From GENE LOGSDON
I thought I had heard it all with the ad on National Public Radio for pajamas for every member of the family, including the cats and dogs. But now on sale are coats for your pet chicken. Obviously, Henny Penny, not only is the sky falling but our collected social sanity. But then my wife, ever the practical one, pointed out that if your hen has a tendency to fly over the fence around her chicken run, a coat over her wings would solve the problem. Why didn’t my mother think of that instead of clipping the wing feathers of errant hens?
Even the most fervent pet lover has to agree that we are going a little bit overboard on pet love. An editorial in the New York Times editorial section (Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014) tells about a couple who keep two rabbits in their house and if one or the other pees on the floor or wherever, well, you clean it up and go on just like you would for a child. Some really imaginative ways to handle animal hair clogging up air ducts, or poop on the rug are being advertised on TV. Some cats can learn how to use the bathroom toilet. In ads, dogs are allowed to lick the faces of children. In one ad, the dog looks like it is about to copulate with its owner. Pet cemeteries are all the rage, and old horses are retired to green pastures at a cost I’m sure is almost as high as what is spent on low income humans in homes for the aged. Some eight million cats and an equal number of dogs live in human household luxury, contributing as much to the waste flow and to carbon emission as their owners.
Nevertheless, I’d argue that pets are good for human society, maybe even necessary. One of the benefits of traditional husbandry that the money counters don’t know how to figure into their economic renderings of farm profit and loss is the way it can fill our yearning for pets. Traditional farmers enjoy a bond with “lower” animals and in fact, that enjoyment is very much a part of why they like their work. There is just something so endearing about how a dog or a horse or even a cow, will return love and loyalty shown to it. Just a couple of years ago, after being around chickens all my life, I learned that with a little effort, hens make loving pets. Lambs, turned into pets by bottle feeding, are almost too much. We kept one in the house with a diaper on it one spring and before long it thought it was human and would curl up in my lap and watch television with me. Returning it to the flock turned out to be a real problem. It stood at the fence nearest to our house for several days, bleating away to get back into human society. I suppose I was heartless because there was no way that was going to happen. A full grown ewe watching TV with me? That is the advantage of husbandry over urban pet care. The husbandman knows that in the end the animals that he learns to love and that learn to love him, are going to end up on the barbecue grill. The farm family’s first lesson is to understand that all life sits at a vast table, eating and being eaten. The non-farm pet lovers don’t always grasp this fact of life. They not only want to treat their pets as kindly as they can, but then want to transfer their solicitude to all animals, like squirrels. But when cutie little fuzzy tail gets electrocuted on powerlines, as thousands of them do every year, well “that’s different.” They oppose killing deer but when a deer is killed by a car along with the driver of the car, well, “that’s different.” If one of those cute little woodchucks starts digging big holes next to the house foundation, well, “That’s different— call the exterminators.”
A hopeful sign of the future is that the trend toward more backyard and small farm and even urban ventures into husbandry will bring about a more commonsensical attitude toward animals. I see in the paper news stories about how squirrels are so thick they are causing real problems for cities and individual homes, chewing the electric lines on outdoor Christmas decorations. That could bring practicality to the problem much sooner than even husbandry could.