As a currently popular meme on Facebook says: the difference between “like” and “love” can be described as such- when you like a flower, you pick it, but when you love it, you nurture it and tend to it to help it grow.
This seems to clarify the issue so easily, but the issue is just not that simple. Especially when it comes to animals. It is easy to like animals. It is easy to want to be around them and to treat them like “children”. It is easy to take them from their natural surroundings and “save” them from natural predators. But it is not easy to do right by them.
The fact is easily overseen that no matter what people may say, the animal in question is hardly ever given the opportunity to have an opinion on the matter – and when they do voice their opinions, they are more often than not, punished for their efforts!
My children have been exposed to animals and horses since before they can remember and naturally shares the same love for these creatures as I. They have come to the farm with me and been put on the horses. They love it. Who wouldn’t? Sometimes they accompany me to the farm only to play with the resident stable-cats as this is the one pet we do not have at home.
On the weekend, we visited a play park. Most of the activities offered were harmless fun, such as face painting, sand art, water slides, paddle boats and a myriad of other things for children to climb on and fall off of. There were two things however which made me squirm a little. The first was the “Pony rides”. My daughter insisted on riding. So we stood in a queue for about 45 minutes so she could walk around two circles. The horses seemed content enough. They had water. There were two resting, standing in shade and eating and two being led around. On the whole, there was nothing anyone would pick up as being bad or abusive. But for the entire 45 minutes, one horse was being led around a circle in the same direction, stopping every second revolution to have another squirmy passenger hoisted onto his back. His face was not that of a happy horse.
He had made peace with his lot and as many animals, especially horses, will do, he was displaying the subtle signs of learned helplessness. He had simply given up.
Just as an aside: it is not only ponies used in this sort of environment that display these signs and many “bombproof” ponies and horses used to teach little kids to ride on, will inevitably show the same traits. But herein lies the caveat – would you put your precious child on a pony with an opinion? Probably not…
The second thing that my children wanted to do, was play with the animals in the petting zoo. I love the zoo. I always loved going there and seeing the animals. But upon growing older and learning more about how animals are kept and bred in such institutions, I find myself becoming more and more opposed to visits to the zoo. Petting zoos are even more contentious. Inevitably, among the dozen or so tots allowed into the enclosure at one time, at least half of them would be carrying a hapless baby bunny by its head without being shown how to support the body. The chickens and ducks are chased and forced to sit still so little hands can feel their feathers, their harmful beaks forced out the way. The only animals that seemed indifferent to interact were the goats who happily chewed away on any fabric they could find including jackets, shirts and mothers’ handbags. There was water, food and shade, but all the same the animals were handled non-stop for hours on end. No-one but me seemed to care to put the baby bunnies back in their hatch for a rest after being cuddled to near-death by a well-meaning child. One mother didn’t even stop her child from putting a foot on the tortoise (baby tortoise, not fully-grown!) in an effort to make it retract into its shell. And all of this was in the 15 minutes we were in there.
This is not where the caveat between animal “use” and animal “abuse” ends. As many animal activists struggle to end the era of cruel factory farming for the production of meat, I am reading about the latest medical advances where giant factory farms are being set up with the sole purpose of pig organs are being “manufactured” for human use. Although the technology is still in its infancy, the plans are and I quote: “…having a steady supply of farm-grown organs would allow doctors to place recipients on immunosuppressant drugs days ahead of surgery, which should improve survival rates.”
Not only are these pigs being “grown” for the sole purpose of having their organs harvested, they are also genetically modified so that the human body will not reject the transplanted organs. It’s not just solid organs. Sufferers of diabetes can also look forward to cells from pig insulin-producing islet cells that could be transplanted into their own pancreas’ and pig corneas are already entering the market in China.
There is also the dog, Ringo, who was bred, along with his entire litter of siblings, to have severe Muscular Dystrophy. He was saved by a rogue mutation in his own genes which might now help save many, many human boys with the same affliction. But what about the 49 puppies he sired “in the laboratory’s kennel” of whom only one had the same mutation and the rest suffered from muscular dystrophy…?
Where is the line? How do we even begin to draw a line? I like animals very much. I like being around them and having the opportunity to interact with them. I like giving my children those same opportunities. That interaction helped the “like” to grow into “love”, but now the two seem to have become mutually exclusive. How do I marry the two concepts?
Well, at least it should. Every life should matter. How do you teach your children to softly handle animals if these same animals are not mishandled by hundreds of other children and their ignorant parents?
How else is Little Missy going to learn the fine art of equestrianism without there being an abused – albeit not overtly – equine in the story.
How do you save the lives of many,many humans who are awaiting lung transplants, without splaying open the chest of a baboon who will die in just a few days from complications never imagined?
How do I show my children the wonders of the natural world without capturing some of that wild and enclosing it in a zoo?