I am sure that I’ve written about this subject before, usually in reference to specific cats, but I have thought about it again recently. It seems that many people these days think of pets as disposable, and it baffles me that this can be.
I am no Pollyanna, believing that there is goodness in everyone and that all will turn out well. Nor am I an animal rights fanatic who thinks that people should treat animals as they do their fellow humans. Even so, there are certain standards of behaviour to which we, as members of civilisation, should adhere.
When a person takes in an animal as a pet, the rules are different than if the animal is raised as food, or a beast of buden. Farmers, ranchers and others who depend upon animals for their livelihood cannot always be sentimental about animals. Yet they often are, and differentiate between the animal which must earn its keep, and that which exists for companionship. For the rest of us, there is no excuse for not observing the obligations that are thrust upon us when we become pet-owners.
As a volunteer with a cat rescue-group, I see too frequently animals that have been abandoned because they have proved troublesome. A family moving from town will simply leave its cat behind. A female cat gives birth and the kittens are dropped off at a farm - on the assumption that immature creatures unable to defend themselves will learn how to fight off coyotes and hawks much better on an acreage. Then there are the people who decide that they just don’t want a pet anymore. Three were last year returned to the rescue-group because their humans were ‘downsizing’ their pet population. Two dogs and three cats were given up; the poor dogs had no such rescue-group to which to be returned.
As I stated, I am no animal rights zealot. I eat meat. I see nothing wrong with skillful hunting - though I don’t hunt myself. I don’t treat my pets like people. (Disregard the story on this blog about my giving one of them ice cream.) But animals are nonetheless more than furniture, books or old clothes to be sold or given away at a jumble-sale.
Only the stupidest in society would think that the more advanced animals, cats, dogs, horses among them, do not feel emotions, such as love and fear, enjoyment and wonder. To abandon a pet, assuming that he will be fine, that he will survive on his own, is not only ridiculous, it is cruel. And I am not one who thinks of everything bad as cruelty. Cats and dogs are thought to have the intellectual level of a two or three year old child. Can it be doubted that their emotional level is similar? I don’t believe that someone who would leave a cat to fend for itself in a wood would ever do the same to a child, but to the mind of a pet, the result is the same. What the child would exprience emotionally, so would the cat or dog. It’s true, I think, that the animal would stand a better chance of survival than a human, but in many cases, not much better.
That argument is really beside the point. What is more salient than asking how this can be done to a beast, is to ask how it can be done, period. To take on the care of a pet is an obligation. It may be a reluctant one. It may turn from a joy to a burden. It may become something hateful. It doesn’t matter. If it is taken on willingly, however grudgingly, however plaintively, it must be seen through. The time, effort and money must be given. It’s a promise made not just to another living being but to oneself.
This may seem odd coming from someone who has just eaten a pork chop. But, though it may seem like splitting hairs, I didn’t promise to take care of an anonymous pig. If I had, it would be in my back yard now. Mothers and fathers cannot worry about every child in the world; they would explode with terror and anxiety, regret and remorse if they did. They worry about their own. They will do what they can for others’ childen, but it is their own to whom they made an unspoken promise. So it is with pets. We take them in, we shelter them, feed them, change their litter (or take them for walks); we play with them, we tell them not to worry when it thunders outside. We must do that until the day they die.
Is it a bother? Sometimes, yes. I’m not a father, but I can tell you that it must have sorely tempting to my parents not to kick me out numerous times when I was an adolescent. And my parents were good parents. It’s no different when one has pets. Before I realised that Tucker’s recent wetting problems were due to a physical ailment, there were numerous times I wished for someone else to take this animal off my hands - usually just after he discoloured part of my carpet. But he was my responsibility and will be until the day he breathes his last - may it be just before I breathe my own.
And so they cannot be disposable, these animals with whom we live. They are with us forever, through joy, rage, exaspration, excitement, fear, love and even, unfortunately, sometimes reluctance. They must be wih us forever. They have no one else.