Monday, September 8, 2008

creating a world where every pet matters

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we will never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth. -- Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928

I just finished reading a book about the connections among animal abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and humane education. The author, Frank Ascione, uses the quote from Beston above to introduce the emotional connections between children and animals before launching into the multitude of studies that explore these interconnected links of violence.

I finished this book on a weekend full of events and stories that reinforce Beston's claim of our errors in our perceptions of animals. Many of you are aware of, and are actively voicing your opinions about, the political tug-of-war regarding the veterinary contract at DeKalb County Animal Services. For some involved in the decision-making process, the animals are nothing but a footnote in the negotiations. Their care and well-being are of little concern when profit and convenience are considered. Others in the process, especially the DeKalb County Commissioners, are trying to put the animals in the shelter first, and are facing staunch resistance from those that fall into the errors that Benton talks about. As we struggle to create a world where every pet matters, including those homeless pets in the shelters, we must ask that our leaders lead the way rather than simply drag them along, literally and figuratively kicking and screaming. We teach our children to be kind to animals. Why don't we expect, even demand, at least as much from those we choose to lead us.?

I am also struck by the multiple news reports and articles touting Sarah Palin's love of hunting, and her great prowess at the sport.
My comments aren't an endorsement or critique of any particular candidate, but rather, a critique of our fascination with the art of killing. Regardless of our politics, party affiliation or candidate of choice, I think we, as a community of animal advocates, need to be concerned that we live in a society where expertise at killing animals is considered a qualification to lead our country. Now, I am not saying that hunting is and of itself is morally wrong. Many hunters actually eat what they kill, and have respect the animals and the environment in process. But I am so troubled by a media frenzy over Palin's hunting ability, implying that somehow her ability to kill a moose makes her a good back-up for commander-in-chief. The hunted animals in the stories are not considered conscious, sentient beings. Rather, they are simply props in the pictures; their deaths are proof of Palin's "toughness," her readiness to lead us. I would be much more moved by a picture of one of our candidates mourning the loss of a beloved pet than the pictures of a candidate proudly standing over a bloody, dead moose.

Animals are not props in our lives. Nor are they lesser beings at our whim and disposal. They are legitimate cohabitants in our space. And we have created a world where most pets, most animals, don't matter as much as money, convenience and property. We cannot be surprised when we read about stories of children who torture stray kittens or of soldiers who throw puppies off cliffs. We have taught them to do it, and we have taught them well.

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