Monday, November 6, 2017

Just Animals

I was watching Rachel Maddow the other night when I heard an odd splashing in the Japanese fish tub. The female of my pair of fantail goldfish was swimming on her side, twisting and writhing, clearly in pain. Instantly Rachel, Russia, and even Trump vanished from my mind. What was wrong with my fish? What if I couldn't cure her and she died? What if I had to euthanize her?

Was I overreacting? After all, it was just a goldfish, the sort of creature that people used to bring home from the fair, decant into a brandy snifter, and when it expired a few weeks later, dump unceremoniously into the toilet.

Those were also the days when newly-hatched chicks, dyed pink or blue for Easter, were given to children to play with until the birds perished from stress and their limp little bodies were thrown out with the garbage.

For that matter, when pets roamed freely in suburban streets, before spaying and neutering became the cultural norm, well-meaning people routinely drowned unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. After all, they were just animals.

Today, of course, Easter chicks are a thing of the past, and unwanted puppies and kittens are placed in foster homes, their reproductive organs are excised under anesthesia, and would-be adopters are carefully screened before they're allowed to take their new pet home.

Now there are leash laws, and no-kill shelters, and fines and jail sentences for animal abusers. Stories of people's dedication to their pets' welfare are everywhere. I have a friend who for years had to rush home from work to give her diabetic cat his insulin shot, and another whose day revolves around meeting the needs and wants of his ancient, arthritic, almost blind Lab.

This new-found sensitivity extends beyond our pets. Every winter Americans spend millions on seeds and suet for the birds, and I could name half a dozen people who, if they find a spider in the house, carefully trap it under a glass, slip a piece of paper under it, and take it outside (I am not among the latter. I clobber large spiders to death with a broom, and drown ticks in the toilet). Thanks in great part to the genius of Temple Grandin, cows and pigs can now aspire to death with at least a measure of dignity. And most grocery stores stock eggs from cage-free or even pastured hens.

There has been a sea-change, within the last half century, in our attitude towards animals. The wall between "them" and "us" has become progressively thinner, until it is an almost transparent veil. The hen on her nest, the cat at the window, are not mere machines, as Descartes infamously maintained. Thanks to Darwin, Konrad Lorenz, Jane Goodall and others we are beginning to see ourselves in them, and them in us.

Hence my preoccupation with my ailing goldfish, my friend's commitment to her cat, and the growing number of people who refuse to eat "anything with a face." There is nothing childish or silly about this, on the contrary. On days when it seems like human civilization is going down the tubes, I see in our compassion for the beasts a major reason for optimism, for it is in recognizing our kinship with the animals, and with all beings on the planet, that we finally become truly human.

Goldfish update: with the help of Google, I diagnosed swim-bladder disorder, withheld food for 24 hours, and she is now her old self again.

4 comments :

  1. Love your optimistic view of us humans being more sensitive to animals. How if we could sell the idea to greater numbers of human animals we might just survive.
    Very impressive nursing for your fish, wow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's nothing like being able to consult Google in the middle of the night and get help for a sick fish.

      Delete
  2. When you see some of the horrible things people do to the animals in their possession (I won't say 'care'), the fate of the human race goes in the opposite direction.

    I'm so glad your goldfish is okay - we were unable, even with Google and a lot of help from several goldfish blogs, to save Fred, who got some kind of white stuff on his magnificent plumage. It was sad, because my daughter was the only one who managed to rescue a goldfish that was given out as a 'prize' at freshman orientation by some thoughtless group. Fred was cosseted and spoiled for a year and a half. She will probably never have another goldfish.

    I'm glad few chicks are lost to Easter, unhappy about the conditions many chickens spend their brief lives in, worried about people - and able to do only a few things (send money) for a few causes, because of my own chronic illness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know what you mean about being able to only do a few things. At least the grocery stores these days, by offering pastured beef and eggs from cage-free hens, make shopping a moral choice.

      Delete