I have been meaning to post, but it's just been so busy lately. And not in a good way. My cat, Cokey, got very sick a few days ago, and the continuing complications have mounted to the point where his life is threatened and he needs surgery to survive.
I try to exercise some restraint when blogging here, because this is a news commentary blog. But in keeping with the double meaning of the blog's intent (trying to write as a way to survive), I think it deserves a place here. There are literal levels of survival: needing water, air, food, medical treatment when necessary, etc.. Then there is figurative survival: being able to pay the bills to keep you clothed and sheltered, to salvage some sanity and kindness in an often chaotic and cruel world.
Cokey now needs surgery to survive, literally, and I need him in my life to salvage a bit of solace in a world and a life situation that has not been too kind to me. I admit my selfishness. There are far worse off things in this world than a fatally ill cat. But in my small universe, his love keeps me sane and his very existence is one thing that keeps pushing me to create a more humane and sustainable world.
Animals matter. Their collective presence forms a complex web of life, a natural system of checks and balances that we humans, even if in our persistent hubris deny, allow us to survive as a species. We often extract ourselves from nature. We acknowledge the aesthetic value of an animal: the gracious flight of a heron, a cute kitten getting its belly scratched on youtube, a puppy we cross paths with on the sidewalk. But we often fail to take that to the next level, to see the ways in which animals lay out an evolutionary path from us to them. We also fail to understand and truly live as though, WE NEED THEM.
But we do. In some cases for food, in others for companionship. We need them to continue their roles in the food chain we depend on. And yes, we need them for their companionship, and even for their beauty. Animals are a living art form, but they're also so much more than that. Without them, we are left with only oil spills and the computers that give us carpal tunnel. We are left only with the cars we drive and leave in their wake the casualties of our greedy need to move fast through our lives to places we don't even need to go or see places we don't even really need to see. I am guilty of this, too, and I am sorry.
After receiving my B.A. in Literature and Journalism, I went back to school to study Wildlife Conservation. This was prompted by reading a volume of books on wolves, and my horror at the things we've done to these animals whom have close-knit family units that so closely resemble our own. I couldn't keep reading the stories of shooting them from helicopters, or gassing dens of wolf pups, without doing something. Anything.
In school, I studied animal behavior. Earlier last century, experiments were conducted where Rhesus monkey babies were removed from their mother and placed with mechanical monkeys and no other form of contact with the living for weeks at a time. The babies weren't stupid. They knew the robot was not alive, nor their mother, though they still clung to them desperately, the way an abandoned child would grip a stuffed animal while still knowing it's not alive. These monkey matured to become hostile, even cruel. Much like humans in similar situations will. But to me, this outcome would seem apparent, and the irony implicit in the cruelty of its being conducted haunts me. The poet Anne Sexton has a line in one of her poems, "Watch out for intellect, because it knows so much, it knows nothing." These words seem applicable here.
And this line can also be applied to the situation in the Gulf. The recent news reports now figure we have well over 300 birds and 200 sea turtles (which are highly endangered) dead as a result of the spill in the Gulf. These numbers will continue to grow. And yet, government and industry continues to assert that we can continue offshore drilling...as though these deaths, though sad, don't rock the depth of our delicate chains.
Wildlife conservation has often been depicted at being put at odds with the human causes of industry and employment. And, in a way, this is true. But this is because our enterprises and economy are built on foundations that are inherently unsustainable. We have become so entrenched in these systems, we feel they are our only option as a species or society, even as they degrade and destroy the fabric of our natural world. Even as it threatens us all with extinction.
Just as we had to rip down the institution of slavery (which our country actually heavily relied on economically) to recreated a new paradigm, so we need to do this now. This isn't just about the sadness of seeing dead bird slick with black oil and floating face-down in murky waters.
They deserve the dignity of being able to spread their wings and fly, just as the sea turtles deserve our respect as our elders, to deposit their eggs in the sand and live out their lifetime.
And I guess this is the main idea of this post. Animals deserve to be treated with dignity by us. This is a strong sentiment of mine. It is why I do not eat meat (due to the ubiquity of factory farms), use personal products that conduct experiments or testing on animals, and why I try to work against the mass culls of companion animals (between 6 and 12 MILLION perfectly adoptable animals are euthanized every year because they are often surrendered by their owners for frivolous reasons).
My cat Cokey also deserves a life of dignity and one relatively free from pain. That is why I balk when I am asked if want to put him to sleep instead of getting him the surgery he needs to live a long and healthy life. I told the hospital I will get the money somehow (again, this blog is about trying to scrape by as a scribe, and being a writer means I don't have the funds to pay thousands of dollars on demand out of pocket). I told them I would sell my car, though it's a 13 year-old beater, so I doubt its sale would put a dent in the expenses of Cokey's surgery.
I will always choose my cat over my car. Come to think of it, giving up my car would be me choosing the wildlife in the Gulf over oil. So again, I think the choice is clear. The pragmatists like to argue that if we can't drill offshore, we can't drive our cars.
You know what I say? Good. Let all the oil wells and refineries shut down. Then we'd actually have to really change our grid and how we live. Then we wouldn't have to choose between oil and wildlife....