Category Archives: Animals

Exotic Rage

Peacocks inspire in me an uncharacteristic callousness. It’s their growing ubiquity, their casual destructiveness, and the mere fact that they are of the avian persuasion.

I am not a bird person. Modern dinosaurs, especially larger ones, make me uneasy. Although if I’m honest, the frantic sound of a hummingbird speeding past my ear inspires a similar terror. That Daphne du Maurier story had an impact, just as the goose that bit me when I was a toddler did: birds, if they organized around a shared realization, could wipe. Us. Out. Just think about all their pointy bits! And, get this: they can fly.

But back to peacocks. Many Americans might consider these Indian natives to be gorgeous, and sighting them a rare treat. These same people would consider me lucky to live in an area that boasts so many “wild” ones. Step out the door on any given morning and you’re likely as not to encounter a flock, milling about the streets or snacking on lawn bugs…or people’s gardens.

Not being florally inclined, it’s more their shit that gets to me, as it gets to everywhere. Plops of excrement litter the porch, the lawn, the driveway, the street, our shoes. Outdoor furniture becomes unusable.

And their numbers are only growing. A city ordinance makes it illegal to render these birds road kill. They squawk at all hours and reproduce with impunity. When you hear stomping on the roof, guess who?

peacock

Evil Incarnate

My parents were visiting a few months ago with their dog, and one day they let him chase a male bird off the lawn. The sound of terror that enormous bird made as he took flight, barely escaping the dog’s eager jaws, filled me with a surprising amount of glee. Surprising because I’m more of a “live and let live” type when it comes to fellow creatures.

Not so peafowl. (Nor ants that deign to enter the house and make a meal of my leftover naan–a related story for another day.) Peafowl’s creeping invasion of the neighborhood–the entire geographic region, really–and their entitled attitude has turned this vegetarian animal rights proponent into an urban hunting advocate. I wrote two theses on animal-human relationships, and will always argue for the inclusion of other species in any cultural relativist ideological framework. But when it comes to coexisting with peacocks, Let’s cull the fuckers, I think more often than I’m comfortable with.

I suppose this means I’m only human, and not immune to our culture’s propensity to draw stark lines between ourselves and other animals. How long until these iridescent dinosaurs’ protected status allows them to completely take over?

It’s us or them.

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Filed under Animals, Contemporary, Why Can't I Eat My Dog?

Book Review: The Quarry Fox

Quick plug:

A few months ago I read The Quarry Fox and other Critters of the Wild Catskills by Leslie T. Sharpe. The Literary Review recently posted my review.

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Filed under Animals, Book Reviews

Autumn Chill

The October night is mine to fill. My parents have long since gone to bed with our cat, who knows something is wrong. I’m left alone with my paperback copy of Never Let Me Go, purchased yesterday during our weekly trip to Costco. Never have I been so invested in a fictional friendship. I let the drama absorb me; it’s an effective distraction from the death that looms outside.

Autumn lies on the top step of the stoop. Once a swift jumble of insatiable canine exuberance, tonight she is quiet and still. The cool concrete seems to give her 13-year-old body some relief. A year ago Autumn was overweight for a shepherd-lab mutt her size. The growth in her lung that announced its presence in March has siphoned away much of her muscle, leaving a scrawny, dull-eyed creature whose every breath seems to cost effort she doesn’t have to spare.

It’s brisk outside. I put down my book and rise from the couch, opening the heavy wooden screen door to check on her. This is the third or fourth time I’ve done so tonight. It is a ritual I will reenact on several evenings before we let her leave us.

“Do you want to come inside, baby girl?”

Autumn does not raise her head at the sound of my voice. I crouch and lay a hand on her greying brow. We have to be gentle; sometimes she flinches when we pet her. I watch her ribs rise and fall under the mottled brown coat that inspired her name.

The humans in the family have realized that we should take her to the vet for the last time. We’re still not sure when. No one wants to decide. Soon is too close to now, even as now extends her decline. We’re watching her, waiting for a definitive sign, but Autumn doesn’t give us one. She simply fades, often imperceptibly. Eating less, sleeping more, weighing less, hurting more. There is no marker, no metaphorical cliff over which she can fall to let us know that the time, her time, has arrived.

We cannot discuss this with her. We do not ask, Have you suffered enough? Do you want to die? When should we kill you? but we have taken it upon ourselves to answer for her.

Inside, Ishiguro’s codependent characters await reactivation. They will endure intimate betrayals and paradigm-shifting revelations under my watchful gaze until one character enables the others to slowly disconnect from life. Even fictional mercy requires consent.

I stroke Autumn’s torso, my palm barely grazing her. We look into each other’s eyes and she seems to sigh. I tug her collar and again suggest that she come indoors, lay on her soft bed, let the cat cuddle close.

She won’t move.

Unwilling to wait, to be with her stillness, I stand and return to the house, to the couch, to the book whose ending is probably as dismal as our family’s current reality. How long do we let her endure this lessened life? Even after we make the call, we won’t know.

Autumn never tells us.

The essay above is a dispatch from 2010, written for a 2016 creative nonfiction class.

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Filed under Animals, Power

Pets as Conduits to Health?

As I made my way to one of my regular dog-walking clients yesterday, I caught a story on the radio about a new study out of the Rand Corporation. Contrary to what the authors call “a widely held belief that children’s general and psychological health benefits from owning and/or interacting with pets,” there was no statistically significant difference between the health of children who lived with pet animals and those who lived solely with other humans.

Let’s side-step an interrogation of the study’s assumption that children’s health is a major reason adults adopt cats and dogs. We all have assumptions about the motivations of other people in our culture. For example, my assumption has long been that some parents and guardians see pets as a way to teach their children responsibility, aside from perhaps enjoying the company of companion animals themselves or wishing to reproduce the conditions of their own childhoods for their offspring. I cannot access the full study to see whether the authors cite any sources that back up their particular assumption. A quick glance at the references section indicates both an explosion of scholarship on pet-human relationships and that the authors likely have research to back up the assumption stated above.

Back when I spent a lot of time researching U.S. pet-keeping practices, I don’t recall reading or asking my informants about the reasons they chose to bring pet animals into their homes. This not only seems like a significant oversight on my part, but an intriguing line of research to pursue in the future. At the very least, I’m considering subscribing to Anthrozoös.

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Filed under Animals, Childhood, Contemporary

I miss thinking about these things

Animals and Anthropology

https://culanth.org/fieldsights/1119-animals-and-anthropology

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Filed under Animals, Nostalgia