I treat myself to a Starbucks latte once in awhile, and have noticed lately that their take-out cups have quotes printed on them under the heading "The Way I See It". The cup I got this week had a quote on it that I think would resonate with anyone who owns (or has ever owned) a pet and spent time getting to know the uniqueness of their pet's personality and spirit.
The quote, from Jenny Daltry, who is identified as being a "herpetologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer," goes as follows:
If we valued the works of nature as much as the works and deeds of people, we would all be richer by far. Any ancient forest, polar bear or species of snake is more complex and improbable than Wi-Fi, the Mona Lisa or landing a man on the moon. What price would you pay to keep such treasures?
The more time I spend with animals, reading about animals, watching documentaries about animals, and listening to other people talk about the animals in their lives, the harder it becomes for anyone to disavow me of the belief that animals of all species -- even the smallest ones -- possess as much uniqueness of personality and spirit as any human, as much ability to communicate with each other in ways that we can't pick up on, and as much ability to communicate with us in their own way...if we'd just open our eyes and ears and pay attention.
This belief also makes it hard for me to understand why so many people treat animals -- domestic and wild -- as badly as they do. Animals have emotions and intelligence. Mothers mourn the loss of their young. Babies mourn the loss of their mothers and never develop as fully as they should, unless someone intervenes. Pets mourn the loss of their roommates when one dies, and show jealousy when a new pet (or a new child) abruptly arrives on the scene. A 10-year-old dog will feel sadness and confusion and fear when she's abandoned by the side of a highway, even by an owner that didn't treat her well to begin with. Guinea pigs will experience depression when the family that owned them for four years decides to give them up due to "lack of interest".
When rescue and shelter staff come together, they swap stories of success, tales of owners who came in every day in hopes that their lost dog had been found, anecdotes about owners who tearfully had to surrender pets due to circumstances beyond their control (and sometimes donating large amounts of money and/or supplies to help with their care or to help with general shelter needs). But they also collectively shake their heads over the way people abandon animals. Boxes of kittens left outside a shelter's door overnight. Rabbits left in a lobby by owners who artfully slipped in and out of the front door without staff ever seeing them. Ferrets let loose in fields. Birds let loose in the woods. Guinea pigs left in cardboard boxes in the cold behind a church. Owners unceremoniously dropping off -- dumping -- senior animals without an iota of visible sadness or regret and with comments like "I'm glad to be rid of it."
And so we're left with questions. How do we turn the tide? How do we re-educate the segment of the public that needs to learn to treat animals with compassion, respect, and humanity? How do we teach children to treat animals well in spite of whatever they may be witnessing the adults in their worlds say or do?
We're looking for suggestions, if you have them to share.