I feel very frustrated and down at times when I consider the large amount of needless animal suffering at the hands of humans.

But every once in a while there is a glimmer of hope, which forces me to pull back and see there is an evolution of consciousness underway.

One such sign came just this weekend with news that after 146 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is folding up its tent in May for good.

Prolonged battles with animal rights groups was listed by the company as one of the reasons for the move.

This is part of a growing awareness about animal welfare.

Just last week, San Diego's SeaWorld shut down its orca whale show after a half a century in the face of tightening laws and public opposition, fueled in no small part by the documentary "Blackfish."

There is also a growing concern about the welfare of farm animals, as can be seen by changes in their conditions forced by public opinion. And more promising yet, there is growing awareness of the parallels between the animals we raise for food and the ones with which we share our homes and lives.

Check out Esther the Wonder Pig on Facebook for a great example.

These developments and others are huge. The public is bringing more and more animals into that protective realm that had been home to just dogs, cats and a few other domesticated species.

Once lumped into this protective group, it becomes much less acceptable to treat a species of animal with anything but respect and kindness.

This, as I have said earlier, is an evolution of consciousness on par with improved treatment of minorities and a growing concern for the health of the environment.

While we have been hitting some serious speed bumps lately, this evolution is happening. It cannot come soon enough for the animals or for me.

The opinions expressed here are solely that of the author.

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Bob is a 22-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.