The SPCA's 5 Freedoms. Notice # 4
I see the benefits animals bring to many people, the joy, and the love.
Animals can be like healers to us. Eckhart Tolle, in particular, has written about this quite a bit, even calling them, ‘Guardians of Being’. I am not against having animals in our lives - but I am absolutely against having them in an environment that is unkind to them. And so often it is.
Today we have a general lack of appreciation towards the fact that animals have their own purpose for being. If we reflect on this even just a moment, we realize that all animals have a natural environment, even a natural diet - and this is never a human home.
In this blog I will share some of the negative effects having pets has on society that you have probably never imagined were possible - not just on the pets, but on us.
Usually, we don't take the time to ask ourselves, "What is the best environment for this dog/cat?” Should I *really* be getting a pet?”. Usually we just say, “Lets a get a dog, I love dogs”. And rarely does anyone pause to contemplate the purpose of animals on earth - why are they even here, anyways? I want to suggest that they have their own purpose for being, that they grow and learn just like us. And like us, each animal has its own unique environment where that naturally happens best.
But normally we don't contemplate those things. We just go for what we want. And that's because our relationship to animals isn't really love. It is really the love of being loved.
Caring For An Animal Is A Huge Responsibility
Plus, we are often kind of naive about how much care an animal can require. I have heard several times from people who decided to get a dog or cat, only to be shocked when, later, their pet required surgery or medicine. Sometimes the bill was even $2000, $3000, or $4000. And they never saw this coming, of course.
Many people have learned the hard way that animals can get arthritis, cancer, and other conditions, just like humans. Painful conditions. Conditions that can't be ignored. They are then faced with a tough choice: put the dog to sleep, since it is suffering, or pay the $4000 for the operation and medicines. Over the last 20 years I have lived mostly in shared accommodation, and I have lived with many people and their pets.
Here's three of those experiences:
1. I'm living in the small town of Nelson BC, with a young 28 yr old guy who works by day in customers service, online. He seems nice and friendly enough. But he has a young puppy of maybe two. and he would often call his dog names in a harsh tone of voice. It seemed he had a dog mostly so he could put someone down.
2. I’m living with a mom and her teenage son in North Vancouver. She is a cheerful, bubbly woman, and her son is one of the most intelligent teens I have ever met. One night the family has steaks, and the dog begs the whole time we are eating. At one point he looks at me and I can feel his confusion and pain. At the end of dinner they make him do a few tricks then they give him a bone with some fat on it. By the end of it their dog who they 'love' has his tail between his legs and walks out of the room shaking. But they don't seem to notice at all.
3. I'm living in Victoria BC and my roommate is a lovely person, caring and gentle. But she also has a dog at home, and when she is out working, her dog stays at home. I am often home too - and some days, the dog cries. And cries. And cries. And I’m not surprised - it’s a dark basement suite, and the dog is a healthy, strong animal, who would normally be with a pack of other dogs, living in forests and rivers, running and hunting. But this dog does none of that - he just sleeps until he can’t sleep anymore. I can’t handle the crying, and I can’t save the dog. I say something and then move out.
Now these are just obvious examples of how animals are treated by relatively kind, conscious people. Below I will also go into some of the effects having pets has on society as a whole.
I have thought about the reality of 'pets' a lot, and the more I do, the more I realize that as long as we have animals living in human homes, the animals will suffer. And that’s because: every animal has a natural environment, and that is never a human home.
Let's take a dog as an example: We know they are pack animals. We also know they are carnivores, with sharp teeth and a keep sense of smell for hunting. And we know they have fur, so they can easily live in the cold. And we know that they mate in the spring.
But in a human home, a dog doesn't hunt, doesn't eat it's natural diet, never mates, and maybe gets two walks outside a day in nature, if it's lucky. Which is a lot like the conditions of humans in prison.
I hope that what I’m getting across here is that true kindness to a dog goes way beyond just providing them with a warm house, dog food, and hugs and kisses. Those are great things - but that’s from our point of view. If we take the dogs point of view, its a different picture.
But Aren’t Animals Great For Humans?
Yes! They are! Sources of unlimited love! They bring companionship and joy to many. The issue is that we aren’t always great for them. But the animal usually has no choice in the matter.
From Owning “Pets” to Being Stewards of the Animal Kingdom
I'm not suggesting we suddenly stop having pets. I know that's not going to happen. What I am suggesting is that we begin to think more deeply about their needs, about what we are taking on when we take them into our homes, but even more: that we begin to look at the bigger picture of our relationship to animals as a society. Ultimately, I see very clearly that we will transition from owning pets, to being stewards of the animal kingdom. It will be more of a detached relationship of true love and caring - going, I suspect, far beyond what we do now. We will view this Earth as a great Garden that we are Caretakers of.
This doesn't mean we never bring them into our home. But it does mean that we have paused to consider their needs - and even more, their purpose for being.
And as we do this, we will very likely stop using the word “pet".
But What About Shelters?
Now I know that today, many dogs and cats are living in horrible prison-like shelters. So bringing one home might the kindest thing we can do. But we should notice: the reason the are so many dogs and cats in shelters is because of us: our demand for pets has created a world where we have allowed their population to grow way beyond where it would normally be. So the solution must involve, in the long-term, allowing their population to return to where it should be.
And what effect does having pets have on our society at large?
Some are saying their are now more pets in the US than children.
Today we also have a lot of poor seniors in our world, often living on tuna and rice - because that's what they can afford. Life for many of them has become hard. But instead of feeding our poor seniors, or feeding our hungry children, which are huge problems, our extra money and our extra food now goes to feeding our cats and dogs. We have in a very real way turned our backs on people in favour of animals - animals who's population is way beyond where it would normally be. And we allowed that to happen.
And I get it. We have often been hurt...so we give up on human relationships, and get a cat or dog. This is totally understandable, and not a bad thing exactly... cats and dogs are naturally loving and they help us heal. However, some people never go back to relating to people. They take the easy path: drop people and relate to a cat or dog instead. Which sounds just fine, right? And we are all certainly free to do that. The issue is that the human-pet relationship is one of dependancy, and so often one of power and control. The animal has little choice. They are basically powerless. So instead of moving back into (human) relationship and the growth in that, many people take the easy path and instead of transforming their issue - their pet suffers it. Not everyone of course, but many. I have seen this first hand in more situations than I care to count.
However many people increasingly imagine a world where animals will have rights. Eventually we may not have the ability to make them captive.
I'm not against having pets. I'm for caring for them at another level.
I'm not against enjoying them or relating to them. I'm for having a deeper appreciation for their unique creation, their natural environment and activities, and their own intrinsic purposes for being alive.
I'm also very much for having a greater awareness of how our individual choices add up on a societal level. Namely today how we are putting our extra money towards feeding animals over children and seniors, and choosing animal over human relations.
I love animals. I love people. I love this Earth. And I know that our society is always evolving. I'm not judging - that's not helpful. It's simply a matter of awareness, as we become more aware of things, things change.
To truly love is the great work. But we don't come into loving fully, maturely, in the span of a single life-time. In time, we'll look back and laugh at the many ways we lived, just as we can look back and laugh now at the values we held in the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's. The ways we live we live today will one day look just as crazy - so let's keep questioning, and be gentle with ourselves - and the animals.