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LONG BEACH, California – I have been to California perhaps three or four times and have seen the ocean, but never actually gone to the beach. I corrected that on this trip, venturing out to Long Beach which, in part, has gone to the dogs.
Quite literally, in parts. I happened upon the “Rosie’s Beach” section, which is a “dog zone.” Dogs can run free here, though there is a rule: “One dog per adult.” It was not, as far as I could tell, one adult per dog, so I was free to pass through without canine accompaniment, observing the owners providing their pets with an oceanside outing.
How we treat animals says something important about us. The spinster in the house at the end of the street has six cats; the steroid-pumped young bachelor living in the basement apartment has a pit bull – we can conclude a considerable amount from this. At Long Beach one first realizes that a naked fat dog – and there were plenty of those – is far less off-putting than an obese owner scantily-clad. And the converse is true too. A fit dog at full, joyful canter through the surf is more beautiful than the athletic, tanned jogger out for a run. God intended the dogs to run, it seems. It is not apparent that God intended man to do so, and he certainly did not intend the corpulent man to let it all hang out over swimming trunks inadequate to the task.
A recent editorial in The Economist (June 22, 2019) took, as that “newspaper” is inclined to do, the long view. Man’s rise was not just about ascending from quadruped to biped, but about managing those other quadrupeds. In a sentence that reminds the reader why he subscribes, The Economist wrote:
“Central to the naked ape’s success was its ability to dominate other species. Bovids, equids and, in particular, canids, were put to work by H. sapiens; felids always took a slightly different view of the matter, but were indulged for their rodent-catching talents.”
The capacity to dominate is still there, but thinking about dominion and domination has changed. The turning point, manifestly, was when owners decided that it was not just acceptable, but a mark of good citizenship, to collect by hand the freshly discharged feces of their dogs. The Economist continues: “Watch a hapless dog-walker trailing ‘his’ hound, plastic bag in hand to pick up its mess, and you have to wonder: who’s in charge now?”
One comes to California in part to see the future, so I was surprised to see plastic bags still in use. I mean, the dreaded “single-use” plastics which have seized the federal government in Canada. Justin Trudeau who, like many here – but not your faithful correspondent – enjoys going shirtless on the beach, would not approve.
I was expecting to see something more enviro-friendly, especially so near the ocean where plastics are befouling the waters and entangling the aquatic fauna. Is there no canid equivalent of the washable diapers used before disposables displaced them? Made of hemp, or recycled hair? Owners could take the mess home, add it to the rotting food in their composting bins, and then scrub the doggy-do cloths for their next use.
In any case, the pampering of our pets indicates a change in how we think about animals. It is reflected, too, in how we think about how animals are raised for food, how they live and how they die, and even whether they are kept in captivity for our education and entertainment.
Two recent stories bear that out.
A couple from Edmonton, Darren and Carolyn Carter, who run a taxidermy business, set the Internet ablaze with indignation after they posted a photo of them kissing over the corpse of a dead lion. They had been hunting in Africa.
It turns out that they did not bring low the mighty king of the beast bestriding the African savannah. This was an animal raised to be hunted, not unlike a dairy cow raised for milk, or a crocodile farm producing skins. It might be that the animal was maltreated, or hunted cruelly; I don’t know. But “domesticated” animals for hunting may contribute to lowering the threat to animals in the wild from poaching.
In South Africa, for example, there are more than twice as many lions bred on farms for hunting (5,000) as there are in the wild (2,000). Environmentalists and advocates for animal rights object that this is not good for wild lions, and not good for farmed lions; it’s “factory-farming” and ethically fails in the same way as factory-farming of chickens or calves.
That part of the story did not catch my attention though; those arguments about how we treat animals are new in application but not in substance. The new dimension here was a video recorded by Darren Carter’s daughter, Sydney, and posted on YouTube. Sydney says that her father abandoned the family to take up with the woman now his wife.
“After everything he’s done, he didn’t pay child support, he didn’t even give my mom a little bit of money, but he has enough to pay for a $15,000 trip to Africa with his wife that he cheated on my mom with to go to Africa and trophy hunt,” Sydney says. “That just makes me sick. I refuse to call him my dad anymore. Like who does that, I’ll never understand people like that, that take pride in shooting a beautiful animal like a lion.”
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We obviously don’t know all the facts of the situation, and the distress of an abandoned daughter is acute. It’s unspeakably sad to hear a daughter speak about her experience of fatherhood in that way.
Stipulate, though, that all that she says is true. Is it then the case that killing this farmed lion is worse than abandoning his wife and children? That’s the implication of the video. Let’s us stipulate further that Darren Carter is guilty of maltreating the lion, of being a cowardly hunter of farmed animals, of posing for boorish photos of faux-courage. That has earned him wide condemnation.
But is it worse than abandoning his wife and children, a practice rather more widespread and less likely to earn condemnation? Is it worse to be a badly treated lion than a person?
Another big animal story in the news this week is also from Alberta, namely the Calgary Stampede. Six horses died in the chuckwagon races this year, and objections to the sport in general – and its prominence in the Stampede – were amplified accordingly. The marvellous Licia Corbella at the Calgary Herald did a little reporting. The horses like to race, she relayed, because that’s what they are bred to do. Chuckwagon horses are thoroughbreds who no longer race at the track, and if they were not running in the chucks, they would have been sold for meat long ago. A retired thoroughbred is not fit for a petting zoo or a riding stable.
Without chuckwagon racing, Corbella argues, there certainly would not be a few horses dying in chuckwagon races. The whole lot of them would have been sent to the slaughterhouse. Nonetheless, another columnist at the Calgary Herald, Chris Nelson, fears that changing attitudes about animals might means that the chucks’ days – and the rodeo – are numbered.
There is a reason that animal welfare associations are called “humane societies.” How we treat animals reflects how we exercise our humanity. Indeed, if we treated animals as animals treat each other, we would fail our obligations and it would not be very good for the animals either. Clarity of thinking on this subject is hard to find, but no less urgently needed.
As for the Stampede, perhaps it’s time for new measures. The animals are treated very well, but the bovids and equids still don’t get the love of the domestic canid. It’s time for someone to trail behind the chuckwagon horses and the rodeo bulls, collecting in (large) bags their waste.
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