By SERENA NELSON
I’ve always been uncomfortable with calling myself a dog owner. You see while I love my dog very much, I don’t like calling myself her ‘owner’ as to me that makes her seem like a possession. A ‘Thing’. Call me a car owner? That’s fine. A home owner? I wish. But a dog owner? Not so much. It’s weird I know, but on a personal level it just doesn’t sit well with me.
You see, we currently live in a world where, for many people, animals are a commodity. They are things to be used, traded, exploited and discarded. We use rabbits to test our makeup, cram chickens into cages to collect their eggs, factory farm cows and their young to eat their flesh and drink their milk. We buy puppies only to abandon them in old age. We wear animal skins on our feet and back. We carry their hides as purses, or decorate our bodies with their fur. We use their bones in our potions and lotions. For some animals they become our eyes to guide us in the world, others our prized possessions to be traded for profit. They risk their lives for us in dangerous situations, carry the heavy loads we cannot bear, and sit in enclosures for our amusement. To be an animal in 2012 is a dangerous prospect.
Feeling guilty? Me too. But this is not an article to disparage people’s personal choices related to the issues above. For me I still eat fish and wear leather shoes, while at the same time I adamantly deplore the use of animal testing and factory farming. I’m a walking, talking contradiction. Every day I try to do better. BE better.
But despite all this, there is one thing I can define clearly. When I watch my dog play with a new toy, cuddle up to me at the end of the day, or just sit in the garden to take in the sunlight, I don’t see a possession. I don’t see a commodity. I see a life. I see a living, breathing creature with a spirit. I see a soul with the ability to feel happiness, sadness, pain, joy, loss, excitement and everything in between. My dog is as real as you and me, and deserves a life as fulfilled as yours and mine.
This insight is not restricted to my loyal friend of 11 years. When I see cows dancing at their release into the open after a life without sunlight, or watch laboratory Beagles feel grass under their feet for the very first time; I see that spirit. When I watch the reassuring embrace of test Chimps upon their transfer into a natural habitat, or watch dogs welcome home their military owners from deployment, it is there.
But unfortunately it isn’t always joy and happiness that I see in these animals. Too often I see animals experiencing fear, betrayal and heartbreaking pain. And too often these emotions come at the hands of a human who sees them as little more than a possession. I know it was only a film, but for this very reason I found myself bawling my eyes out within 5 seconds of the new Planets of the Apes movie.* And for this same very reason, I found myself cheering on the great apes as they came to power.** Call me crazy, but for me Dr Zaius was onto something.
As a world we need to start respecting our fellow species. We need to start realising animals were not put on this earth merely for our own personal gain. We need to begin to understand they’re here for the exact same reasons we are. Not to get married, or climb the career ladder, or buy a home; but to experience the basis of life. To find joy. To feel love. To connect. To live.
For a chicken that is unable to lay eggs still can enjoy foraging in the garden. A horse that can no longer pull a carriage still can feel their sun on their back. A puppy that was born with the wrong colouring may not be a winning show dog, but they still can be a faithful companion. Without us, they still have a purpose.
So as you make your way in the world this week, I have a little favour to ask. When you spend time with an animal, or happen on using a product or service an animal was involved in, make a conscious thought towards the life of that animal. Think about just how much they give to us on a daily basis, and thank them.
Thank them for being them.
* I know – I am possibly the most FUN movie date ever. I also ask questions in spy thrillers and eat Maltesers loudly.
** I also ruin endings for people who haven’t seen the movie yet. Sorry.