My dog just asked me for a chewy bone. While she didn’t actually say this in English, there was no doubt I heard her, loudly and clearly. We all do it. I know my goofy Jack Russell, Finn, speaks in a grammatically challenged, raspy voice. I know my other, more cultured Russell, Matilda, sounds a lot like the Dowager from Downton Abby.
Like every dog owner, I see the bright (in Matilda’s case at least – Finn might not be called exactly bright) intelligence, willingness to obey, desire to please and need to be accepted and loved I can’t imagine my household without these non-human counterparts. This is probably what has led to my, um, animal abundance.
Yes, I have a barn full of oddballs, living together in what is, mostly, harmony. There is a distinct hierarchy to my barnyard that I could sit and watch, silently, for hours. My largest, Gracie, is a horse who is nearing 30. Bought when my daughter was a 5th grader, she is known as “bomb-proof”. The perfect horse for a girl. But in looking back as to why she has this personality, it’s sad to remember that before she came to me she had several other homes, where she had friends and formed families but was separated, over and over, and came, originally, from a rent-a-horse ranch. She was most likely whipped, beaten and berated into submission. Now, she’s too old to ride and views me with distain. I can’t blame her. People probably haven’t been that nice to her. At this elderly stage of her life she shares her stall with pigs, chickens, donkeys, sheep and an emu. It’s not the retirement home of her dreams. I try to make up for it by making her golden years as stress free as possible and giving her senior feed that costs $18,000,000 per bag.
(And no, I do not know why, when allowed to graze outside the pasture, both Gracie and Bethlehem will choose to stand in the one place there is no lush grass, the porch.)
The undisputed queen of the barn is a sheep I bought from the classifieds. She was a whim, 13 years ago, and the first of my oddballs. When I got to the farm selling sheep, I was disturbed to find out that “them was eatin’ sheep”. I wish I could have taken them all. Clementine is the most intelligent animal I’ve ever known. Smarter than dogs, smarter than many children, she rules the roost. No one eats without her permission and Gracie and my donkey Bethlehem (Not that brilliant as for years he wouldn’t walk across my black driveway, afraid he’d fall in.) vie for her affection. We have long called her “My Pretty Pony” because when we had more horses, each would court her to stand underneath them, and be their little sidecar. When one orders lamb at a restaurant, it has caused the terror, pain, and death of a creature who is smarter than one of my children when they were in kindergarten. (I won’t say which one.)
(Clockwise: Clarence as a baby, Clementine shocked to be found in the kitchen, Clementine getting lots of love from me during her annual haircut, a most humiliating adventure)
The pigs each have such engaging personalities and the interactions between the distinct families of chickens could fill a sun drenched day with entertainment. I really can’t fathom, when I’m in there with them, the fact that one day, a long long time ago, someone said “hmmm, I’d like to kill and eat that”. Blows my mind. I wonder if dogs tasted like bacon if people would be so quick to torture and kill them? Pigs are smarter than dogs, you know. My pigs are engaged in a constant battle over a certain blanket in the barn, whether due to its texture, its color or print is the object of their intense desire. Mediating between them takes both me and Clementine. We’ve decided on an odd day/even day schedule for sharing. No one is happy about this.
The reason I’m saying all this is because knowing the thoughts and feelings of these guys has caused me to spend my life worrying over dogs I see from my car, trapped in tiny pens wondering what crime they committed to be kept in a cell, cats freezing behind grocery stores, birds in tiny cages. There is a family near me that keeps two big birds in a minuscule cage hanging by their garage no matter what the temperature. It’s killing me.
The other night, a friend of The Boy’s called and asked if we were missing a pig. As if my pigs, Babette and Orson, are going to leave their Little Mermaid sleeping bags and snug barn on a cold night. I called my neighbor and asked if he was missing either of his two. We laughed because we were having such an absurd conversation. Nope, not his. So we went on about our lives. That night, in the dark of the night waking that happens to middle aged women, I began worrying. Whose pig was it? Where was she sleeping? Was she cold? (Well, duh, she was cold!) Pigs have IQs that rival that of children 3 – 5 years old. Can you just imagine the sad and confused thoughts of your preschooler, lost and alone? Pigs don’t like the dark. They sleep at night, just like us. They’re scared of everything that’s unfamiliar. It’s a shame someone just put her out because she was no longer a cute little piglet.
Dogs are the same way. They fully believe us when we get them as puppies and tell them they’re our babies. They don’t get it when we get tired of them one day and send them to the shelter. I get so many entreaties to take dogs that people no longer want or “can no longer take care of”. It happens with bunnies and chicks that are given as Easter pets too. My heart can’t take what we as humans do to these little souls.
I’m not all that knowledgeable about birds. Recently, a friend posted this story on Alex, an African Grey parrot. I knew they were smart but had no idea they were thinking like this. If you have time, this is a real eye opener. (http://youtu.be/SzPiTwDE0bE). Yet, everyday, parrots die, imported or bred, insane because of their care. Arrrgggh!
I’ve got no snappy, funny wrap up. I usually see things from a humorous angle but this has really been on my mind lately. We’ve become a society that throws away our animals because they’re inconvenient. We don’t take care of our elderly and our children are being raised by iPads and TV. I think we’ve stopped making connections altogether.
My point is, take in a stray, spay and neuter, leave notes in the mailboxes of assholes who are keeping dogs in the cold, in tiny pens. My dad once stole a dog that was being mistreated. That’s what I’m talking about. Do something for those that can’t help themselves. Give up meat for a day a week, then two days, then maybe everyday. Rail against circuses and Sea World for taking these intelligent species, with family units, separating mothers from their children and beating them into doing tricks. Elephants don’t naturally wear hats and carry poodles on their backs. They are whipped until they cry.
We wonder why children are mistreated, our elderly are disrespected, and people can be gunned down in theaters? It’s because, down deep, at our very evil human core, we’ve forgotten to respect anything and everything that was given to us, by God, to care for. Maybe today, or tomorrow, we can all put ourselves second, just for a day or two, and do something for someone smaller than us, who needs our help. It’s not that hard to show love to another species.
I’m sorry I continue to post animal rants every now and again instead of talking about shoes and wine I have to do it or explode. It keeps me from committing crimes.