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Animals in the Heartland
Animals are so much more than most give credit for
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
This new home of ours is lovely; the surrounding rolling hills, the huge trees, expansive sky and clean air are inviting beyond comprehension. The open pastures and freshly sown fields offer wide vistas; scenic views of an unspoiled land. Having come from a crowded and overdeveloped area, I find these attributes offer much in the way of freedom of movement and personal privacy.
In the morning, I hear nothing but natural sounds; the rustling wind, so many birds singing widely varying songs and an occasional cow in the pasture.
As my gaze spans the horizon from east to west, I am again taken with the serenity and beauty of this place. It is, indeed, a great opportunity to live here as a transplanted Californian, enjoying the absolute friendliness and warmth as the locals welcome you with open arms. To be a human among humans here is truly amazing.
But, there is another side to this story. An alarming and sad side which is quite difficult to withstand.
In all this awe inspiring nature, there is death….day in, day out, 24/7/365 there exists a constant dance of life and death.
And this dance unfolds just out of sight, just beyond hearing in most cases. A beloved pet is missing; the snow bunnies are fewer and fewer. Sometimes, though, it happens before my eyes and within hearing; the sight and sound of suffering.
Being a former denizen of the suburbs, I have always been sheltered from this reality. I have enjoyed the luxury of ignoring or denying this fact; the stark and unwavering truth that, in order for some to survive, others must die.
Cruel, harsh; and real.
Rabbits are a big loser out here. Coyote feast on them nightly. It is an almost certainty that, when hearing the howling and frenzied yipping of groups of coyote, they are hot on the trail of their prey. Usually small animals; sometimes rodents, possum; small dogs and the common house cat.
Once, while watching a white butterfly in flight, I stood amazed at the frailty and beauty. I had seen a large hatching of these butterflies as well as an inordinate number of dragon flies. I’ve always imagined the dragon fly to be gentle and benign; a symbol made popular in the ‘60’s. But, as I watched the white butterfly drift in the wind, suddenly, a dragon fly swooped down, snatched the butterfly and commenced to consume him on site, in flight.
Shocked doesn’t describe my reaction…and, the dismay as another fantasy about life is thrown to the wayside; the beauty of nature turned a little less pretty as time passes. The image I like to harbor is quickly dispelled; destroyed and I am left disappointed.
Each day, there are deer on the side of the road, unfortunate victims of thoughtless speeders who drive far too fast even though the local newspapers carry stories of car and deer collisions daily. Still, the autos race along country roads, at breakneck speed, thoughtless and mindless and careless.
Animals here are tools. The dog who herds or hunts when he isn‘t caged in a wire outdoors kennel; one which offers no shelter from wind, rain, sun or snow. The “outside” cats whose duty it is to keep mice from the house or silo, who are subject to predators, weather and traffic. The cows; “cattle,” “livestock,” in the fields whose ultimate fate is ugly and painful. Who graze in the fields, passive and docile, performing dual roles as cheap field weed clean up and, later, that steak on the table. Dogs, when found on property; unfortunate animals dropped off due to negligence and irresponsibility; are open game….Overheard recently: ”if a stray dog turns up on my property, I shoot it….” was how one farmer described the ‘problem’ of abandoned dogs.
Cats, of course, roam the streets or are thrown out of cars on country roads, their “owners” believing the felines can fend for themselves. Hardly. Soon, they will be coyote food or become sickly or injured since they have not, up to the point of abandonment, been on their own in the wild.
Animals are left in parking lots. Doors open, animals shooed out, car drives away. Bewildered animals wander, sometimes for days, before they are either run over or starve to death, or worse.
Communicable disease among animals is rampant, as well. Passed from one to the other, fatal illness befalls these animals as they attempt to survive on their own in an unfriendly environment. Left unchecked, the percentage of infected dogs and cats continues to rise as “owners” neglect proper care and maintenance of their companion or farm animals or simply deposit them on city streets or country roads for someone else to deal with…if the animal is lucky enough that ‘someone else’ will deal with it.
The “disconnect” between humans and animals in this arena is unconscionable and, to me, unexplainable. I know that this is an agricultural area; I understand that this has been the case for years; it is tradition and lifestyle, income and identity. I also accept that this sad situation is not limited to my new home state. Everywhere, animals are tools.
But we are better than this; we can be stewards of this earth; we can act with compassion and awareness. I keep reminding myself that we, intelligent humans, have the luxury of free will; free choice. We are not coyote, we do not have to kill to survive even though we are considered, due to our intelligence, to be the top of the food chain. For all intents and purposes; we can reason and act with knowledge. We should possess empathy. We have dominion over this earth and we do not need to neglect and abuse animals in order to survive or to experience a good life. How we have allowed ourselves to remain frozen in this archaic stance in regard to our fellow earthly inhabitants; other species, is beyond my ability to explain or understand. We don’t need to incarcerate them, we need not display them or abuse them. Animal flesh is not an essential nor is it a necessary ingredient in the human diet and, aside from efforts to save a species from becoming extinct; we should not capture or cage them. We certainly do not need to hunt them.
Evolution is taking place every second that ticks by and with every breath we take. We should jump on this bandwagon and take part in the improvement of our own kind as well as contribute to the well being of all living, sentient beings.
Somewhere, sometime, it was thought desirable to see “the lion lie down with lamb.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful?