The Four Ps
By Emily Kaplan
This piece illustrates my journey with animal advocacy, and how it taught me valuable lessons about myself and the world.
It all started with Mr. Pickles.
He was a special-needs goat I saw on social media who was living at Farm Animal Refuge, a farm sanctuary in California. He was part of a group within the sanctuary called the “Funky Bunch.” The animals in the Funky Bunch have a wide range of mobility and neurological issues, largely stemming from the abuse they suffered prior to being rescued. Despite their many challenges, most of them thrived at the farm sanctuary. Mr. Pickles’ history, I was told, included his having been tied to a pole as a racing horse companion for ten years, leaving him barely able to walk and extremely overweight. The refuge provided him with a special cart that allowed him to walk with assistance, and a healthy diet so he could lose an appropriate amount of weight. Whenever I watched him on social media, I was inspired and motivated by his fortitude.
The Jewish value Pikuach Nefesh translates to the preservation of human life over all other religious directives. I believe a broader and more relevant interpretation would encompass the lives of animals as well. As I became more familiar with Mr. Pickles and the other animals in the Funky Bunch, I realized the prevalence of unjust treatment of animals. At about the same time I discovered Mr. Pickles, my family adopted Pirate, a cat who had lost an eye while living on the streets. Despite a multitude of health issues, with the proper care and attention Pirate compensated for his monocular vision and flourished in our home.
Having observed Mr. Pickles and Pirate succeed against adversity, I set out to understand more about how other animals suffered from a macro perspective. I learned about farm animal manufacturers who often abuse the animals in their care strictly to obtain their by-products. At school, I gave my grade a presentation about factory farming and its broad negative impact on low-income neighborhoods, the environment and, of course, animals. I overcame my discomfort with presenting to large groups, and was ultimately motivated by my goal to preserve life and fulfill Pikuach Nefesh.
I recognized that farm animals are often disrespected and mistreated because people disassociate personally from them. In fact, I learned that many of the characteristics present in dogs and cats that lead humans to domesticate and feel affection for them are also present in pigs and turkeys, but very few people realize that. For example, even pigeons—an often-reviled New York City street nuisance—are among the smartest bird species. Some people catch pigeons in nets on the streets of the city, and transport them upstate and to surrounding states to use as target practice, degrading them in the most extreme way possible. This practice, known as pigeon netting, received insufficient attention until recent years. While it is illegal in New York State, it is still lawful in nearby states like Pennsylvania, where individuals offer bounties, incentivizing the illegal capture of pigeons in New York to continue. When I learned of this practice, I immediately joined with groups to lobby against it by sending letters and making phone calls in support of criminalizing the activity in states other than New York. It feels empowering to participate in a potential solution.
I like to think that my journey is inspired by a pattern of Ps: Pickles, Pirate, pigeons—all of which are powerless without human intervention and assistance—and most instructive, Pikuach Nefesh. It is my belief that saving even one life, whether a goat, cat, pigeon, or human, elevates all lives. This pattern of Ps illuminated my worldview and provided me insight to continue to learn, teach and participate in matters important to me. I hope to be the embodiment of the four Ps, and will continue striving to do so until I am successful.
I wrote this for my common application college essay, so it took a very long time to get the finished product. I had many ideas bouncing around in my head, and it was difficult to put it together neatly. I wrote it over the summer and the start of the school year. When I started writing it, I did a summer teen internship with an intergeneration Jewish program called DOROT. That’s where I was introduced to the value Pikuach Nefesh (among others) which became an important theme in the essay. It was a complete coincidence that I was able to tie the essay together with the Ps (Pickles, Pirate, pigeons, and Pikuach Nefesh). My aunt, who had been helping me write it, pointed it out when she noticed many of the main themes started with the letter P. I felt like that tied everything together perfectly, and took it to the next level.
While writing this essay, I reflected on and connected two important parts of my life: Judaism and animal advocacy. For the most part, these things have been separate for me, but once I started writing the essay, I realized how interconnected they were. Pikuach Nefesh could be applied to animal advocacy, and it made me feel like a lightbulb went off in my brain. Unfortunately, there are parts of Jewish culture that involve the very things I protest against, and it makes me feel like I’m dangling in between two separate identities. Writing this essay made me realize they are only separate if I make them separate; the world is a better place with them together instead of apart.
Emily Kaplan is 17-years-old and lives in New York City. She enjoys writing and biking and she loves animals. She has a cat with one eye named Pirate.