What, I wonder, will we tell the children, when the animals are all gone, driven from the world and from our sight and consciousness and everyday lives, when they are finally truly and completely safe from human beings and the joys and travails of the world. When they are gone. What will we tell a girl I like to call Abby?
In my mind, she is eight or nine, like many children, like my daughter when she was that age. Animals enter the imagination of a child, touch them in profound ways. Animals are a seminal part of their imagination, their dreams, the formation of their spirits and souls, the way they learns to experience nature, their invisible and needed friends, animals speak to their own fears and the reality of the earth. Abby would be eager to see them, touch them, look into their eyes, as children have always done. They might teach her how to love people and treat them well.
What will we tell Abby when she asks to go for a pony ride, or see an Asian elephant lifting up human beings with his trunk, or when she wonders why her parents are afraid to take the dog for a ride if the sun is out, or why farmers can no longer risk having animals on their farms because secret informers will turn them into the police when it snows or rains or freezes and their lives with be threatened or ruined? She may ask why beautiful, content and safe horses were sent to slaughter, or disappeared into rescue farms where they have nothing to do with their lives but eat and drop manure, where children could never see them, and the people who depended on them thrown had their lives and way of life taken from them.
She might ask why the horses were taken from their beautiful park and replaced with huge and ugly electric cars? Why the circuses were never the same as she read they once were? Will we tell her that the dogs can’t come out and play or die any longer, they can only live in backyards and walk on leashes because the world is too dangerous for them to move about freely or explore?
What will we tell her when she asks why working people can’t adopt dogs because they are not home all day, or old people can’t rescue dogs or cats because they can’t move quickly or might not outlive them, or why the dogs of poor and homeless people are seized again and again and often killed because somebody passing on the street decided they were not being treated well, or could not afford all the medicines and other things we have now decided the animals need?
Will she wonder why having a pet is so fearful and laden that few people can afford it or are willing to live in the fear and conflict that animals bring?
For some years, the notion of advancing the rights of animals has become one of the country’s most popular – and lucrative social causes. It is the favorite cause of rich Hollywood movie stars, their way of showing how caring and unspoiled they are. And of angry fanatics who use animals to mirror their own sense of victimization and disconnection.
We can tell her that Americans have left their farms and grown disconnected from animals and the natural world. It is now accepted that work for animals is cruel, that our primary understanding of animals is as piteous and mistreated creatures in need of being liberated from their life and work with humans.
She will wonder at the contradictions, if she is observant. The more we say we love animals, the less we seem to know and understand them, the more we say we want to save them, the more we take their purpose and work away, and sent them off to die and disappear, more unwanted and discarded orphans of Mother Earth. She may see that animals can no longer live up the expectations we disaffected human beings have for their lives.
Until the controversy over the New York Carriage Horses, these new ideas about animals seemed to be almost unstoppable, a new kind of hysteria. Domesticated animals are being driven from human populations everywhere, and the lives of pets are increasingly shaped and curbed by the idea that they must live lives that are perfect, that are better than ours, or they must go. The idea animals are fragile beings made of crystal, that we must protect them every minute of their lives. Not from the cruel natural world, but from us.
How could we explain that to Abby?
The collapse of the movement to ban the carriage horses in New York City may well be a turning point in the struggle to truly save the animals, but the new social movement arising to save the animals and give them more rights than the right to disappear is in for a long and hard struggle
The so-called animal rights movement is rich, powerful and very active. They give lots of money to politicians, who are happy to pass lots of laws in exchange. In the meantime, animals are disappearing. Farmers can’t let their cows out in the snow (people call the police). Dogs can’t ride in cars, cats can’t go outside. Elephants can no longer entertain us or live among us or be cared for by circuses, the latest victims of the animal diaspora, the great separation of animals from people.
Horses are being sent to slaughter or to struggling and destitute rescue farms, ponies are being banned from the farmer’s markets, goats and chickens and sheep from the petting zoos.
Could we explain to Abby that we never really tried to make the lives of animals like the horses better or safer, which we could easily have done if we loved them, we just tried to take them away.
The people seeking to ban the horses in New York say the horses are better off dead than pulling carriages in Central Park. They may one day get their wish. The people who profess to love the Asian elephants in the circuses will have long moved on when the elephants lose their work and are sent off to die. Their habitats have been destroyed, there is no place for them to go, no other work for them to do in our greedy and thoughtless world.
But this is the tragedy of the movement that has taken over the idea of rights for animals. They misled us, this movement is not about saving animals, it means to take them away from people, who are judged to be too evil to care for them well. It is about rationalizing the hatred of human beings, and it is about making people feel better about themselves and superior to others.
In this new kind of inquisition, it iis no longer permitted for the animals to do their stupid tricks, to enlighten, amuse and engage us with their wonderful gifts as they have for so many thousands of years. And if it is stupid and exploitive for an elephant to raise his trunk to thousands of children in greeting, then how long will it take for them to decide it is the silliest trick imagine for a border collie to herd sheep in a pasture for the amusement of human beings with cameras and stories to tell back home?
It is no longer possible for many people to adopt one of the millions of dogs in need. Or keep them eating the right food, or being able to afford the extraordinary cost of animal health care, once cheap enough to encourage the acquisition of animals, now so expensive and hysteria-driven that many people can’t afford animals. Or take them along in warm weather. Or hide them from the army of secret informers who patrol the private loves of animal lovers and farmers and old people and eccentrics who only emotional lives are sometimes they animals they can find to care for.
So Abby will never go into New York City to ride a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park, as hundreds of thousands, if not millions of children, had loved doing for 150 years. And her dog cannot ride in the car when the sun is right and the secret informers of the animal police are looking for windows to break. And her cat can never go into the garden to hunt a mouse. And she cannot ever ride a pony at the farmer’s market, someone suddenly decided it was cruel and abusive for children to ride on ponies.
And she cannot see the elephants in the circus, they were all killed in order to be saved. And she cannot pet a goat or see a chicken at the petting zoo, because petting zoos are cruel, and they exploit animals to make people smile and children laugh. And isn’t police work for horses cruel, too? And therapy work for dogs? And healing work with animals for the traumatized and disabled?
And so Abby will never see a big horse, or know the wonder of kissing one on the nose and handling one a carrot. Or feel the power and connection of riding a pony. Or stand behind a farmer’s barn and see the pigs and the cows grazing. Or understand what animals and people have done together for so many centuries, or how much animals can mean to people, how much their partnership with people have done us, how they are the children of Mother Earth just as we are. She will have no reason to hear the legends of the Native Peoples, to learn that the horses are the keepers of the wind, and the rain, and the thunder, the spirit of the world and the souls of people are broken and incomplete without them.
They will, she might sense, take the magic and the mystery with them when they go. She will miss it.
In her landmark work Twins, the famed British child psychiatrist and analyst Dorothy Burlingham writes of the importance of animal fantasies in children, the child, experience fear and confusion about life takes an imaginary animal as his intimate and beloved companion, these fantasies are critical in helping the child to overcome fear and loneliness. …”he is never separated from his animal friend,” writes Burlingham, “and in this way overcomes loneliness.”
Does anyone think of Abby, of the children, when they so blithely drive the animals away, and congratulate themselves on their virtue? What animals will be left for them to see?
Animals, Burlingham writes, are critical in helping children understand love, friendship and to learn how to feel safe and grounded in the world. Animals are trusted loving entities in the life of a child, valuable, even essential in helping them overcome fears and learn how how to attach to other living things.
If Abby asks where the animals are, someone can tell her that there are billions of them, they live horrific and confined and often savagely cruel lives on giant factory farms far from the eyes and consciences of all the good people who drove the animals out of the everyday world and condemned them to a crueler life than any Asian elephant or carriage horse or dog in a car could ever have imagined.
If some had ever bothered to ask the Abby’s of the world, the animals would stay, we would find a way to do it.
So all these questions. Any answers for Abby? Perhaps we can encourage her to go online, to look through YouTube, she will find some videos of the animals there, she can see what they looked like if she may never know what it feels like to touch them.
And we can always tell her the truth. The animals are gone, dead or on those corporate farms. Awful mistakes that can never be undone. And we watched and let it happen. All the animals that used to live and work with us – for many thousands of years, through all of history – and make us laugh and smile, are gone, now, dead or hidden on rescue farms far from people.
She will never see them again, and Mother Earth will cry some more, and the rain and the magic and the mystery and the wind and rain left with them.
The animals, she will be told, were saved. And lost forever.