A colleague of mine recently pointed out, “your animals really seem to be escape artists”. Contrary to what you all are smugly thinking about my handyman skills, this was not in reference to faulty fencing. For example, Fred the sheep, who spent 2 weeks up at New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School getting surgery for his urinary blockage, was so exuberant a patient – leaping over barriers, ripping out IV lines and exploring the hallowed university halls, that they had to lock him in a secure horse stall to keep him under treatment. And of course there are well documented cases of flying cows and teleporting goats that we really don’t need to rehash right now.
Now, some farmers might throw up their hands in despair and claim that these are all “problem” animals, beasts who don’t know how to stay in their proper place, rowdy creatures with no respect for authority, boundaries, neighborly pleas, or the supposed divine injunction that animals should obey their humans. Over the years I’ve known barn managers to send horses off to market if they showed too much intelligence (ability to open stall doors from the inside, just for instance). I heard of a sad case where a man shot half a dozen of his animals when they escaped over the fence too many times. And there are stories abounding out there about animals who found ways off of the slaughterhouse wagon, and ultimately wandered into some kind person’s life who granted them amnesty.
No, when it comes to animals who won’t just “stay where they are put”, I prefer to take a larger view of the situation. Suppose just for a minute that animals are born with innate intelligence – IQ, if you will. Suppose that by providing them with nutritious food, a nurturing environment, objects designed to mentally stimulate them, graduated steps of education, and a great deal of socialization — just suppose — we can thereby establish a program of animal enrichment leading to animals who can think for themselves.
Ahhh, I hear the farmers out there trembling in their boots, teeth chattering, a Gary Larson nightmare come to life. I hear those in the control camp saying “not enough training”, I hear animal control officers muttering “anarchy”. But what would be so wrong about more intelligent animals on our planet? Goodness knows it’s hard enough to come by a good solid conversation with anyone these days about metaphysics, philosophy, and the meaning of it all – why not try it with animals?
Just for instance, Mr. Newman has recently showed an interest in literature. I was startled a few months back to find him with a copy of The Tempest open to Act III, a scene with Caliban. I can well understand Newman’s interest in Caliban, the son of a witch and a devil, half brute and half demon,
“the character grows out of the soil where it is rooted, uncontrouled, uncouth
and wild, uncramped by any of the meannesses of custom.” (William Hazlitt, Shakespeare scholar)
Rather than being alarmed by his choice of reading matter and inspiration, I instead allowed him to open his mind to other possibilities.
In our barn loft we keep many boxes of goods that we take to the monthly flea market in Germantown for fundraising – many of them are books. This has become Mr. Newman’s personal library (he was officially denied a library card by the Montgomery County Library system so we had to do something). I’ve found that Mr. Newman is far more complex than any of us had imagined. Last week he was reading a chapter of a book on Shame (who knew?), and yesterday his literary choice was a book called Home-Alone America. Now, I really do take exception to this. Unless he is researching for his friends on other farms, he has clearly developed some issues that may require therapeutic intervention. I simply don’t know how we’re going to justify “Goat Psychologist” in our annual budget ….
I’m not too worried as of yet, however, because he is still demonstrating signs of a healthy interest in normal caprine activities: he eats the books after he’s read them.
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats