My mixed breed dog, Mishti, turned nine today, the day I write this editorial. No matter how many birthdays we celebrate, he will always be our baby, our companion, playmate and protector. The last we believe to be true despite the vigorous affection he shows to all who open our front door, with no race, gender, class, kind or prior knowledge bias.
We also believe he is bilingual, that he is uncannily intelligent and at least one member of my family is under the unshakeable conviction that Mishti is emotionally sensitive. When he refused to eat his food for the second time in a week, my mother, her face a fervent mask of displeasure, chided me fiercely saying that this was because my dog had heard me remark that he is “overweight.”
There is nothing more heart-warming than watching movies about loveable canines (Lassie, Benji, Beethoven, Marley and Me) who can play basketball, rescue kids or streak enchantingly across our screens in slow motion. Did you know that there are 278 entries on Wikipedia under films about dogs?
We name animals, ascribe human like qualities to them and scarcely mask the outrage when they are relegated to animal status, hunted or mistreated.
nNothing brought this more to light than the global response to Cecil the Lion, who posthumously has his own twitter tag, wiki page and facebook following. His social media cover image is that of a magnificent creature, with a thick black-yellow mane slightly disheveled by the breeze, staring drowsily at the world. To further melt the calcium deposits around your heart, he is the father of two beautiful young cubs.
In Zimbabwe, several people have failed to see the import of Cecil’s death and have spoken up about how difficult it is to send their children (who must walk several miles everyday) to school when wild animals roam around. Goodwell Nzou, a doctoral student at Wake Forest University wrote a scathing piece for the Times saying, “And Americans who can’t find Zimbabwe on a map are applauding the nation’s demand for the extradition of the dentist, unaware that a baby elephant was reportedly slaughtered for our president’s most recent birthday banquet.” There were 1,257 comments to Nzou’s article at the time of this writing. Many of them vitriolic.
It’s not an equal love that we show all animals. Some animals strike our tenderness chords more than others. Witness the anxiety that many affect at the sight of a spider quietly annexing a forgotten corner of a room for its own gossamer needs.
Interestingly, at my writing residency in France this year, one of my fellow residents, a Taiwanese poet, became fascinated with a tribe of spiders copulating on the ceiling of her room. She created a spider sex video, set it to music and verse, and spent several hours investigating humane ways of disposing of the rapidly proliferating colony. After two weeks, and near tripling of the arachnid population in her room, she still had not arrived at a method that she could have found peace with.
Ethical rules when it comes to hunting and killing of (non-endangered) animals are difficult to make sense of. We humans can hunt and kill for food but not for sport. I agree. But should we be allowed to torture animals (cramming and confining them into small crowded spaces) before we plate them, roasted or tikka’d with a side of fried okra?
It’s not how we humans kill animals that’s the issue here. It’s how we treat them when they are alive that is often the most difficult to reconcile. For that reason, it is painfully difficult to see the ASPCA commercial, a montage of abused and beaten dogs.
To celebrate Mishti’s birthday today, I will take him for a walk in the hills, where if we do come across members of his own ilk, Mishti will likely turn up his brown nose, straighten his spine, and mince derisively away, all while wagging his furry white tail at human leash holders.
For sure, Mishti believes he is human. He has virtually forgotten his species’ traits. In this dog-eat-dog human world, all he has to do, really, is wait for us to feed him, to let him out, sit at our say so, and heel when we command. What’s not to like about his life?
Jaya Padmanabhan, Editor