I’ll be upfront: I like animals WAY more than people. Sure, I have people in my life that I care about and enjoy spending time with, but those are individuals. It’s the meta-level “people” that I don’t like. Mostly I find you irritating, meddlesome and ignorant. And that’s what I have nice to say about you. Yes, I’ll take the company of my dog most any day. George Eliot once said that, “Animals are such agreeable creatures. They ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” Maybe not entirely true, but more accurate about dogs than any human I know. And before you start shouting at me for being a tree-hugging hippie, I eat meat. So I guess I don’t love animals THAT much. But in general, I respect them, and in specific I care about their wellbeing. I get frustrated when I hear stories about the selfishness of people ruining the habitats of animals, especially when they are threatened or endangered. I grow angry when I hear of animal abuse. At the time of this writing, Cecil the lion is in the news. A beloved animal that was lured out of a wildlife preserve for the greedy aspirations of an American hunter. All for “sport.” I never understood sport hunting. Why some people pride themselves on having a head on their wall or a picture of themselves next to a slain jungle beast perplexes me. I’m all for hunting; in fact I wrote my master’s thesis on it. Some species need to be controlled because of the excesses of humans: urban sprawl, deforestation and the like. I also think that people who eat meat should have to kill, clean and cook an animal at least once in their life. You might just begin to appreciate the food you consume, and take for granted, on a daily basis. But I don’t understand killing for “fun,” especially animals that are endangered, trapped or not given an opportunity to escape or fight back. Sport hunters are probably as much sociopaths as rapists and murderers. Strong claim, yes. But what motivates someone to want to kill if not for sustenance or defense? I cannot offer a rational answer.
I’m back in Illinois now visiting my folks. The other night I was walking my dog when I heard this horrible noise. It sounded like a hurt animal and when I turned around it looked like a run-down car. I couldn’t quite make it out at first but eventually saw a little dog make its way out of under the car; the pooch had indeed been run over. I ran back to the injured dog expecting the worst. The little guy was in shock and had numerous scrapes and cuts. I couldn’t tell if anything serious had happened to him, but he had trouble standing up and had tire marks on his body. I worried that he had internal bleeding. The person that hit him stopped (it wasn’t her fault, he had clearly run into traffic), and fortunately there was a cop car that arrived moments later. I continued to look the animal over, pet him and try to reassure him that we would get him some help. But I didn’t get that much concern from the cop. He didn’t seem to be putting the level of care into the situation that it called for. It was upsetting. He inefficiently went to the owner’s house (the address was on the tags), and walked back. And while there weren’t pools of blood or bones sticking out, the level of attention this cop neglected to provide was astonishing. The owner came and I told him the dog needed to go to the emergency vet; I made sure he knew where it was. Protect and serve? I don’t know. We pay these people’s salaries; I didn’t see him putting forth the effort I would expect. Pets have become a booming market, but they are also our family. For more and more people, Fido is just as valuable a member of the family as Grandma (and probably a hell of lot more fun, too). It was a reminder that human lives are still valued far greater than animal lives.
I know there is a certain faction of society that would scoff at the mere idea that an animal could be valued as much as any human. But those people would probably be the perfect example of why I don’t care too much for the human race anyways. I believe that animals make us much better people. Someone once said that how you treat an animal says a lot about you as a person, especially how you’ll treat other humans. We hear horror stories about people who abuse animals for “fun”; they are the same people that go on to abuse humans. Animals provide great happiness for so many people. There are countless studies about the ability of a pet to positively affect someone’s life. We see this in homes, schools, retirement centers and with returning vets and others who develop PTSD through tragedies and traumas. Pets are constant companions that can provide a smile when one is not manageable on our own. And just the same, when we lose a pet, smiles are taken away for a life time.
Several years ago I lost a dog who had been in my life for 12 years. And while the illness came on quickly, in some ways it was welcome as opposed to a long deterioration. Upon diagnosis of terminal bone cancer, I was broken hearted for the 1st three days, then I found my peace and looked to make her last few weeks as good as I could. When I had to put her to sleep, I was actually thankful to do so; she was in a lot of pain. But it was the compassionate thing to do. A final compassionate act for a creature that was my constant companion. It was the least I could do. And most of my friends sympathized; they had known her since I’d gotten her and knew how much she meant to me. But then there were others who I might casually mention that my dog just died to, and they let it roll off their shoulders as if I’d said I lost my phone. I learned a lot about those people. Most importantly that they didn’t need to be in my life.
The dog I have now has been with me for 5 years. In fact, I got her about 3 weeks after her predecessor died. It wasn’t intentional, I just got lucky. Unfortunately dogs aren’t long for the world; I’ve heard that said to be their only flaw. So my pup now is 6 or so, and if I’m lucky, she’s about half way through her run. If I’m lucky. But even with that knowledge that impending heartbreak is yet again on the near horizon, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I find myself to be a better person through my dog. We may think we train our animals to sit, stay, not chew on things and poop outside, and while all true, they teach us much, much more. Above all that humanity extends to animals by necessity.
I told the story to a friend about how I hit a raccoon with my car once. The poor animal was in really bad shape, he wasn’t going to make it. This wasn’t intentional, this was just wrong place at the wrong time on a dark road for this creature. I didn’t have many options; I could let him die in agony, which wasn’t an option, or I could put him out of his misery, which was really the only option. I had a metal emergency shovel in my car and I quickly and swiftly ended his life. It wasn’t a moment of power; it was a moment of respect, sorrow and decency. It was the humane thing to do. My friend said that a humane act cannot be done to something that is not human. I disagreed, and still do. We owe others the respect we demand, regardless of their station in life. I was sad to have been in the situation, but glad that I was willing to bear the burden of the pain I inflicted. I don’t know that everyone would have done that.
For those who do not value the lives of animals, it saddens me, if not sickens me. Why there is a disconnect between how you should treat another human and an animal is confusing to me. Why it is acceptable in society is even more so. We often talk about the need to be better people, to be more conscious of our actions and how they impact others. This needs to extend to all creatures, even for those of us who are meat eaters. When you show respect and compassion to an animal that is “lesser” than you, you show your potential for goodness and the potential of society to build towards a greater ideal. But when you put your own desires and interests ahead of all and use animals for personal gain, or disregard them as something not worthy of respect, you add to the problems of disharmony in the world. Respect the animals; they were here first!