Interview with Michael Aufhauser
About Gut Aiderbichl, the Protection of Animal Rights and the Teaching of Values
1. “How’d you become involved in the protection of animal rights?
(What was the driving force that motivated you? Any particular experience?)”
“I’ve lived in many places around this world of ours, including places we commonly refer to as the “Third World”. This was in the days when animal rights would never even enter my mind. Heck, when I was young, I never even gave a thought to people who were in need, whether it was Lima in Peru or Rio in Brazil. I was absorbed in my career as the vice president of a major American travel agency. You know, in Germany, there’s an old popular song, whose title roughly means “The World Is All about You”, right? Well, I used to think it was all about me.
Then I had this epiphany in Malaga, Spain, when I witnessed how they gassed stray dogs in that part of the world. All of a sudden I was feeling really sorry for those poor dogs and before I knew it, I started saving them. But I also thought to myself for the first time about the inhumane and cynical ways in which we deal with life in general. In the same vein, it also occurred to me what a sorry bunch we humans often are. Isn’t there a connection somewhere? I thought to myself. And then it hit me: Of course, there is! Look, if we can do this to animals, what’s to keep us from doing the same thing to ourselves? That was what motivated me in my decision.”
2. “In your opinion, why is it so crucial to protect the rights of animals?”
“If we can apply compassion in the way we treat animals, we can also apply it in the way we treat those who are less powerful in general. At the end of the day, let’s not forget that animals are defenseless. After all, they never shoot back, they never lock us up and they never slaughter us, do they? They’re not indifferent or cynical the way we are. All they do is to follow their instincts. So our treatment of animals ultimately casts back on our advancement as a society as far as tolerance, responsibility and love for one another goes. Remember, for all intents and purposes, animal rights inevitably translate into human rights. After all, their fate today could be ours tomorrow. In that sense, it’s not just about animals; it’s about people as well as life in and of itself.
3. “Why do you invest the majority of your fortune in the rescue of animals?”
“Saving animals ultimately comes down to eliminating the root of the evil. Sure, you save some animals, but what about the millions of others? Add to that that the rescue of animals isn’t something anybody can do, because it costs a lot of money. You have to be in a position to take good and proper care of them. On the other hand, there’s this immense symbolic value in the rescue of animals that always appeals to the general public, which is exactly what you need if you really want to change things. Just look at the way our saved animals at Gut Aiderbichl motivate our employees and visitors alike in staying involved.”
4. “What can I do to protect animals even if I don’t have the money?”
“Oh, I think there’s a lot you can do. For one, don’t bring home a pet if you don’t have time for one. You know, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a preschool or high-school teacher, a farmer or a journalist – the ability to inform, guide and inspire anyone of any age resides in all of us. Also within all of us is our ability of choosing not to just turn a blind eye on a situation, but to face it and question it with an open and critical mind. Neither of these abilities ever costs us a dime.
5. “Is it safe to say that some people feel less than enthusiastic about what you do? I mean, you’re taking the struggle for animal rights to a whole new level by bringing aboard celebrities with all their fame. Do you get a lot of ugly letters accusing you of using animal rights just to be in the spotlight, and how do you deal with them?”
“You know, I don’t get a lot of ugly letters at all. We’ve enjoyed a steady presence in the media for five years straight. Sure, there were a couple of misunderstandings in the past, but at this point everybody knows that we do need the support of celebrities if we’re to reach out to as many people as possible.
Look, we’re not a bunch of doomsayers out to prepare the world for Judgment Day. No, our idea is to generate excitement – excitement for better solutions. And we are making steady progress. We already have half a million people each month reading my journal on our website.
www.gut-aiderbichl.com. Also, allow me to briefly touch on the subject of celebrities again, if you would. The simple truth is I have personally known some of these celebrities for well over 30 years. They include German actress and writer Uschi Glas, Austrian actress and singer Dagmar Koller, German actor Gerhard Lippert, Eliette von Karajan and many more. And for all these years, their friendship has been a wonderful blessing for me.
6. “What is it that makes Aiderbichl so special? Is it just a sightseeing place for people to visit on Sundays, or do you feel a deeper connection with it in the hearts and minds of the visitors?”
“Well, let’s see. We have more then 200,000 visitors every year. It certainly doesn’t hurt that TV stations can always count on Aiderbichl to boost their ratings high whether it serves as the background for movie and show productions or as the subject of documentaries. Why? I mean, obviously one of the reasons why Aiderbichl exists is because I paid for its construction on those hills above Henndorf out of my own pocket. So we built a shelter for animals and thought the whole project was finalized. Except it wasn’t. The truth is the project of building Aiderbichl is far from over because, in the end, it symbolizes the state of our humanity. In that sense, it’ll remain an ongoing process until the day it finally reaches full fruition in the human mind. Only then will this project be “finalized”. And given the progress we’ve made, I feel quite optimistic.”
7. “Where do you see the worst excesses of animal cruelty? What are the flashpoints in the struggle for animal rights?”
“Well, where do you want me to start? How about bullfighting in which a tormented bull spends hours dying an agonizing death at the amusement of spectators? But at least that bull gets the chance to earn respect from an adversary, albeit a cowardly and primitive one. Not that it matters in the end, mind you, but let’s take battery cages for hens or the big feedlots. The indifference in the face of poultry being simply stuffed into bags in order to be burned alive while still twitching as a way to keep us safe from the bird flu demonstrates the kind of disrespect that’s beyond measure.
Now, I might be tempted to say that battery bears in China are the most pitiable animals of all, because they’re made to lie in flat, cramped cages while being drained of the fluid from their gallbladders for years on end. Then again, try to imagine what it must be like for a horse forced to spend every day being confined in a cramped box with metal bars, save for one hour a day in the riding hall, if that!”
8. “You’ve been criticized by other animal rights activists for dismissing the idea of condemning the consumption of any meat in favor of promoting proper animal care and painless ways of slaughter. What do you say to these critics?”
“Dietary habits that have been around for a long time aren’t just going to disappear from one minute to the next. Taking extreme measures rarely leads to the desired outcome. Think about it: How do we usually move from Point A to Point B? Step by step, right? My approach is just like that. Plus, nobody is ever shunned. I’m sorry, but if you won’t even try to talk with a butcher, then you can’t call yourself an animal protectionist. I simply don’t see any point in holding a protest outside some slaughterhouse without at least trying to talk to the people inside. You’ve got to confront them right at the scene. Declarations alone don’t do any good. What every animal needs is a chance at life before death and existing in this world without any fear. That would be the first step.”
9. “Is there anything you wish our political leaders would do? Or is politics merely a waste of time when it comes to the improvement of animal life?”
“So far, the tendency of our political leaders has been to underestimate the compassion of the people. Almost everybody wants a better life not only for the animal world in general but also for what’s commonly referred to as “livestock”. But I think our politicians are starting to realize the potential this issue holds for them. Take Austria and Switzerland, for example. For one year now, they’ve been enforcing the best animal protection laws in the world. More and more farmers are jumping on the bandwagon too. After all, they weren’t born yesterday.
10. “In conclusion, here’s a philosophical question: Is man “just” an animal too or are we a whole different “animal”?”
“Animals are as much a part of creation as we are. We’re not completely unrelated to each other, even if two thirds of American voters don’t believe in evolution.
Either way, the issue of shared ancestry isn’t the real problem right now. The real problem right now is to make people understand that animals are in fact not mere objects.