Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Tempest and Barbie make up; thoughts on domesticated animals

tempest and barbie, happy together

My cat has a complicated relationship with Barbie. Recently they had a falling out. A couple nights ago they made up.

I put Barbie next to Tempest, who was feeling generous and happy at that moment, and they shared a tender moment, with Tempest putting her arm around Barbie. I didn’t want to push things in their newly repaired relationship, so I took Barbie away again after a few minutes. Tempest didn’t want to let her go, but they haven’t fought again since, so I think they are back on track. Barbie and wine

Now we just need to get Barbie to stop hitting the booze.

I am, of course, being goofy in talking about the relationship between a cat and a plastic human toy, but I think sometimes looking at the “normal” through different eyes helps us to take a look at the things we would normally pay no attention to.

Domesticated animals, for example. It is hard to look at this objectively because most of us probably have lived with a dog or cat or turtle or fish or snake or bird or whatever animal in the past, and loved them. Cared for them. Wanted to do our best for them.

tempestYet there is something in the dependence of that relationship that is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I would miss having a Tempest in my life, if there were no domesticated animals. I would feel that lack, but I would also feel relieved that human intervention was not needed for the health and well-being of others. And I do love her, care for her, and do my best for her. But what if I didn’t, if I wasn’t a person like that, if I was one of the many people who didn’t care, or couldn’t care any more…if I was the type to beat her, or just neglect her, or maybe abandon her when she wasn’t a cute kitten, or when I was moving and it was too much effort to take her with me? She, and the others like her, are just as dependent on the people who don’t care enough as they are on the rest of us.

Sometimes there are even reasons why “companion animals” are neglected or abandoned. It could be money, sickness, death. It could be lack of information, education. It could be running out of options, situations I haven’t even imagined. The problem is in the dependence. beanieNone of us are perfect, we simply do our best. It is better for Tempest to live inside, with me, as imperfect as I am, as imperfect as any one and any situation would be. She has the chance to live a full, healthy, safe life instead of one of struggle. I don’t think it would be better to abandon our companions, or to stop saving those who are trying to live in the strange human concrete jungles. But what if something happens to me? Who will take her in? I’m going to set up a trust for her, so whatever is left of my savings will be used for her care, if something happens to me and I don’t outlive her. I will make sure it is known who had agreed to take her in, and I will make sure it is someone who will love her.

These are things I can do, but there are never guarantees. There are 10 million companion animals killed every year by shelters because they don’t have homes. That is just in the U.S. Clearly we are not doing enough. It is awful that we put 10 million individual lives at the mercy of our convenience, our care.

I recently met a half-grown puppy who survived a war-torn area in Israel, was saved, and has now been adopted to a loving family in the U.S., which highlights how much need there is. It is admirable, and tragic. It is tragic for the many animals that still need to be saved, tragic for the countless animals caught in the crossfire of human wars, and tragic for the animals still on death row in shelters. They could have saved someone closer to home, but how do you make choices like that? Maybe they were traveling in Israel when they saved her. I have a friend who rescued a kitten in Turkey and brought her home, across oceans and continents. There is great need everywhere, for every species, and that is a tragedy.

I don’t have a solution. It is simply something on my mind. The least any of us can do when it comes to domestic animals is explicitly not support anyone actively breeding more dependent animals into this world. There are 10 million companion animals on death row for this year. Save one of them instead. We might not be able to save them all, but to the ones we do save, it is a priceless gift we are giving them. And then make sure that if something happens to you, all of your dependents will be cared for, regardless of species.

maggie moo


4 responses to “Tempest and Barbie make up; thoughts on domesticated animals

  1. RichBeBe December 3, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    As usual something to think about paired with great photos. I wonder how many of us with companion animals have thought about them in their wills?
    I think the cat in the fourth picture looks familiar.

  2. Deb December 3, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    Based on the number of animals given up to shelters when their caregiver dies and the relatives can’t/don’t/won’t take care of the cats, dogs, birds left behind, I think it is safe to say that few of us think of them in our wills. Mostly I’d guess it is simply something that doesn’t occur to us.

    Here are a couple articles that talk about it. I’ll do more research and come up with a better list of resources soon.

  3. Gary December 4, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    A very thoughtful, honest, and introspective post.

    Certainly there are risks and moral quandaries if humans interact with animals in any way, shape, or form, even with loving and informed intentions. And certainly, so far, and in our current circumstances, despite millions of companion animals and humans having wonderful, mutually fulfilling relationships with each other, millions more would-be companion animals suffer in puppy mills, are abandoned, languish in poorly-financed shelters, or are killed due to – ultimately – our greed, indifference, and incompetence.

    Yet, what is the ideal? what is our end goal? I realize at the momeent, with overflowing shelters and rampant companion animal neglect and abuse, this may seem like a fanciful, conveniently rhetorical question. Nonetheless, having an end point in mind may guide us along the way as we try to make things better, then good, then wonderful.

    Should humans and non-human animals have no interaction at all? Is any interference a small crime against nature? What about only intervening to save a bird with a broken wing? Are we then interfering with nature taking its course? Can we turn off our compassionate impulses in those instances without incurring unwanted side effects?

    Is helping another being – of any species – or for that matter entering into a relationship with another being so that one or more of the parties becomes dependent on the other always inherently wrong? Perhaps it is one of the better parts of our nature to want to provide for others. Not only companion animals but members of our own species who would appreciare our involvement. While this may create dependencies, it may also generate gratitude, happiness, and welcome opportunities. Freed from the constraints of day-to-day survival, cats, like many other species of companion animals, exhibit creativity, sociability, and even altrusim that they’re rarely if ever able to express in the wild. In an accommodating and caring home, cats may be dependent on the one paw, but on the other paw they are in many ways freer than they ever would be in nature.

    Can cats quasi-voluntarily accept dependency? My cat, ever the opportunist, literally knocked on a sliding glass door one day while still an outside cat, let himself in, and – depending on how you look at it – either willingly became dependent on humans for food, shelter, and play from that point on, or took charge and had humans do all the hard work on his behalf – so much easier than hunting mice and competing for territory.

    Once companion cats (and rabbits and other companion animals) live past their normal lifespan in the wild, is it that they are dependent on us, or is more that we care so much about them and that our lives are so intertwined with theirs that we give them extra years, out of generosity, love, and perhaps – let’s be frank – self-interest?

    How would cats vote on this issue? Just as my cat actively, yet most cunningly and inscrutabloy staged a peaceful coup in our house, deftly installing himself as Chariman Meow, so can one imagine curious, outgoing kittens in primitive times investigating the interesting biped siting by the stream, and instigating a lifelong friendship.

    It is a difficult connundrum. Us and companion animals. There are times when I am laying on the floor with the cat who shares his life with me, and he has sought me out, and is purring loudly, eyes closed in bliss, kneading contentedly, and we are enjoying each other’s company immensely, and I think “we are made for each other.” Despite all the risks of dependency and heartache, and the pain that may ensue from human stupidity, ignorance, and emotional shortcomings, there is something very beautiful about an inter-speices relationship. That individuals from two different species can bridge that gap, and develop a deep and enduring affection for one another, is, I think, a magnificent wonder of the world.

    Is our ulimate role to view animals from afar? To erect a wall between us and them? To avoid interaction as much as possible, and thus maintain a separateness? Is that how the world is supposed to be?

    Then I consider the animals trucked long distances from puppy mills and deposited in joyless, barren pet stores. I think of the unending excuses people give when returning their animals to the shelter. The declawing and tail-docking and ear-cropping. The dog breeds created for show or novelty that now suffer from hip dysplasia and other congenital defects. The rabbits on the side of the road sold to impulse buyers before Easter and unceremoniously thrown out the back door in July, after the novelty wears off. The caged birds. The unkind fate of countless hampsters, gerbils, and other small animals bought for not much more than “tuppence a bird,” as in Mary Poppins.

    It would be a shame if our penchant for violence, selfishness, shortsightedness, and exploitation forced us to forswear friendships with animals. Can we ever fully know the magnificence and breadth of animals simply by being observers? We get to really know individuals – human or non-human – by entering into relationships with them. We feel, and thus realize the capacity of, their love and other emotions by being the target of them. They become so comfortable with us that they show us personal and vulnerable sides of themselves. They become confident enough of their safety and basic needs that they emgage in frivolous, delightful zaniness and mischief – for sheer fun or curiosity.

    But at what cost? In Isaiah’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom, the lion lies down with the lamb. Where do humans fit in? That’s the dilemma.

  4. Deb December 4, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I knew you’d have something thoughtful to say about this Gary. đŸ™‚

    It is true that there are often mutual benefits to our relationships with other animals; or, perhaps I should say, apparent mutual benefits, since it is difficult to know for certain how the animals feel. We are guessing there, and no matter how sure we feel we know what they are telling us, it is still our best guess.

    My main point was actually the absolute dependence. The kind of dependence where if you don’t come home one day, there is no way they can feed or water themselves. There are few other relationships that mimic this. Perhaps an infant and his or her parents; but how many parents leave their infants unattended?

    As to animals outside of our homes, I feel we should show them the highest compassion we are able, that they will allow. I can’t say what that would be, since it is going to be dependent on the situation and the individual.

    Sometimes the compassion we need to show is making our human lives as free from inadvertant pitfalls for these other animals as possible, such as providing mouse ladders in water bowls. Sometimes it is saving a baby mole that can’t take care of itself yet.

    If there were no domesticated cats and dogs to be saved, there might very well still exist relationships between our species. This isn’t something I can predict. As long as we desire having domesticated animals, they will continue to exist, and we will continue to struggle to fight the uphill battle against the many millions killed, neglected, abandoned, abused every year. My personal preference for living with a friend of another species shouldn’t take precedence over what we are ultimately struggling against. The end goal in my opinion would be for there to be no more need to save these millions of animals, for the abuse, neglect, abandonment to not exist. So yes, the end goal in my eyes is for no more domesticated animals to be bred.

    I don’t think this means putting up walls between species. I think this means appreciating other species for what and who they are. If individuals of other species befriend me, I will be thrilled. If they don’t, I will understand.

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