Evie the three legged goat was almost shot because of the lack of a leg and yet she is one of the sweetest and happiest seeming creatures I've met. Why is her life worth less than mine? I would argue, nothing!
I don't think people get how vegans feel about animals. In fact, I am certain they don't. At the same time, I think non-vegans do think they understand. For instance, when people try to say that we should never compare human suffering with animals suffering, it misses the point that as vegans we tend to not draw a true or as clear a distinction. Just as we don't look at a cow and a pig in such a way that we think of cow suffering or pig suffering in identifiable terms, I think vegans think of suffering as something that all animals with a brain and central nervous system do. We do not try to discriminate towards animals based on the size of their brain or the significance or meaning of their lives because to do so, we would have to weigh it in terms of what we hold important. Clearly, that is unfair, speciesist and in no way something that can be empirically shown. How can I say that the life of a pig is less valuable than the life of a human? I might value my life more than other living beings or my family more than someone else's family. But I also value the life of my vegan Yorkie dog's over many human beings. If someone tried to harm my dog, I would fight them to defend her. I would not say, 'Well, she is just a dog.'
Basically, as vegans, we aren't following the rules that society tries to repeat over and over again (i.e. Humans first). We do not view animals as lesser beings simply because they can't do math as well as humans or philosophize. It is entirely possible a rabbit might view us as lesser beings because of our slow speed and inability to jump as they do. Why are human values the dominant values? Why are human lives the most valuable? This seems no different than any other bias notion from the past where one culture viewed another culture as inferior because they did not share the same skills, intelligence regarding certain topics, or common religion. If we had not developed weapons, it is quite possible the lion might be viewed as the superior being since its strength would always over power us. So, does being the best at killing truly make us the most superior beings? What has human wisdom done that is so wonderful to earn us the privilege of being considered so valuable that all other animals pale in comparison? It seems destroying our own health, having billionares while hundreds of millions of people starve, the planet is on its death bed and we torture and abuse animals in the pursuit of causing all this... yes we sound like brilliant and superior beings.
One of the greatest problems facing us when explaining this to a non-vegan is that we live in a world where we do not value deep thought or actual meaningful foundations to what we accept as true. We will take the word of our parents, society or culture that certain practices or beliefs are true simply because we hear them repeated enough. And yet, when evidence to the contrary is present, we will do nothing to adjust. We will deny the evidence, ignore the evidence, or believe false evidence. On the other hand, vegans adjust. We challenge the falsities we see and replace them with new truths that coexist peacefully with reality as we see it.
And to us, there is no justification for the treatment that animals receive in this world. And there is no reason to think that a human life is more valuable than an animals life. Even if we conclude that we must err on the side of caution and value a human life over an animal life when the two lives come into competition, almost nothing that is done to animals (except in the rare case of self-defense) is done because a human life is at risk. Instead, the actions that we take to harm and abuse animals harms human health, destroys the planet and creates people with values that see violence as normal since it is how we treat other sentient beings.
So when someone that is not vegan asks me how I could choose to not be around people that harm animals, it is obvious to me and most vegans. People who cause harm to animals are lower in my eyes than non-human animals that do not treat other living beings in this same way. I far prefer the company of the gentle cow to the human that would kill a hundred animals a year simply because it (the human) is too lazy or cruel to care. There is no philosophical footing to stand upon when claiming that humans deserve their special status. There is only speciesism and tradition. Neither of these would I choose to associate with. I choose compassion, reason and empathy.