abigailnicole: (Default)
[personal profile] abigailnicole
You could call this week "New pet owner incessantly photographs new pet."

Here she is:

kitten. 8 weeks old. black & fuzzy. she's very smart and loves attention and cuddles. her name is Brie.

My reasoning behind getting a kitten was not initially "awwwww kitten". These kittens (there are six of them; I know the mother and father cat, as well as the previous owners) were born two days before I graduated college. I was stressed and upset about everything and seeing a litter of six kittens just made me mad that a house full of stoners never bothered to take their cat to the vet to get her checked up, let alone spayed, and let her wander outside as she wanted.

Summer sublet. I had a cat at home that was an outside cat, and so I was always like "cats whatever." I didn't grow up with pets; I haven't ever bonded with a pet before, I'm not a pet person. My new, temporary roommate (she was moving out the end of May/beginning of June as I was moving in) had a cat, an orange tabby named Simba. Simba was an inside cat and he loved affection. He walked up against my feet. When I sat on the couch he came and rubbed his face against my hand, as if training me to pet him, then looked up at me expectantly. As someone who's always had animals be indifferent to me, this was amazing.

So roommate moved out. And took Simba with her.

When I came back from vacation, I noticed there were more cockroaches in the house than usual.

That's when I thought "oh, we need a kitten."

Domesticated animals. I am new to the animal game. When the back of the bag of kitten food said "Your kitten is as cute as she is curious," I was like HOW DID THEY KNOWWWW. Of course they know. In the same aisle they were selling $90 scratching posts, carrying cases, gourmet food made with sweet potatoes and cod. What?

I have this disclaimer: I didn't grow up with pets, and I work in a laboratory that does animal testing. I deal with rabbits every day. I've written about this at length, if you're interested; it's pretty awful. But you start to understand animals as animals. I've had to make the call about when we need to euthanize an animal. They don't think like humans. They have different needs. They are, actually, a different species. But pet stores, pet products, are marketed to pet owners, who are humans and think things like sweet potatoes and cod sound good. Pets, in short, seem to be marketed to people who don't think about the differences between themselves and animals.

Animals are other species. Right? Sure it's cute when she bats at a toy I'm holding above her head, but she's doing it because cats are trained to catch birds. She stretches and pounces because it's thousands of years of predator instincts teaching her to hunt for food. It doesn't matter if the food is in a bowl next to her toys. Her instincts are still there.

Domesticated animals, right? this is what I've been thinking about: mankind's changing relationship with animals. For millions of years humans and animals lived side by side. We had hunting dogs and riding horses, and we domesticated cats because the vermin were getting into our food. And now we live in cities, and we have cars, and we buy our meat at the supermarket, and we have pesticides and insulated houses with no mice. It is no longer necessary to live side by side with animals anymore. People can go their entire lives without having an animal and that is fine, accepted, and normal. Dog breeds that were trained for hundreds of years to herd sheep, or protect a family, or take down predators, now enter shows, or sleep at their owners' feet getting fat. Cats scratch at rope and cardboard posts we make for them and we put bells on their collars to scare away the birds.

What I've come to think is that we've done away with the need for domesticated animals. And yet those animals remain.

Animals are animals. They are not friends or people. They can be trained to protect what they view as theirs. They can be trained to hunt small rodents. But they are not people, no matter how smart they are.

And what I've been thinking about, too, is where that leaves the animals. And where it leaves the people who want to deal with animals. We've coevolved with domesticated animals for thousands of years (if not longer): the desire to have animals is built into us, too. That's why we have so many pet owners, why we think small fluffy things are cute. We've learned over many generations to view them as allies, not as threats. And if the roles that animals once fulfilled in our lives are being replaced by technology in modern society, then we can fight back. We can say that even if these animals don't have a role anymore, we still want them around. We can still love them. We can buy them expensive scratching posts and sweet potato and cod food and make places for them in our homes, take care of them when they get sick. Pet owners, of which I now count myself a member, are part of humanity that doesn't want animals to be replaced with technology.

Animals are animal. Cats do catch cockroaches, by the way. I have a very active cat who loves to pounce at bugs, at pieces of paper, at mardi gras beads that I wriggle in the air for her. If she wants to come cuddle she'll come lie next to me; if I come pick her up and she's feeling playful she'll scratch and bite at my fingers. I'm still training her that it's not okay to chew on laptop cords, and clipping her claws so I can pick her up without scratches. "Pet" has gone from an invaluable member of the household, with real benefit to human owners, to a $300 increase on your first month's rent.

Is that all that's left the long bond between humans and animals? Gone from mutual helpers, shepherds and guardians, to inside creatures who whine and move their legs in their sleep. I wonder if they're dreaming of something more.

So I'm not putting a bell on her collar. Once she's old enough to go outside, I'm letting her catch all the birds she wants, as long as she takes the mice and the cockroaches too. I own a tiny predator now, and I am proud.

Date: 2012-07-03 03:45 am (UTC)
msmcknittington: Queenie from Blackadder (Default)
From: [personal profile] msmcknittington
Not to poke too large of a hole in your theory, but there are millions of people in the US who use working dogs to herd livestock and hunt and all the other things that dogs were bred to do, and not everybody in the US (and especially not in the world!) lives in cities where rodents aren't a problem. So I wouldn't be too fast to assume that companion animals (since domesticated animals include things like cows and sheep, too) have outlived their usefulness. You also have to consider animals like scent hounds who are used by the military and the police to track people, both criminals and people who need to be rescued, which is a category that could include cadaver dogs.

There are also things like assistance dogs, who help people who are disabled with tasks they couldn't accomplish on their own. Those dogs are working when they help people -- they have times when they're on duty and times when they're off duty, and they might not have been bred for it, but it's what they're trained to do.

We are a long, long way from phasing out animals in our lives in a practical sense. They still perform a lot of really important duties and labor for humans. Your theory only works is you assume that the only people who matter in humanity are able-bodied, urban or suburban populations in first-world countries, and while that's a lot of people, it's a far cry from being the only way to live on this planet.

Also, some cats like sweet potato! I don't know why -- my cat eats olives and kidney beans, and treats the olives like they're catnip, and the cat we had before him ate musk melon and cantaloupe. They are strange, unpredictable creatures.


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March 2013


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