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March 03, 2013

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Thanks for that nice story, Laura.

My youngest sister had a guinea pig when she was young. Typical little kid train of events: begging to bring it home, about a week of hovering over the cage, and then two years of utter neglect during which our mother would go to the basement and dutifully water, feed, and commiserate with the creature.

Then, he crawled into his mound of wood chips and died.

My sister wept like Picasso's Weeping Woman over the killing fields of the Spanish Civil War.

But to this day, she loves her dogs and her horse like they are her closest friends.

When my son was young, he kept a garter snake in an aquarium for several years. The snake went by the name of Herman but I called him Ouroboros, though some knew him as Nancy.

We left town for a week and the daughter of a work friend of my wife eagerly agreed to care for Herman for the duration.

We returned, my wife went to work, expecting to pick up Herman and his gear, but instead she arrived home that night and I asked where was Herman and she brought out from behind her back a neat aluminum foil package, like a baked potato.

Oh, boy.

Herman had gotten stuck in some structure we had placed in the aquarium and that was the end of him. The little girl who had looked after him was mortified and inconsolable and, after placing the foil sarcophagus in the freezer, we broke the news to our son, who took things rather philosophically, given the situation.

To his everlasting credit, he felt worse for the little girl.

We had an elaborate state funeral a few days later in the backyard.

When archaeologists dig up American civilization ten thousand years from now, they will excavate millions of ruined suburbs with dog, two cats, hamster, garter snake, and parakeet remains buried in what was once backyards (all of those swing sets too, entombed by silt) and ponder the household items (chew toys, tiny mirrors, hamster wheels, catnip containers) laid to rest in propitiation of the buried domestic emperors and queens.

The scientists will jump to conclusions for good or ill, but there will still be ignoramuses around who will say it can't be so because the world was created only six thousand years ago.

That was absolutely beautiful, Laura. Thank you for agreeing to share it.

That was a wonderful story. Nothing to add--I just wanted to say that.

ditto

Laura, thanks so much.

That. Was. Perfect.

Thank you, Laura. This sweet tribute to your little rattie pets, so many years later, shows that it is never too late to appreciate something beautiful that changed your life.

Also: while they were alive, you loved Charlie and Impie with all your little-girl heart, and that's all that mattered to them.

These kinds of stories always leave me with mixed reactions. On one hand, it (as noted) a really sweet story. On the other, I have no way to really relate to it.

I grew up on a farm. At one point, one of our friend's mother gushed to my mother, "Oh, it must be wonderful for your children to have so many pets!" At which my mother looked at her blankly and said, "The children don't think they have pets. They have chores." Which was quite true. Animals, any kind of animals, were simply functional parts of the ranch. We didn't get attached to them; we didn't name them (with the exception of the milk cow). (If asked, the usual response was "Dinner".)

Whatever the merits of being raised that way, it did have one major consequence: I simply cannot relate, on any kind of emotional level, to the way people see their pets. Is there anyone out there with a similar view? I have to say, I am not aware of having encountered them. But then, not being into pets is sufficiently odd in our culture that those of us who are not are well advised not to mention it.

Thank you, everyone. Especially thank you LJ.

wj, I'm not the best person to respond to you obviously.

One summer my family rented a shack on a ranch in the Judith Basin of Montana. My dad was writing a book. (A chemistry textbook). My sibs and I spent the day roaming around the hills gathering bones which we took back to the shack and painted for toys.
But what I remebmer mostly besides the bones was the dead bodies hung like trophies on teh barbed wire fence: coyotes, badgers, snakes, hawks. The rancher killed everything that wasn't a cow or a horse.

We went to his house for a big eating event in clebration of calf branding, I think. We were served what was probably a fantastic meal: everything fresh from the ranch. I thought it was utterly disgusting partly because I wasn't used to fresh food but also because i had seen the branding, all the screaming and the smell of burnt flesh.

I'm not writing this to sneer at the rancher (except the part about killing wildlife--I think he deserves to be sneered at for that). The rancher and his family raised beef and ate meat. They were right there with the animals they used and killed. They were not insulated by a grocery store.

They had cows, my family had neat packages of meat that looked nothing like a cow.

Since they weren't insulated from the death of the cow by miles and time and nice packaging I think they had to insulate in another way: by withdrawing the empathy that they would normally show to another kind of sentient being.

Vivsectionists do it too. They could be loving to their family dog and inflect emotional, mental and physical pain on a lab beagle.

I don't want to come off as claiming moral superiority here. I don't thinnk it is possible to live without injuring others. I don't alwasy consider hte feelings of other people as much as I should. And I know tha nature (or God or evolutioin) made sentient beings that seem to exist for no reaso except to live lives of terror until somethig bigger finally eats them: rabbits, for example. To me that is one of the arguments agasint the existance of God: what kind of nasty diety would design an ecology based on animals with feelings and selfawareness being hunted and eaten by other animals? Why endow a creature with consciousness if the creature just exists to be eaten by something else?

But I beiieve that the emtional welfare of all creatures that have emotions should be respected just because they have the emotions. I don't believe this as an absolute, perhaps because that would be just too inconvenient ( love my cornea transplant) but I try to do as little harm to animals as I can becuase I do believe that their feeligs are as important as mine. I don't know how to say that thier feelings aren't as important as mine without making what is really a self-serving argument.

Am I amking any sense?

Thank you for the story Laura, especially the realization of mortality.

wj, I share a non-pet perspective, although in my case it is the result of allergies. Even people who own cats make me sneeze. A feline twirling around my ankles fills me with fear and the desire to gently kick it away.

Laura,

I wouldn't say rabbits (and other prey animals) exist only for the predators. They're out there doing the things they do for themselves: "I love nibbling grass, it's yummy!" and the like. There's a chance they'll get eaten, but most die some other way.

Not that I disagree with the absence of God. :) Once you've ruled him out of the picture, you've got to figure out some other reason for all this activity on planet Earth, and the Darwinian struggle to survive and reproduce is what generated all that consciousness in all these creatures (the ones that find it useful, anyway).

Thank you for posting this.

Very well written. Can't wait for your book!

Seriously. Or at least a number of magazine articles.

Laura, thank you. It's not that I think my view is the only right one. Just that I sometimes feel that people who love pets have no clue that there might be an alternative, but still valid, view.

And I can relate to the problem that you had on your visit. We used to have kids from the suburbs come out to visit occasionally. They would refuse to drink milk, "because it comes from a cow." When asked were they thought the milk that they normally drank came from, they usually responded "from the store." No clue at all about where their food might come from.

I think it is entirely possible to see animals on a ranch as something to be taken care of -- to not see them as lacking feelings (or sense of pain), even though you don't see them as pets either. We never did branding, for example, since the only real purpose would be to identify your cattle when they are going to be out on a range where they were not separated from other people's cattle. If you are only using your own pastures, and your fences are in reasonable repair, the only reason I can see to do branding is . . . tradition.

As for the rancher who killed everything that wasn't a cow or a horse, I suspect that that sort of thing has dropped off a lot, as people in the business have learned more about ecology. Yes, you want to exercise some limits on predators who may prey on your livestock. (And, if you are raising crops, on animals whograxe on whatever you are raising.) But that's limits, not total eradication.

We learned the lesson when people killed off most of the wolves (and coyotes) in order to protect the lovable deer (too many people growing up on Bambi is the usual explanation). The deer bred like rabbits, overran the land, and ended up starving as a result. Not to mention eating all the vegetation that the cattle needed to eat.

Now, we know better. If the price of not trashing the ecology is that we lose an occaisonal calf to the wolves, it turns out that that's a price worth paying. Just as, we are slowly accepting, leaving hedgerows instead of plowing every possible square inch of land actually is better in the long term for your yields. Unless you are running an industrial agriculture operation and totally focused on short term profits, you care about that.

Just as, we are slowly accepting, leaving hedgerows instead of plowing every possible square inch of land actually is better in the long term for your yields. Unless you are running an industrial agriculture operation and totally focused on short term profits, you care about that.

This gets my vote for the day's "Highly Extendible Lesson in Smart Capitalism." Apply liberally.

"If I rubbed his shoulders just the right way, he’d sigh and stretch with happiness, wiggling his little pink fingers in the air."

I cannot tell you how many times I have read that line and I still smile when I read it.

I hope I'm not overstepping or revealing too much, but Laura is in the process of taking the stories she's written and making them in a ebook thru Kindle direct. Hopefully, Kindle will fix the update problem with mac iOS soon and I hope Laura will allow me to note here when it is done.

Oh Kindle has an update problem? I was debating using wordsmash which is connected I gues to Nooks but both will get an ebook listed on Amazon.

I come late to creative writing. I have a degree in art and I have alwasy been able to draw. I could draw realistically when I was in first grade--accurate renderings of horses with prespective. I nver thought about writing although I had the habit of teling myself bedtime stories.

I started writing because from dog rescue and careproviding and aging I just noticed stories that seemed to be there waiting for someone to write them.

Oddly just as I was beginning to think of myslef as a writer,my sister, who never did any kind of art, clebrated her divorce by taking painting lessons. She had an excellennt teacher and became a painter. She's good. She's had a couple of shows in smaller galleries in Chicago. She paints daily.

My sister in law, inspired by my sister, celebrated her successful completion of chemotherapy by taking drawing lessons and she's good, too.

I'm beginning to think that the difference between a talented person and a so-called untalented person is that the "talented" one will do a lot of self teaching while the so-called untalented one needs to get lessons. In other words I think that many people have unrealized potentials.

Changing the subject: wj, I realize that there are people who take good care of their farm animals while not veiwing them as friends or family members. I pay more so tha tI can buy eggs from happy chickens and milk from happy cows, but I realize that the chickens and cows probably are not kept once no longer productive. It isn't a black/white dicotomy between people who have compassion for animals and people who don't. Actually there are a lot of pets that receive worse care than farm animals.

I just beleive that the dicotomy between people and other creatures is a false one. I think that the feelings of people should be respected and that the feelings of animals should be respected, too. So I try to live that way. I think that generally I am nicer to animals than people which is a failing of mine.
.

And I really appreciate the response from you all. Thank you especially LJ.

Thanks for the story, it made my day.

I'm coming at this from the opposite direction. I'll try to keep this short and not too silly.
Roughly twelve years ago my wife and I drove from Florida to Texas to pick up a pair of Bengal kittens. Within half an hour the female, for reasons known only to Bast, decided I was her person. The entire rest of the drive she spent pressed against me. I named her Valentine Needletoes. In the years since, she's only become more attached. If I'm home and sitting, she's curled on the back of my chair, draping a paw or two onto my shoulder. Every few minutes she rubs her cheeks against my hair. When I come home from work she runs greet me. When I walk around our property, she follows like a dog. I sleep at night snuggled against my wife while Valentine snuggles against my back.

Just a litte less than six years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. While I was in the hospital getting a colon resection, my wife says Valentine spent the entire time sitting in my chair glaring at her. During hospital stays since, Val's behavior has always been the same. My wife says she can hear Val thinking "He left with you and you didn't bring him back. THIS IS YOUR FAULT!"

It is now twenty months since PET scans revealed that the cancer has spread to multiple sites in both my liver and lungs. At the time my oncologists agreed that the average survival with my diagnosis is less than two years. I'm doing better than any of my doctors expected and my plan is to be way the hell out on the toe of this curve, but I hear the clock ticking.

In one thing, I've been very lucky. I've had time to get my affairs in order and time to let everyone I love know how much they mean to me. With one exception that bothers me more and more as time gets shorter. I know it's silly, and that I'm anthropomorphizing way too much but someday not too far away I'm going to leave never come home again. There is no way I can tell Valentine I didn't abandon her, I didn't go willingly.

She'll know you didn't abandon her. She will know by your affect when you leave.

YOu are being very brave. I sure wish you well.

Laura,
As always, well said. Thank you.

Lovely, absolutely lovely. Even if it did make me tear up with memories of my dear, departed Buster and thoughts about the short time I'm likely to have left with Zoe, who is already as old as her breed tends to get.

And hang in there, Baskaborr. I have had the same thoughts, not about my current dog, whom I will probably outlive, but about the next ones, who, at my age, will be even money bets to outlive me.

Laura's essay and Baskaborr's comment are some of the most beautiful and sad things I have ever read. Charlie's wriggling pink fingers along with Val's attachment are images that may never leave me.

Thanks folks, and great good luck to you, Baskaborr.

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