Who loses when we win?

Animal cruelty is a hugely debated and researched topic in western countries and I’m sure (although not positive) in eastern countries as well. I speak again from experience and have no scholarly articles to offer as proof to back up what I say or write. It’s one of those topics people take completely to heart because it has everything to do with morality and rights. Should animals be given rights? Should animals be given free will? Do animals have the capability to recognize those rights and freedoms? Do animals even have feelings? Do animals realize the condition of their lives? Do I know exactly the right to all these questions? No. But I sure as hell have an opinion and I do believe it’s the right one (but I’m sure those who oppose my opinion feel the same). So let me put it this way, if animals can feel, do realize the conditions they live in, shouldn’t they be given basic rights? The same sort of rights we as humans have?

I took a philosophy class this summer and read many essays about animal cruelty and animal treatment in general. Now at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it all, I mean I love animals and I never want to see an animal in pain, but I will say I am somewhat of a hypocrite because I do eat meat and love it, but I don’t know if I can or want to stop. What I want to talk about today is the basic treatment of animals and even if people eat meat, they at least deserve to be happy in the way they are raised or general quality of life. What I’m mostly focusing on are the dogs and cows here in India. All other animals seem to serve a purpose so they are taken very good care of (until they are needed for food that is). I understand that animals are some people’s livelihood and to sell the meat for money is necessary so until that point those animals are well looked after, are given food, fresh air, space and just a good quality of life.

Cows on the other hand are a little different. When we were out in the villages, we saw a lot of families who owned cows and used them for the production of dairy products. These families are able to both provide dairy products for themselves as well as earn some livelihood by selling it to others. What I don’t understand is what is done with the cows that are too old to produce milk or too old to produce more cows. Since cows are revered in India, it is illegal to actually consume cow meat so I know that that act is not practiced here. At this point the family isn’t able to take care of the cows anymore, they don’t have the resources to keep the cow any longer or sell a cow that serves no purpose anymore. So it seems like a likely conclusion that the cows are set free to do with themselves what they will. Sometimes it could be a good thing for the cow. A finally free cow can roam and finally have some control of his or her own life. However, the downside could outweigh the good. The cow could starve if he/she isn’t being regularly fed. The cow could dehydrate if he/she isn’t able to find a water source. You should see some of the cows in the city, actually most of the cows. The way they’re treated is absolutely abysmal. No one takes care or gives a shit about them. They rummage through the trash they find on the side of roads or the rare leaves or foliage (that are hard to come by in the city). Some cows seem to be fairing ok, however the majority of them look dirty and desperate. I don’t know if you believe that animals can express emotions, but I sure as hell do. I have two beautiful dogs at home Albus and Diego (I might have mentioned them in another post but I’m not sure) but they literally act like humans. They can beg, they can cry, they can be extremely happy or content and if they’re sad you can see it in their eyes. Understanding animal emotions is something I know I have been able to do as far back as I can remember, and I also know that when I see any animal in pain, it makes me hurt as well. So when I see the cows on the side of the road and they look in pain because they’re starving or thirsty and are unable to find anything to nourish themselves, it makes me feel awful. Another issue that I want to do something about but cannot figure out a solution. If cows are supposed to be sacred and respected then why aren’t they? They are used, abused, and once the people have taken all they can from the creature, he/she is left to fend him/herself.

I’ll share a personal experience I had last year with a calf that I saw at the food market. Let me start by saying I’m not a very emotional person and things don’t drastically affect me to the point of tears or heartbreak. Even for personal matters, it has to be something completely devastating that will bring me to tears. So when this happened, it surprised me at how strongly it affected me.
I was at the market with my grandmother and we were just buying vegetables for dinner and there was an adorable calf roaming around by himself (I believe it was a baby boy) without a mother or father. I don’t know if his mother was nearby or if he was indeed left to fend for himself. Either way, he was walking around hoping to find some scraps of vegetables lying around to feed himself. He was so small and his skin was taut around his ribs to the point where I could have counted them. I could see the sadness in his big brown eyes. It’s like seeing a starving child on the streets literally dying for some food. He was a child. He walked a little closer to one of the stands because there were some fallen vegetables lying on the ground and he wanted to get them. He was unsuccessful however because the stand owner immediately shooed him away with a stick he had in his hand. As soon as he raised his hand and voice the calf felt dread and skidded away. I don’t know what it was about that encounter that hurt me the most. Whether it was the look of terror in the calf’s face or the anger on the face of the owner, but whatever it was made me want to burst out in tears. Of course in public I reigned in my emotions as best as I could but couldn’t stop my eyes from watering. I didn’t understand firstly how a person could treat a baby like that and secondly it’s so hypocritical of a person who in theory “respects” a cow but in practice treats it like vermin. It made me feel horrendous but I didn’t know how to express my thoughts and feelings because that type of behavior is normal here.

Dogs here are treated even worse. At least cows are given a semblance of respect where people will avoid hitting them on the street with their vehicles. Dogs unfortunately do not have the same luxury. Street dogs here are equated to vermin. They are given nothing but abuse. Maybe because there are millions of street dogs and it is impossible to take care of them and maybe its wrong of me to expect that people should treat them better when they are hardly able to take care of themselves. Or feed these dogs when they are unable to feed their families. Or give them shelter when they live in a make shift mud house with a tarp as a roof. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic and maybe laughed at or ridiculed here, but it doesn’t make their suffering any less real or sad. Remember the sadness that I talked about earlier in the eyes of animals? Well sufficient to say that all the street dogs have the same look. Today I had an experience with my own cousins and a street dog. I said that one particular one was beautiful, and he was. He was the beautiful shade of black, black as the night sky with a coffee beige face and some on his paws. He looked healthier than most street dogs and I could picture him as a pet in a home with loving and caring owners. But as soon as I expressed my opinion on his beauty, my own cousins we quick to say “chiii (yuck) it’s a street dog!” I couldn’t let that one slide so I responded with “just because he’s a street dog, it doesn’t make him any less beautiful”. What is it with the mentality that just because the animal isn’t a house pet or belongs to someone, it makes it undesirable? But I guess if people can be looked at in a similar fashion, then it would be naïve to think that animals would get any better treatment.
When we were in Mayurbhanj (the village area that we went for our field work), the compound in which we were living there were a few dogs that would hide out there. A particular one that the three of us (Alex, Caelen and I) formed a special attachment with was Tommy. He was an injured dog; the story was that a motorcycle hit him and his leg was limp and hurt him whenever he used it. He was such a sad looking dog that we couldn’t help but want to love and help him. The people on the compound were not so sympathetic. Though he was technically the “compound dog” and they didn’t mind him being around, their treatment towards him did not meet our expectations. He was given some scraps of food from the people on the compound: some left over rice here and there, the remnants of the curry, perhaps if lucky the sucked dry chicken bones. Tommy was a miserable excuse for a dog with his limp leg, flee bitten skin and protruding bones all over so we couldn’t help but want to nourish him back to life. Every meal we made a gallant effort to sneak him food. Again let me reiterate how frowned upon that is because it’s seen as “wasting food” because there are so many people that cannot afford food that dogs are hardly seen as a priority. I totally understand that concept and respect that, but there was no way I could see that pitiful look on Tommy’s face and not respond with giving him everything on my plate. When our hosts were looking away, I would leave the dining room with as much food on my plate as I could and feed Tommy before anyone noticed! We all helped each other escape from the dining room with food without observance, which proved to be rather difficult, but we managed. The times where we couldn’t or didn’t have enough food for Tommy was painful for us all, especially him! Sometimes when he came too close to the dining room door or one of the people on the compound, they would yell at him, threaten him with a stick, and on occasions even use the stick. It was sickening, especially when we heard him yelp in pain and we knew exactly what caused it. But don’t feel too sorry for Tommy, compared to the majority of the dogs here, he is being treated like a prince.

As much as I try to ignore it or reason with myself as to why the animals are treated the way they are, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they are. I asked at the beginning of the post whether animals could express emotions, well if you’re still not convinced, I urge you take a trip to India or adopt an animal for yourself, it will not take you long to figure out how much they can feel and emote. Animals are extremely intelligent, much more than they are given credit for. We as humans should not believe that we are the superior species just because of the technology we know how to use or create. I read somewhere that humans are like a virus. That they only cause destruction and despair wherever they go. That itself can be proved by the continuous acts of war, terror and hatred as well as the increasing environment damage that we face and will continue to face. Though these issues are not the only ones that man has contributed to, it fills us all with this sense of absolute right. The “right” over the Earth, as though it is ours for the taking, selling and killing. It’s like a bad habit that we all must have an inkling that it’s wrong, but we for some reason are unable to stop. An addiction perhaps. An addiction to power. An addiction to prestige. An addiction to money. An addiction and self obsession. An addiction that requires a complete lifestyle change. An addiction, like any other which is and will be hard to break, but perhaps worth breaking. Then again that is just my humble opinion, something that cannot be mandated over everyone, but something that can only be internally recognized and enforced.

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