The show 'Naked and Afraid' helped too

Credit: Photo by Inti St Clair via Getty Images

I was always sensitive growing up—the product of an emotional family and a low pain threshold. We always had animals in the house: two dogs, three cats, a rotating cast of parakeets, and a canary. However, it wasn’t until my wife and I adopted our own pet—a ten-pound chiweenie named Sybil—that I felt like a real pet owner. A bizarre side effect from sharing a house with a tiny pup was experiencing a life-changing moment that got me to view animals in a different light and give up eating pork cold turkey. Here’s what happened.

We had a lot of dogs growing up: Sheba, Laddie, Ranger, Melda, and Rusty. Whenever one died, we’d get another. When Ranger died, we got Melda and Laddie. When Melda died, we adopted Sheba. Rusty replaced Laddie. And now my parents have Bella and Paws. I always loved these dogs, but never felt true ownership because I was a kid and never had to take care of them. I never had to walk them, clean up after them, drop money on their medicine, or drive to the vet to put them down. They existed as ancillary characters in my life—beloved, but ultimately replaceable. When my wife and I adopted Sybil, I knew things would change. She and I always say the same sentence concerning our love for Sybil: “I never thought I’d feel so much for a dog.”

Sybil was 1 year old when we adopted her. She's a tan and brown dachshund-chihuahua mix from Los Angeles. Short legs, sweet temperament, and an incredibly expressive face. When I look into Sybil’s eyes, I see trust. I know she loves us back, even if she doesn’t understand why we’re always picking her up or kissing her nose. What I feel for Sybil will probably only ever be rivaled by the love I feel for my wife or future children.

Since living with Sybil, my feelings toward animals inexplicably and suddenly shifted. I am still (for better or worse) an omnivore and will happily chow down on a burger when the opportunity presents itself. But it was a random event—unrelated to Sybil—that stopped me in my tracks from eating pork and put me in the proverbial shoes of a pig. And it all has to do with Naked and Afraid. Bear with me, because this is a weird one.

My wife was out that night. I was on the couch, Sybil in one arm, a glass of whiskey in the other. I was two hours into my newest obsession, Naked and Afraid, when a scene popped up that put tears in my eyes. This woman was somewhere in the jungle. I can’t remember where, but she was definitely naked and probably afraid. For days she’d been trying to catch animals in her homemade snare and just couldn’t cut it. She was hungry and alone and went to bed frustrated. The next morning, the camera followed her to the snare spot where she sees she’s caught an animal. Finally. It was a little piglet. No more than ten pounds and squealing in terror. She’s initially excited. This piglet could provide the necessary sustenance for her to survive and win. She goes up to the piglet and just looks at it.

This is the point in the show where my eyes started tearing up.

“Please, god, don’t eat this piglet,” I remember thinking to myself. I looked over at Sybil and stared into her big eyes. For that brief moment, I put Sybil in the place of that poor little pig. Alone, scared, hurt. I lost it. This is when the woman on Naked and Afraid looked at the camera and said, “I can’t eat this piglet.” She let it go and it ran away. Now, obviously there’s no way to know what happened to that baby pig. Maybe it ran home to its mom, maybe it got picked up by a bigger predator, but it was free.

I’ve seen the factory farm videos. I’ve seen pictures of pigs being slaughtered. I’ve read all about the intelligence of pigs and understand the cruelty they endure, but nothing has ever affected me as much as that episode of Naked and Afraid. Maybe it’s because I was holding my dog, perhaps I had a stronger buzz going than I thought. But that moment inspired me to give up pork forever. This was five months ago, and I haven’t had a bite of bacon, ham, or ribs since.

Comparatively, dogs and pigs aren’t that far off from one another when it comes to intelligence. Dogs can feel love, empathy, and jealousy. Pigs are one of the smartest domestic animals out there, but were unfortunately dealt the hand of tasting delicious. Americans are not one of the countries that have traditionally eaten dog and likely never will be. There will always be a blurry line separating which animals we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat, but it was my connection to Sybil that moved pigs to the “shouldn’t” list.

Sybil has taught me more about animals than I ever thought possible. She took everything I’ve always known about animals and presented the information in a way that finally made me understand. She, like all animals, isn't just pets or livestock. She’s a soul that feels like how I feel, with a few exceptions.

Yes, of course my argument is flawed as I still eat most other meats. But knowing I can give up one animal gives me hope that one day my feelings will spread. Will I go full vegan? Who knows. Probably not. But as I learn more about the emotions of animals and have more of these moments, I might change my mind. What I hope is that I’ve saved a piglet a la Naked and Afraid and given an animal that reminds me of my dog a chance to survive and feel and live. In the meantime, I’ll always do everything I can to ensure the life of my brown and tan, short-legged, allergy-prone soul is as comfortable and happy as she deserves.