Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Wild animals are just that

It does matter if it's a tiger act, a zoo, a prairie dog, or bears in the wild. Wild animals are unpredictable. You can never really call them tame. They may seem so, but they are not domesticated. For that matter, have you ever been attacked by sheep, or a hamster, or geese? I have. Animals have individual personalities, they have instincts, and they have emotions, but they do not have reason in the sense that we do, no matter how much we anthropomorphise them. They do not necessarily react with consequences in mind. Their logick is based on pack, herd, or predator instincts.

I can remember our family cat biting through my mom's hand when I was in high school. It was hard not to feel betrayal. How could he do something like that? He'd always been so loving. My mom had been holding him when a man came to the door. Tiger had developed a fear of strangers after getting out and falling off a tyre of a moving vehicle, breaking his hip, dislocating the other, and cracking his tail. He spent a month in an animal hospital, only eating when my mom came in and fed him by hand. He became very sensitive to strange smells or if someone touched him the wrong way. For whatever reason, the man at the door scared him, and in his fear, he reacted to being constrained by taking the most direct method to get away--by biting my mom so she'd let him go. Even though she realises this, at the time she cried not because of the pain or the fact that her hand blew up to three times its size, but because she felt like her 'baby had bitten her'.

We do that with pets. Sometimes in our arrogance, I think we do that with animals in nature, too, with disastrous results. Even people who have worked with animals for decades are at risk, and most will admit it. It says a lot that from what I've heard, Roy Horn asked that the tiger who attacked him not be killed.

I have mixed feelings about performance animals. They can be educational, but there's also a lot of room for abuse. Sure, some animals are rescued and probably can't be rehabilitated--I'm thinking things like raptors who have damaged wings, for example. But generally, why would anyone keep a lion as a pet? I also don't get why people think it's great to have, say, a chimpanzee as a pet. Do they not realise that those chimps you see on TV are generally juveniles, who then grow up to be stronger than a man with hormones? Or that, like humans, they're social animals and if not socialised with others of their kind can develop behavioural issues, mental illness, etc.?

Don't get me wrong, I love my pets. But I also know that the life expectancy for an outside cat is 2 to 3 years compared to the 15-20 inside. Or that dogs, when left to become feral, become quite dangerous, especially in the country, as my friend Brenda can testify, having recently lost yet another lamb to the local pack. I'm not saying we shouldn't keep animals as companions. Domesticated animals have a symbiotic relationship with humans. Most people with cats will tell you they domesticated us. But a housecat and a tiger, although related, are a far cry from one another, and there are plenty of domestic animals in need of a home and attention. I just don't see the need to invade an animal's territory, muck with its habitat, or bring it back and put it in a cage because of a human need for flash or status. There are plenty of domesticated animals out there who need a home. Just check out your local rescue or pound. And be sure to spay or neuter your pets if you are not specifically trying to become a breeder. Some people are reluctant because they see it as putting constraints on their pet. You know what? Leashes are constraints, too, and I've known idiots who would let their dog run out into the street rather than put one on. That's real cruelty, letting a dog die because of some sort of misplaced idea of letting animals 'run free'. Leashes do not equal slavery. If you can't stand to leash a dog, don't have one. Personally, I'm of the opinion that if you live in the city and can't stand to have a cat inside, you probably shouldn't have one, either. Out on a farm is one thing. In the city, it's just asking for trouble. I've killed a cat before. He was a black, unneutered tom who had just moved to the area and was out looking for love. He didn't have a reflective collar. I hit him at midnight on a Friday 13th. It was the perfect scenario for bad luck on all sides. I never saw him until it was too late, then carried him to a friend's house hoping to save him, only to have him shudder and die in my arms. I will never forget that feeling. I wound up falling apart in the friend's house instead. We located the owner, but I don't know if they had kids or not. I'd hate to explain that to my child. Better to keep the beloved cat inside. It's not a guarantee, but it ups the odds of a long, healthy life.

I think in an era where people tend to tramp all over in an effort to experience 'extreme nature', there's an even more important need to respect the animals that live in it. I sigh every time I see a commercial for some rugged SUV (no doubt guzzling gas) climbing a mountain, nevermind the erosion and other damage to what even 10 years ago were fairly pristine habitats. There are times I think the traditional conservationists (nature-loving hunters, like Roosevelt and Audubon) had a better respect for the environment than supposedly with-it modern tree huggers who are streaming into the wilds for that experience of a lifetime and nevermind the consequences.

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