If there's one thing most decent humans can agree on it's that animal cruelty is pretty despicable.
Nothing seems to galvanise the public quicker than an ill-treated furbaby: we launch mass protests to free beagles from science experiments, organise petitions to ban battery farming, donate tens of thousands to the SPCA in our wills, and start up our own animal rescue centres.
Now appearing in the headlines is Cecil the lion -- the majestic beast shot on Zimbabwean protected land by US dentist Walter Palmer.
The online retribution was swift and merciless. Anyone with access to a keyboard was calling for Palmer's head on a platter.
Understandable. But a Facebook post from an American friend caught my attention: why does a lion inspire such extraordinary unanimous wrath, yet the deaths of countless unarmed black people at the hands of the police inspire ambivalence at best?
There was outrage, yes -- but also much indifference and victim blaming. It's been said Trayvon Martin deserved it; he was wearing a hood. Eric Garner shouldn't have sold loose cigarettes. Sandra Bland shouldn't have gotten mouthy.
Why not the same empathy for our fellow humans?
Considering examples of inequality closer to home, I realise my friend had a point. There have been many cases involving poverty, prejudice and systematic oppression which have garnered similar apathetic and victim-blaming responses. Domestic violence and rape cases? She should have left her boyfriend, and not worn a short skirt. The Roastbusters scenario? Boys will be boys. A transgender woman is ridiculed by a salesperson? Stop being "so PC" and get over yourself. A toddler dies from pneumonia exacerbated by a damp house? Don't have kids if you can't afford to keep them warm.
But show most Kiwis a case of animal abuse, and watch the collective tempers flare.
It's easy to see why animals inspire protectiveness. They are unquestionably innocent. Cecil was just minding his own business -- he cannot be accused of provoking, attacking or self-inflicting. With animals, there's no "other side of the story".
And, naturally, animals do not have a voice. They cannot defend themselves -- that's our job.
Problem is, there are many communities whose status has rendered them voiceless. People who are systematically excluded. People who are constantly kicked to the curb by the white, hetereosexual, affluent majority. People whose punishments do not fit the crime. Should we not defend them also?
I am an animal lover, and I believe we should for fight their protection. But the human heart has room for compassion for all life forms. And if we put the same energy into speaking out against the oppression of our fellow humans, then we might just see some change.