Sunday, November 6, 2011

Micholito cucciolo agnello

Mickey is a schnauzer/poodle cross – a designer dog brought into existence by a puppy-miller. He’s old enough to have been born at Puppy Haven, a mill in Sun Prairie, a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Wallace Havens, owner of Puppy Haven had been crossbreeding and selling dogs for 35 years until the Dane County Humane Society bought him out and closed his dog farm in 2009.

We adopted him from the Dane County Humane Society.

I am writing about Mickey because of an opinion written by Dave Lemery, the night news editor of the Northwest Herald, “Lemery: Wake me when PETA gets to bacteria abuse.” He said a couple of pretty dumb things, and while he singles out PeTA in his comments, I suspect he, perhaps unconsciously, employs “PeTA” as a placeholder for all those who believe that animals other than us deserve basic protections under the law similar to those currently reserved for humans only.

Here’s the first very dumb thing he says: “They think the best way to get their message across is to anger and offend. I tend to think that showing people images of tortured animals will fail to draw much financial support in Anytown, USA.”

He must think the National Holocaust Museum is a poor business model; people will not be moved to support their educational work by showing people images of tortured people. He must think that seeing images of people tortured at the Abu Ghraib prison was pretty ineffective. And he must think too, that showing people images of hungry poor children is the wrong way to go about trying to get people to donate money to feed them, or that showing people pictures of poor children with clef lips and palates won't bring in much financial support for reconstructive surgery.

I doubt that he really believes that showing people pictures of people in dire circumstances is a bad idea. He is simply miffed that anyone would have the gall to do the same for an animal. His dual standard – assuming he thinks seeing people in dire circumstances help us understand their situation – is an example of simple prejudice; just plain old-fashioned bigotry.

I’m used to seeing blatant bigotry toward animals; it is the widespread norm. What caught my eye was this: “We recognize that animals have some dim form of awareness... ” There is clearly a dim form of awareness at work in his article, but his claim is matter-of-factly wrong.

Many animals have an awareness of the world around them that is superior to our own in some ways. Many animals see much better than we do and also see things that we cannot. The same is true for every other sense humans possess: taste, hearing, smelling, and touch. Moreover, some animals perceive things in ways we cannot; they can perceive electrical fields, magnetic fields, and probably other natural phenomena that we have yet to discover.

Lemery says that animals “can feel things like happiness, sadness, fear, etc.” (That undefined etc. is rich with possibility.) I suspect that some animals’ capacity for happiness, sadness, or fear surpasses ours. And that brings me back to my un po' paffuto friend, Micholito cucciolo agnello.

I can’t remember ever being as happy or joyful as Mickey is fairly regularly. His happiness or joy appears immense – unbounded, and the result of really simple things like knowing we are going for a walk, or seeing my wife or me drive up and come into the house. He appears almost overcome with a happiness he seems unable to constrain. His capacity for exuberant joy seems to far exceed my own. Maybe I was able to be almost as happy when I was a child, but right now, his capacity for joy seems well beyond my own, and I'm generally a fairly happy fellow. It is my impression that other dogs whom I have known also have had this superior capacity for joy.

Characterizing their awareness as “dim” is a reflection of Lemery’s limited perceptions.

Sadly, I suspect too that many animals’ capacity for suffering, for fear, loneliness, or pain, also exceeds our own. Some who have written about the plight of animals have observed that humans frequently know that their pain and suffering is temporary. Experience has taught me that I can endure a significant amount of pain without too much mental anguish when I know it will pass. This is why I commonly choose to skip the anesthetic when having a tooth filled.

But an animal recovering from experimental surgery, say, probably has no expectation that the pain will ever cease. An individually caged monkey who self-mutilates must be unable to hold on to hope that he or she might one day again be with other monkeys. The hope for rescue, that apparently buoyed John McCain during his long incarceration and torture, probably isn’t available to animals in most cases.

Lemery concludes with the tired opinion that we should look away. No matter how poorly animals are being treated, we ought to first worry about how other humans are treated.

There is something ironic about this well-worn dismissal of personal responsibility to animals. I hear it most loudly and frequently from those who spend a goodly bit of time trying to derail the animal rights movement (or from people who do almost nothing about any problem facing society.) It seems that people who make this claim are really only trying to give their anti-animal bigotry an air of respectability.

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