Monday, September 07, 2015

Animals - and how we relate to them

There was a documentary airing here a while back where British actor Martin Clunes was examining human beings' contradictory relationship with domesticated animals. Clunes has a small farm in Dorset where he raises cattle and sheep for the meat market and and is a happy carnivore but, at the same time, he is intrigued by the fact that he can bottle feed and hand raise an animal then happily ship it off to slaughter.

The documentary takes him to Nepal where the cow is a sacred animal but is still kept for vital dairy and waste products (and treated with great respect and care), to Japan where cormorants are used to catch fish, to Thailand where domesticated elephants are used to carry tourists and to Ko Yao Noi, also in Thailand, where trained monkeys are used to harvest coconuts. He's been taken by how most of the people treat their animal workers gently and with kindness. While I'm sure many - even most - do, I'm a little more sceptical because obviously these people know they are being filmed and have been carefully selected by the team putting the documentary together. That seems to me likely to put them on their best behaviour. But still it does give us some insight into how animals are used to work with people and the partnerships that can develop between them.

I'm happily vegetarian but it seems to me that if animals are treated as the Nepalese cattle are we are living in harmony with them and I have no problem that. The thing is people in general really can't or won't put themselves in the place of the animals they interconnect with and, as a result, often with the best of intentions, they make terrible mistakes. Take dogs for example. Most of us like or love dogs if the number of pet dogs is any indication but that doesn't equate to understanding them and that's where human/dog relationships often fail. This is no doubt why the people seen recently by Virgo walking their puppy thought a prong collar was a good idea. Puppy had no idea of how it should behave - hello, puppy, why would it - and was being jerked back whenever it strayed. That puppy is learning only one thing - that people hurt it and has no idea of what it is doing wrong or why it is being hurt. Just a little thought by its owners would tell them that but, although I'm sure they think they are doing the right thing, they haven't learned how puppies think and act. It's sad because they are all missing out.

I share my life with animals and I always have. When I lose one of my furry friends I mourn them deeply and while they live with me I try to make their life as pleasant as possible. I don't see them as belonging to me, more as a different kind of family member. This does not, I hasten to add, mean I think of them as substitute humans. They are themselves and of their own species but they are still part of our family unit. It seems to me that this is the way it should be. We share our world with animals and whether they are like the cows in Nepal or my house pets we need to treat them with respect.

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