I have said on numerous occasions that one vegan saves about one hundred animals a year. This is not quite accurate. It would be hopeful but unrealistic to think that for every year that I am vegan, one hundred animals have been mysteriously rescued from slaughterhouses and moved to sanctuaries to retire. This is far from the truth. What our veganism does is reduce demand. It does not translate to saving the lives of animals who currently exist.
Given that we technically do not save animals with our vegan choices, what is the importance of being vegan, not only in reducing overall suffering in the world, not only the environmental, health, human rights, and animal rights impact, but to the individual animals who may otherwise have been born because our appetites demanded it?
The individual animal who is not born obviously does not suffer. Therefore, we have prevented injustice, abuse, rape, and murder. To understand the full impact of this, imagine that you found out someone is planning to rape a child. You take action to prevent this from happening. You are successful. The child is spared. Our vegan choices are like that. We prevent the suffering of individuals before they happen. We save animals in the sense that we disallow the circumstances to even take place. In another scenario, you found out someone has been continuously raping a child. You take action and report the crime. You are again successful. The child is spared from future rape by that person. You saved the child. This is the role that animal sanctuaries play. They rescue individuals to whom the injustice had already been inflicted.
Being vegan, by virtue of just choosing to forego animal products and byproducts, does not necessarily save the animals who already exist. However, given a choice, wouldn't we rather spare the suffering of an animal completely than save an animal after the use and abuse have already been done? Using the child rape analogy, wouldn't we rather prevent the rape in the first place than report the crime after the fact?
Veganism does not save animals. What it does is prevent the suffering of individual animals by disallowing more animals to be born and bred for slaughter. It strikes at the roots. It is us cornering the hypothetical rapist and saying, "Don't even think about it."