands dead, many
thousands more left to grieve the loss of loves one. And others, who survived
but lost homes and belongings.

This is how PETA found its role in 9-11, as that day has become known. About
12 hours after the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers,
telephone calls began to pour into PETA's headquarters in Virginia. The blast
had rocked all the buildings within a mile of the Center, rendering unsound
the skyscraper flats that thousands of families called home. The police and
firefighters cordoned off the buildings, fearing they might collapse and
crush even more people. Dogs, cats, birds and other beloved animals were
locked inside, frightened and alone, breathing that choking dust.

PETA sprang into action, loading a vehicle with rescue equipment, fresh food
and potable water, and a team of staff members and volunteers headed to New
York. As the
hours ticked by, the people separated from their animals became frantic,
knowing that without water their animals could die. When the PETA rescue
squad arrived, officials ignored their pleas and would not let them into the
buildings. They scrambled to find some way to save the animals and even
offered to sign release forms stating that they understood the risk and were
willing to take it. But they could not budge the police officers.

Then, a firefighter stepped forward. Like so many hundreds of firefighters,
he had come from cities across the country to help. He didn't care what the
species was; he was ready to put his life on the line to save someone.
Without a look back, he stepped over the yellow police tape that surrounded
one of the buildings, and with the manager's skeleton key, began to search
the apartments and bring the animals down, one by one. One woman wept as he
placed her tired, thirsty little dog in her arms.

This firefighter, and others like him who climbed rickety steps in
dust-choked buildings to save parakeets and kittens, companion dogs and pet
rats, are an example to us all. They wanted to make a difference, to stop
suffering and to save lives-all lives. They don't have a narrow-minded
definition that excludes most of the earth's beings.

With this inspiration, I was reminded that while we can't end all the
violence in the world, we really must do all we can stop what we can. Not
long after 9-11, I joined others in PETA India's office in distributing
vegetarian food at temples, mosques and churches in Mumbai. Fighting between
Hindus and Muslims will not end tomorrow, but aren't the seeds of peace sown
at a more basic level-at our dining tables? The great
Mohandas Gandhi called them "peace tables" because around them we can stop
some violence by
refusing to eat the bodies of slaughtered animals.

I then traveled to the Middle East and distributed delicious vegetarian food
to the orphaned children of that war torn region. Whether they were
Palestinians or
Jews, they were grateful to see that someone cared about them and wanted to
share a message of peace.

By the time you read this, the anniversary of terrorist attack will have
passed, but every day brings a new opportunity to end violence. We can begin
with what we eat, what we wear and how we care for the strays who cross our
paths. It doesn't matter what species they are, only that they suffer and
need our help.

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