I've long been deeply ambivalent about our relationships to our pets. I'm not going to attempt to make a case that the Zanesville, Ohio slaughter of 50 large animals last October is in any way representative of human-pet relations. But, as a wonderful article in March's GQ illustrates, sometimes it takes extreme cases to make us examine ourselves.
The author Chris Heath doesn't take the stand that animal ownership should be outlawed and that pet owners are all evil. But he confronts many aspects of our relationship with animals that aren't quite right, and questions our true motives in ways he wouldn't be allowed to except in the context of such horrific events.
Here are some choice quotes from the piece:
"While, we may feel as though we can distinguish between better and worse owners, it is logically impossible to know for certain what the animals are thinking or experiencing. Every human who interacts with an animal and then makes claims about what that interaction means to the animal—in backyards or zoos or even on the plains of Africa—is making a claim neither they nor anyone else can verify."The convoluted relationship between our good intentions, our emotional compulsions, and our animals:
" 'Why, Terry? Why do you need so many?' 'Because I can. Because I can.' Terry was Terry. He had a heart of gold. He just couldn't keep his brain on the right track."
A quote that encapsulates my motto that if you love nature, you should leave it alone:
"The sentences that go round my brain are ones that were said to me by one of the animal owners I spoke to, Nancy Wider. "My father didn't like animals," she told me. "And he always used to say, 'I don't like animals but I would never hurt one. The animal lovers are the ones that hurt them.' "Do we love and respect animals for what they are, or just like the way they look? This quote gets at the long-standing debate over charismatic animals in conservation (i.e. why do we care so much about pandas and polar bears?). The overpowering role of aesthetics in our valuation of animals to me highlights how ethically shallow our relationships with nature still are.
"What, then, about the way that male tigers are usually neutered in sanctuaries, but male lions are not, because when neutered they lose their manes? (Whose feelings, exactly, are being taken into account there?)"