Poems have lives of their own. Before we were connected to the electronic web, poems passed word of mouth, from generation to generation, country to country, continent to continent. Nowadays they fly across the internet, giving us the opportunity to experience anew the timelessness of their themes.
Kathleen O’Meara, an Irish – French Catholic author and biographer, included this poem in 1869 in a novel that she published in response to the wars and tensions that were everywhere in her world. Fifty years went by and the poem surfaced in 1920 bringing solace during the Spanish influenza that ravaged Europe and North America, killing people in the tens of millions. Now it is 2020. We are labouring yet again in crisis, separated from one another in the wake of another virus. Ms. O’Meara’s words are timely once more and point to a way out from the recurring horror…
And people stayed at home And read books And listened And they rested And did exercises And made art and played And learned new ways of being And stopped and listened More deeply Someone meditated, someone prayed Someone met their shadow And people began to think differently And people healed. And in the absence of people who Lived in ignorant ways Dangerous, meaningless and heartless, The earth also began to heal And when the danger ended and People found themselves They grieved for the dead And made new choices And dreamed of new visions And created new ways of living And completely healed the earth Just as they were healed.
A recent article in The Globe and Mail (09/09/19), by Professor Alexandra Horowitz of Columbia University, addresses the harsh reality of proprietorial rights. We own our furniture and we own our pets.
Is that ethical?
It is, so long as we assign the same sensibility and emotional capacity to our pets as we do to our furniture. Of course, the initial reaction to such a proposition is one of dismissal, “Our pets are part of our family”, we say. “Our pets make decisions, they experience cold, they react to stress. They are different altogether.”
Different, yes, and there are some constraints on our treatment of them, but Dr. Horowitz notes that qualifiers against the constraints are weighted completely in favour of the owners. We say, “We can break a chair or throw it away, but we can’t do that to our pets!”. Not exactly. On the one hand, our federal laws forbid injuring animals or throwing them away. On the other hand, neglecting a pet is allowed, if it is not “willful”; so is throwing the pet away, as long as it’s in the direction of another set of arms, like an equine auction or a humane society shelter. “We can smash our furniture to pieces, but we can’t do that to our pets!”. Not exactly. Causing animal suffering is disallowed, but only “unnecessary” suffering. If it is deemed justified by the owner, say in an aberrant form of training that deems the suffering “necessary”, then it is allowed. Dr. Horowitz concludes, “In the eyes of the law a dog is a chair is a dog.”
Isn’t it time for a change?
Over the past 50 years, myriad scientific studies have been carried out which demonstrate that animals feel pain, that they show rationality. Added to the science is the philosophical rejection of that old saw that “animals have no souls”. That argument works so long as you subscribe to a value system based upon concepts of superior and inferior, good and bad, ‘man’ and then the rest of the world. Assumptions like those belong to the pre-21st Century mentality. Today, near the end of 2019, as we stare at the ravages of the human-caused climate crisis, it is plainer than ever that we are all related, that every action has a reaction, that we should give care rather than take ownership.
Of course, any societal change, whenever it takes place, takes place in small, measurable steps. Dr. Horowitz is partial to David Favre’s suggestion of a replacement definition for the human ownership of animals as ‘property’, to one that refers instead to animals as “living property.” Such a term would acknowledge that our pets are agents, owners of themselves, along with being sentient creatures whose well-being should be the first human concern. Such an enhanced definition brings with it a fundamental respect for the beings involved as well as more sympathetic interpretations to the laws that watch over them.
For me, it is not about ownership, it is about “living with” and I agree with Randy Sterling of Blenheim, ON, “Our laws need to change to allow the courts to better protect animals that are owned by animals.”
With much pride The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada announces the publication of DONKEY DRABBLES, our new collection of 100-word prose pieces in praise of donkeys and mules.
DSC donors, volunteers and staff share their literary talents in these essays through personal reminiscences about the animals. With sympathy and delight the authors describe their sometimes surprising yet always satisfying interactions. Each essay is a complete story unto itself, illustrating the axiom that there is much to be said through the expression of more with less.
Early reviews of the book have been filled with praise. “Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.”, “What a delight!”, “I laughed, I sighed.”
75 pages. Each drabble accompanied by a corresponding photograph. Unique 3 grommet binding. $21.99 – a perfect gift. Available for purchase at the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada’s Long Ears Boutique, in person, or via the Long Ears online store.
It has been a month since Tibet’s death and I continue to miss her presence very much. The smoothness of her silky coat, the sweet smell of hay on her forehead, her inimitably delicate walk: she fascinated me in so many ways. From her first moments in my presence – both of us shivering in the coldness of a dark auction barn – to the last time that I stroked her beautiful ears, this little donkey floated around in my imagination.
During two decades with us Tibet experienced the many stages of a full life. Upon arrival at the DSC she was only 3 years old and already pregnant. She carried her foal, Tengen, for almost thirteen months, birthed him all alone, and then nursed and guided him during his first two years into independence. The decade following was an energetic time for Tibet when she mingled comfortably with the donkeys in the main herd. Hours and hours were passed grazing in the pastures or resting comfortably in the warmth and security of the Donkey House. Then, one day while out in the fields, Tibet twisted her leg and tore a ligament. This injury would go on to inhibit her movements from that time onwards. Thereafter she lived in the barnyard paddock with the older donkeys whose pace of life was much slower. She became a favourite of countless visitors, young and old.
For my part, I always looked forward to encountering Tibet. Her very presence charmed me. I’m sure that bystanders were often surprised by my effusive greetings to this little equine; nevertheless, I would chatter on and on. Looking back, I realize that my compliments to her were part of my desire to connect, to experience the full attention of her gaze. Such moments were always evanescent, though, because of course from her vantage point I was just the other, essentially foreign and unimportant. As I did not exist for her, nor did she for me.
There is one more thing about Tibet that I feel compelled to share. While I miss her very much, I know that I am waiting, too. You see, Tibet arrived at the Sanctuary less than a year after Alice’s death. Alice was a little grey donkey as well, equally fascinating in her own way and the space she left was filled by Tibet. I wonder who will be next.