Friday, July 7th, 2017
I have a confession to make. Well, it’s not really mine alone, but the incident is certainly a blight on my family’s reputation in the animal kingdom. When I was very young and already an avid animal lover, we had a cat named Fluffy. She was a Siamese and somewhat high strung. I loved Fluffy – I loved all animals, and I especially loved cats. Cats, cats, cats! But according to my parents, she scratched my face while I was sleeping. More than once. I remember not caring at all, an insouciance that has certainly carried through to the present day. But my parents were overprotective and they ‘got rid of her’. They probably didn’t use those words; at least I hope they didn’t. They told me she went to live on a farm somewhere…. I don’t think I bought that explanation, even then. They eventually replaced her with a sweet Calico cat named Alice who lived with us until she was 20 years old. All pets thenceforth were kept for their entire natural lives. I might have had something to do with that – I’m not sure – but I did develop a loud voice for animals early on in life.
To be fair, my parents were (Fluffy aside), in fact, real animal lovers: picking up strays, adopting from the shelter, donating often to animal causes, helping people out who had animals and could not take care of them. We had an epileptic black lab named Peppy whom they fished out of a dumpster when she was just a puppy, a deaf Irish Wolfhound named Daisy who only loved my father and had a peculiar look on her face her whole, strange, soundless life, and a dear, dear Great Dane named Orrie who, when she died of the bloat, took a piece of my mother’s soul with her. My folks gave great vet care to our animals and let our pets sleep in my bed (the real litmus test, I think!). I was an only child and I’m pretty sure our dogs and cats were my brothers and sisters. It was a good way to grow up. I’ve never understood why people feel they need to wait till their children are older to get pets. It’s not as though a 12 year old will contribute any more to the care of the animal than a 2 year old (no, seriously) – and why not get 10 years of extra furry snuggle time in there? Children who grow up with pets are usually much less likely to be afraid of animals, to develop a more robust immune system (think: where EXACTLY has that tongue been?….), and to experience a whole different realm of species interaction that enriches, amuses, and engenders compassion.
Amazingly, one of the top reasons cited for giving up an animal is “we’re going to have a baby.” Wow – shouldn’t it be the reverse? “Honey, let’s get a dog for our new baby so they can grow up together.” Those who work on the receiving end of unwanted animals (rescue groups, animal shelters, sanctuaries like Star Gazing Farm) hear many stunning reasons that people no longer want to have an animal in their lives anymore. On the hit parade: “we are moving”, “he sheds”, “we got a kitten and the older cat doesn’t like her”, “my kids aren’t interested anymore”, “we don’t have any time for him” , “my new boyfriend doesn’t like dogs”, “she’s getting too old”. Then there are the simply heartless ones like “we just bought a new sofa and he doesn’t match.” Yes, someone really said that.
Star Gazing Farm receives a large volume of requests every week to take in animals. Many times there is much sadness in this – people’s life circumstances have changed, and they do not want to part with their animals but cannot find any other solution. On the other hand, I get some emails that read like this: “we have some unwanted roosters – can we bring them to you today?” Oh dear, it makes one wonder just what those roosters did to find themselves out of favor …. Now, if we took every animal in, we’d soon be broke and living under the 14th street bridge. So, “no” is unhappily often the response. I try to talk with people about what is really going on. Sometimes it’s possible to help people figure out ways to solve the current issues with their animal – a sturdier fence, separating someone who is causing trouble, changing the diet, getting a companion for a lonely animal. But sometimes it’s a matter of illness, accident, home foreclosure, divorce, even domestic abuse in which case placements need to be found, sometimes quite quickly. Moreover, the local animal control agencies call us when they pick up strays or have seized farm animals in a cruelty case. Just as a bizarre fact, we got calls about 3 separate stray pigs last month. Pigs were apparently on the move.
It’s to be expected that there will always be a great shuffling around of animals and part of what my farm and so many animal groups do is to assist in these matters. I will say though … it really hurts my heart when I hear: “I need to get rid of my animals.”
I wish, at least, that people would change their language, for, surely, doesn’t language shape our thoughts? Instead of saying “I need to get rid of Fluffy”, how about:
The reality is the same: Fluffy has to go. But I do think the way we think about and verbally express this re-location of Fluffy matters. It may make the difference between placing Fluffy in a loving home or unwittingly letting her be sold to a lab, to be used in dog fight practices, or to be even more neglected than she was to begin with. ‘Getting rid’ of something implies worthlessness. And I very much doubt that Fluffy is worthless. None of them are worthless. If we could all work on the way we frame an unfortunate situation (animals are about to be parted from their human friends), we would not hurt our animals’ feelings quite so much.
For, they do, you know, understand. Just ask the animals at our farm.