Wild Animals Do Not Belong in Captivity

Over the past week, there has been a great deal of media coverage of the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to kill a young resident of its Gorilla World exhibit, Harambe, after a four year old boy deliberately slipped past a fence and fell into a moat surrounding the great ape’s enclosure.  Many of the comments online are filled with emotion and invective (see Twitter hashtag #justiceforharambe if you don’t believe me), either supporting or castigating the zoo for its actions.  Some even lash out at the boy’s mother, criticizing her parenting abilities to the point of calling for social services to get involved.  Others go even further and would have the child’s parents prosecuted under the state’s criminal law (for what offense I have no idea).  The Cincinnati Police is supposedly investigating.  (I love this!  They can calm the fomenting rabble by agreeing to investigate while they know perfectly well that there is little they can do.)

I have no idea whether the zoo was right or wrong to kill Harambe.  After all, I wasn’t there.  Some of those who were on the scene describe Harambe dragging the child around and repeatedly banging his head on the concrete.  Others point out that the child was examined at a hospital and was found to have suffered no serious injuries.  So you can take your pick there.  All I know is that if a 420 pound gorilla were to drag me around and repeatedly bang my head on concrete, I wouldn’t be here to write these words.

Supporters of Harambe have suggested that the zoo should have used a tranquilizer dart or should have distracted the gorilla with treats such as pineapple.  Some say that the gorilla would have wreaked irreversible damage on the boy by the time a tranquilizer took effect, while others point out that the zoo allowed ten minutes to elapse before making its decision to use lethal force, time during which a tranquilizer could have been taking effect.

And, of course, there are those who insist that the zoo’s decision was a no-brainer, that “a human is always worth more than an animal.”  (Although not everyone agrees with this proposition.)

As you no doubt realize by this point, I am more than a bit amused by the forceful arguments in support of or in opposition to the Cincinnati Zoo’s action.  That’s the wonderful thing about a free press in the age of the internet:  Everyone gets to express his or her opinion, vastly enriching the marketplace of ideas.

We are all such good Monday morning quarterbacks, now aren’t we?  This is what my mother always referred to as “20/20 hindsight.”  Unfortunately, those faced with an emergency don’t have the luxury of time to allow the case to be argued in the court of public opinion.  We see this all too often when police make a split-second decision to use deadly force in order to protect themselves or others from being killed.  First walk a mile in that guy’s moccasins, then come talk to me.

As for the mother’s culpability, I cannot escape my legal training that has taught me to argue both sides of the question.

Legally, a non-human animal is considered chattel, mere property.  This has been the common law at least since Blackstone, Coke and the other great British legal commentators published their treatises centuries ago.  As a supporter of animal rights, I am not happy about this fact, but there it is.  Accordingly, if I were representing the Cincinnati Zoo in civil litigation against the mother, I would argue that her negligence resulted in the loss of valuable zoo property and would demand restitution forthwith.

Just think of the approbation and liability that the zoo would have suffered if it had allowed Harambe to kill the boy!  The lawyers would have descended, demanding millions of dollars in damages, far more than the property value of a gorilla.  One internet commenter pointed out that the value of a boy is so much more than that of a gorilla because the latter has such limited capabilities, while the former could be the discoverer of the next cure for a deadly disease.  That is certainly a possibility.  Typically, however, the courts greatly limit the value of a child’s life, as it cannot be known whether he would have been the next Einstein or a criminal in prison for life.  While a gorilla is unable to discover the cure for cancer, neither is it able to engage in genocide or embezzle the retirement funds of thousands.

Now, if I were representing the boy’s mother, I would argue that Harambe’s enclosure represented an attractive nuisance to a young child and that the zoo therefore has no one to blame for its losses but itself.  Think of it:  You’re four years old. Ooo!  A big gorilla to play with!  And water to splash in on the way!  Your mom is momentarily distracted with your brothers and sisters.  What would you do?  Uh-huh, thought so!

In its defense, zoo director Thane Maynard claims that its fences at Gorilla World are more than adequate, that they have been approved by the relevant governing bodies, and that they have never experienced a problem before in the nearly forty years that the exhibit has been open.  Kind of what I would call an “innocent until proven guilty” defense.  But Maynard also admits that “the trouble with barriers is that, whatever the barrier is, some people can get past it.”  Uh-huh.  Little people, for example.  Like, uh, maybe a four year old?  And just what audience do zoos cater to anyway?  Families!  Children!  School groups!  It’s fun for all ages, it’s educational, bring the kids for a day out at the zoo!

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem.  Rather than second guessing the zoo’s on-the-spot decision, we need to step back and take a bigger picture approach.  Let’s admit that safety considerations are just one of many reasons that animals should not be maintained in captivity.  Wild animals belong in the wild.  And as long as the courts refuse to extend the writ of habeas corpus to non-humans, we will continue to experience unfortunate incidents involving the death of captive animals or the humans who come into contact with them.

After all, boy and gorilla were each doing what comes naturally.  The fault is not theirs, but ours.


We Don’t Value Life

The 14 county employees who were killed by an armed-to-the-teeth couple in San Bernardino this week hit us hard at the state agency where I am employed.  Although I did not know any of the people involved, I do have professional contacts in San Bernardino County who emailed me to let me know that all non-essential county offices were closed for the remainder of the week.

This latest horror occurs right on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Paris in which so many lost their lives.  Indeed, the media now tell us that the San Bernardino murders had terrorist connections as well.

All the presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican, have now been addressing the issues of gun control and stamping out terrorism.  Perhaps I am too jaded for my own good, but I am not so sure that there is much that can be done about either one.

Let us not forget that we have now reached the third anniversary of the mass murder of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  And then there was the mass killing in a church in Charleston, South Carolina and so many other scenes of loved ones ripped from us in an instant by bullets.

Most gun murders barely make a blip on the local news due to the fact that, typically, only one or two people are killed, and they are usually family members.  Then there is gang violence about which we throw up our hands and chalk up to the breakdown of the American family.

I don’t think there are any easy answers for us.  In other countries, ownership of firearms is illegal.  Despite the gun lobby screaming that if owning guns were a crime, only criminals would own guns, the murder rate is far lower in most other nations than it is here in the United States.  As an article in The Washington Post recently pointed out, Congress will never make any significant move toward gun control due to its effect on liberty interests (in other words, the Second Amendment).

So I guess this means we are stuck.  Placed in social context, however, our propensity for murdering each other should come as no surprise.  The sad fact remains that there is no longer any respect for life in this country.  Any society that sanctions abortion, capital punishment and hunting is obviously just as happy to have dead corpses in our midst as it is to have the company of living beings.

I am constantly appalled by the way we treat animals, from the terrible abuse of pets to the murder of cows, pigs and birds so that we can eat their flesh.  But, really, it all makes sense.  How can we hope for any respect for our fellow creatures when we don’t even value the lives of those of our own species?


Pardon Me, Turkey


The Vegan Files

You know it’s getting close to Thanksgiving when memes like this one get passed around online.  I suppose the intent is to cause the viewer to laugh at such a preposterous proposition.  You’re dead, turkey!  I want to see you plucked, stuffed, roasted and on a platter for my personal enjoyment!  That’s right, I want you dead so that I can carve you up and enjoy eating your rotting flesh.  The fact that you want to go on living, associating with others of your kind and raising future generations of birds means nothing to me.  Tofu??!! Yuck!

It would be particularly sad if I thought that we had no regard at all for our fellow creatures.  I know that this is not true because of the billions of dollars each year we spend on our pet dogs and cats.  Even when it comes to turkeys, each year the president “pardons” two of them to live out their lives well taken care of on a farm.  A couple of years ago, I read that this farm is in West Virginia and that the birds seldom survive for more than a few months past the date of their pardon.  This is because commercially raised turkeys are fed a diet designed to increase the size of the breast to grotesque proportions in order to satisfy consumer demand.  While there is such thing as free-range turkeys, for the most part, the birds are raised in tight spaces that prevent them from moving around much so that they can be fattened up that much faster.  By the time they are ready for slaughter, they are so large that they can barely move even if they wanted to.  They are so unhealthy that they are beyond benefitting from the freedom of a farm and veterinary care.

Whenever I hear that the president is getting ready to “pardon” two turkeys, I hope that perhaps he is referring to certain members of Congress.  Certainly the turkeys have done nothing wrong that would cause them to require a “pardon.”


The other theme of the meme above has to do with tofu.  How laughable that a turkey should plead for its life by asking us to eat such disgusting stuff instead!  While I know numerous people who profess to dislike tofu, the unfortunate fact is that most Americans (with the possible exception of those whose moms engaged in traditional Asian cooking) have never even tried it.

The turkey is right that tofu is “really good.”  While much has been written about the possible health dangers of eating too much soy (we won’t talk about the firm connection recently made between eating meat and colon cancer), the fact remains that it is a solid source of protein and one that requires much less of a carbon footprint to produce than, say, poultry.  Plus, tofu doesn’t have bones to deal with, doesn’t have a carcass to dispose of once picked clean, and doesn’t need to be roasted for hours (or fried in peanut oil, a cause of multiple house fires each Thanksgiving).  My own favorite thing about tofu is that it has a very mild flavor and goes with anything.  Even if baked in the oven, it doesn’t stink up the house.  I am not much of a cook, so I most often prepare tofu by simply dicing it and serving it over baked potatoes with carrots or spinach.  I also like it in soup, what I call “faux pho.”  And, yes, I have been known to eat it straight out of the package.  Sure, there are fancy faux turkey roasts, but the great thing about tofu is that you don’t have to cook it if you don’t want to.  If you like it hot, slice it and heat it in the microwave or dice it into an oil-coated pan with some mushrooms or broccoli.  Otherwise, toss it onto a salad and eat it cold.  Its diversity can’t be beat, and I like the fact that, if I haven’t prepared any lunch one day, I can throw a package of tofu into a bag with some bread and fruit and I will have a protein-packed, satisfying meal.

But back to the turkeys.  My father is quick to point out that almost all turkeys currently alive would not exist at all if they weren’t commercially raised for slaughter and thence the freezer case at your local supermarket.  This fact seems to me a lot like playing God.  We get to decide when they live and when they die.

When my little grandniece was visiting with us last week, I began singing Christmas songs with her.  “It’s not even Thanksgiving!” my wife noted.  “But I don’t know any Thanksgiving songs,” I protested.  Later, while my grandniece and her cousin were running amok in Chuck E. Cheese, I repeated the story to my sister-in-law.  She admitted to knowing only one Thanksgiving song:

Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys, fat turkeys
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are
We’re not made for living
We’re made for Thanksgiving
Gobble gobble gobble, fat turkeys are we.

(With thanks to Ghost Academy for confirming the lyrics)

Suffice it to say that I will not be singing this song with my grandniece.  “We’re not made for living?”  Seriously?  If you’re not going to treat your dog or cat like a mere thing that you can kill and dispose of at will, I question how you can countenance doing the same to a cow, pig or turkey.

To make things worse, I hear that the above ditty is sung in schools, thus indoctrinating children into feeling nothing when it comes to our fellow creatures.  Surely, there is a more compassionate Thanksgiving song about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans together giving thanks to God over maize and yams?  (Notwithstanding the fact that the ready availability of deer indicates the likelihood that venison was also on the menu.)

Too bad those landing at Plymouth Rock did not bring tofu across the ocean with them.

While it is unfortunately a myth that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird (he actually referred to the bald eagle as “a bird of bad moral character”), I love the story and wonder whether, if true, perhaps we’d eat roasted eagle with gravy and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  That is, if we found a way to force-feed the eagle and sing that it’s not made for living, just eating.

Tomorrow:  The Joy of Receiving

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

So I’m a Vegan. How Do I Explain This to a Teenager?

The Vegan Files

My teenaged niece has expressed interest in learning about the vegan lifestyle.  As honored as I feel, I’m not sure I even knew that being a vegan is a lifestyle.

I recommended a book.  I told her about some websites.  But it turns out that she wants to know more about the reasons that I’ve committed myself to such a “difficult” way of life.  I am flattered that I’ve made such an impression, but I find myself at a total loss for what to tell her.

When we were together at a church event a few weeks ago, I told her a little bit about what factory farms do to chickens.  She just stared at me, clearly horrified.  The experience gave me chills.

It’s true that just out of sight are the bloody slaughterhouses that bring us our steaks, burgers and chicken.  It’s true that nursing calves are routinely separated from their mothers, that cows are kept pregnant constantly to make more beef and dairy cattle.  It’s true that it’s all about money.

Yes, I want my niece to know about these things, but this is not how I want to explain why I am a vegan.  She thinks that it must be so hard to give up things like Big Macs, beef tacos, cheese and ice cream.  But I don’t want her to think that doing the right thing means making painful dietary sacrifices.  On the contrary, I want her to see that, for me, being a vegan is an act of love.

At work this morning, I overheard a conversation between two young ladies that went something like this:

“Are you still on that vegan diet regimen?”

“Yes!  And it’s been a whole week!”

I grinned and kept walking.  There it goes again, I thought, the association of vegans with martyrdom and exceptional will power.  If only they knew how easy it is, I thought, as I heated up my lunch of veggie dogs smothered in soy cheese.

Later in the day, we held a going away celebration for a retiring coworker.  An enormous sheet cake covered in billows of whipped cream was presented.  I was offered a slice by several people and I declined each time.  No one can believe that I have the fortitude to resist cake.  Should I blow my cover and tell them that some of Duncan Hines’ cake mixes and frostings are vegan?  Should I let them keep thinking that I have the superhuman power to avoid sugar?  Or should I let them in on the secret that Oreos are vegan and so are the heavenly oatmeal raisin cookies sold by Trader Joe’s?

Last year, I stayed away from the company’s Thanksgiving pot luck, knowing that it would be very uncomfortable having everyone comment on the fact that I wasn’t eating.  This year, I plan to attend.  Now that I’ve been there for a while, many of my coworkers know that I’m a vegan.  I don’t think anyone will bat an eye when I show up with my own food in a little plastic container.  I will spoon it out onto a plate, grab a drink and sit down to eat with my fellow employees.  And I will undoubtedly endure a chorus of “Ooo, what’s that?  I didn’t see that on the buffet.”  That, mes amis, is tofu with mushrooms.  If you dare make a face, I will recount the gory details of where your drumstick and white meat came from and make you barf.

Sigh.  This is definitely not the idea that I want to relay to my young niece.  She might go vegan one of these days, or perhaps she won’t.  If she does, she’ll have plenty of time to experience the prejudice, the stares, the incredulity and the explanations that vegans are called upon to give over and over and over again.

For now, however, I’d like her to know that for those of us who love this planet, for those of us who love our bodies, for those of us who have an ounce of compassion, for those of us who give a damn, being a vegan is the only rational choice in an increasingly insane world.

Tomorrow:  Certain food combinations are just disgusting!

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

Do Dogs and Cats Have the Right to Live?

I guess I’m a hypocrite.

As much as I hate to saddle myself with such an imprecation, it would be dishonest for me to say otherwise.  You see, I haven’t been practicing what I preach.  Last time, I wrote about our duty to care for stray and abandoned dogs, cats and other animals, yet I myself live a pet-free life.

But, as I mentioned previously, not everyone has the proper living situation or adequate finances to take on the responsibility for caring for a pet.  So what’s my excuse?  We spent years living in apartments that did not permit pets (not that we didn’t see the occasional illegal dog being walked).  We also developed a fairly active lifestyle that involved a lot of traveling on short notice.  Every time we thought about adopting a pet, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to just pick up and go for work or pleasure.  Then we moved to the parsonage of a church.

There’s also the little detail about being unemployed for more months than I care to think about.  I am always amazed when I see a bedraggled homeless guy sitting up against a wall with a sign begging for food — with his best canine friend seated right beside him.  I guess they’ll be sharing that hamburger that we give him.  Maybe we’d better get two.

It’s not just dogs, either.  Back when we lived in Fresno, we knew that almost any time we visited a particular store on South Blackstone, we’d be greeted by a homeless woman and her overflowing shopping cart — with her black and white cat curled up atop her belongings.

Thus, I am forced to admit to hypocrisy.  It’s hard to make excuses after seeing the homeless care for their quadruped charges.  For some of them, I’m sure their animal companions are their only friends.

There’s also the laziness factor.  Although I’ll be the first to try to find a home for a pet that needs one, I know I wouldn’t give the pet a very good home myself.  The thought of having to walk a dog or clean a cat box simply does not appeal to me.

At least I know myself well enough to realize that a dog or cat would not have a very good life with me.  Too many people, however, take on the care of pets (and children!) without considering how much time, attention and money such a commitment involves.  Perhaps this is why we see so many abandoned pets wandering the streets.

I believe that these homeless dogs and cats, roaming about in search of a morsel of food or a drop of water, are at minimum, entitled to be accorded the decency owed to all living things that suffer and feel pain.

Alas, there are those who do not agree, believing that dogs and cats do not have any rights at all.  For example, my fellow blogger at jewamongyou (who claims to be an animal lover and states that “animals should not be made to needlessly suffer”) posits that “we shouldn’t assign human rights to animals” because the very concept of “rights” is a human one.

While I do believe that this guy’s heart is in the right place, I have to wonder just what he means by “human rights.”  Does he mean that dogs and cats should not be accorded the right to vote?  I think that would be reasonable, as I doubt that the idea of representative elections would be very meaningful to our pets.  This is also why my one-year-old grandniece does not have the right to vote.

I have at least two points of disagreement with my fellow blogger, however.  For starters, I find it a bit of hubris to equate our species’ age-old fascination with “rights” with the idea that no such thing as “rights” existed until we called them into being.  For example, I love the following famous words from the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”   In other words, the existence of the rights about to be enumerated needs no source of proof; “self-evident” means that no reasonable person can contradict their existence.  The Declaration of Independence refers to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  This is a way of stating that basic rights are divinely or naturally granted (depending on one’s beliefs) rather than granted by humans.

Of course, the Declaration of Independence goes on to state that “all men are created equal” and have certain divinely granted “inalienable rights.”  My point, however, is that the basic rights of decency, whatever you believe them to be, are granted by God or nature, not by man.

Second, even if one believes that the concept of “rights” is a human one, why does this by definition exclude certain rights from being extended by humans to other creatures?

I don’t claim to understand what my fellow blogger means by “animals should not be made to needlessly suffer.”  I’m sure we would both agree that the disgrace that is animal abuse would fall under this category.  What exactly constitutes “animal abuse” is, of course, subject to debate.  Nevertheless, I’m sure we would agree that such barbaric practices as dog fighting and cock fighting would be included.

Is a dog or a cat made to needlessly suffer when it is abandoned to fend for itself?  I would argue that it is.  I would argue that an animal that is not provided with food, water and shelter is indeed being made to needlessly suffer.  Remember, unlike adult humans (and very much like human children), domesticated animals do not have the ability to do this for themselves.

What about when an animal is deliberately killed?  I would argue that this, too, constitutes needless suffering and that, if nothing else, an animal has the right to its life.  Historically, however, humans have treated other animals as chattel, mere possessions that can be disposed of at will.  This reduces a living creature to the status of a mere thing, just as if a dog or cat were an inanimate object such as a car or a table.  Just as the owner of a table has the right to sell it, give it away, abandon it or chop it up for firewood, historically the owner of a dog or cat (or cow or horse or sheep) had the right to sell it, give it away, abandon it or kill it and chop it up into food or clothing.

How this plays out is entirely cultural.  While animals are considered sacred in many parts of India, for example, eating dogs and cats is commonplace in certain parts of Asia (and elsewhere).  What may be an abhorrent practice in the United States may be standard operating procedure in another part of the world.

Thus, the social norms of a particular culture may grant animals more or fewer rights than those granted by God or nature.  Just as we humans have trampled upon each other’s rights throughout history, many cultures continue to trample upon the rights of our fellow creatures.

There will likely never be an end to the debate about what rights animals do have (by those who believe that such rights are granted by God or nature) or should have (by those who believe that animals have no rights other than those granted them by humans).

My favorite example of this ongoing debate is whether it is amoral to kill an animal “humanely.”  Personally, I nominate that one for the Oxymorons category in Zynga’s game “What’s the Phrase?”

Well, humans are animals.  Is it okay to kill a human if it’s done humanely?

Somehow, we fail to make the connection.

The fact that animals have rich, happy lives just as we do and suffer just as we do does not seem to resonate with most of us at all.  We simply draw a line in the sand between “them” and “us.”  While we celebrate our own higher-functioning brains, our free will and our ability to distinguish between right and wrong, we go right on acting in a instinctual black-and-white fashion as if we were the very animals that we continue to demean.

The bottom line, of course, is money.  Animals are treated as if they have no rights because there is big business in killing dogs, cats, cows, pigs and other animals and selling their flesh — because they taste good and people will buy these animals’ ground-up, hacked-up parts for their tables.

I think I’ve belabored the point enough.  Ultimately, everyone has to make their own decision.  However, I do want to close with a few interesting websites I’ve run across in the last few days (along with brief comments).  Food for thought.

From thentherewerethreeHeck, I will eat Donner and Blitzen, bring it on…I love wild game! I just like to know that my meat was off enjoying the sunshine, and frolicking with some pals, and feeling the wind on its face….before it came to nourish me and the Fam.  (Yeah, you’re all heart…)

From honkifyourevegan.comThe setup was in a supermarket where a guy gave customers samples of cooked sausage and then tried to get them to buy fresh sausage that he was cranking out of a machine on the spot.  Whenever a customer wanted to buy fresh sausage, however; the machine was empty. But this was not a problem because the sausage man had live piglets on hand. So for each customer, he put a piglet into the machine and ground sausage from it.  Despite the fact that no one had a problem tasting the cooked sausage, customers were horrified when the piglet was ground before their eyes. One woman even hit the sausage man with her purse.  It’s a gag, of course, and the piglet is not actually harmed. But isn’t it interesting?  (Not really.  You broke the social compact!  You’re not supposed to show us what we’re eating, silly!)

koreandogs.org (No explanation needed.)

Duty of Care


My wife and I lived way out in southeastern California’s Sonoran Desert for three years, where we saw a constant stream of stray dogs in our little town.  Big dogs, small dogs, dogs of every color and description, loose and cavorting in the middle of the street, jauntily bouncing down the sidewalk or tearing across someone’s lawn.

Some were picked up by the local dog catcher (oops, “animal control officer”), then housed at the shelter behind Ace Hardware, where they became stars ready for their close-ups to appear in the town’s twice-weekly newspaper under the heading “offered for adoption.”  In other words, come quickly, all ye animal lovers, and pay ye the fees for the dog’s shots and license lest this adorable pup (how can you resist such a mug?) be summarily sentenced to death by lethal injection without benefit of judge or jury.

Other dogs, I suspect, were better at eluding the net and remained on the lam for quite some time.  Some were escape artists, taking advantage of opportunities for freedom unwittingly provided by their people.  Dogs were supposed to be kept in fenced-in enclosures or on a leash.  But there were always pets that managed to jump the fence, burrow under it or find a gap to squeeze through.  Much like cats climbing trees without giving a thought to how they’ll get back down, dogs would devise clever methods of getting out, seemingly without giving a thought to how they’ll survive on the other side.

Like the wandering dogs of Sochi that we heard so much about during the televised coverage of the Winter Olympics, we’re pretty sure many of the dogs we encountered were actually abandoned pets, not strays.  It seemed as if no one cared what happened to them, whether they lived or died. Although they once had homes, they were no longer wanted and would be heartlessly tossed out of a car on the side of the road.  When I was growing up, my parents used to do this when one of their cats committed some offense that they deemed unpardonable (usually scratching someone, although I believe tearing about like a hellion qualified as well).  My father was the one assigned to doing the deed, which he referred to as “taking the cat for a ride.”  He’d drive several miles away, by which time the cat was generally sufficiently panicked to jump out voluntarily at the first opportunity.  At least once that I can recall, the cat managed to find its way back home.

As for the stray dogs of the desert, they’d bake in the 115°F heat that we “enjoyed” six months out of the year, desperate for a drink of water.  Some would hang out on the strip of fast food places down by the freeway, hoping for handouts.  Those were usually picked up fairly quickly by animal control officers on their rounds.

One night, my wife and I had to make a quick run to K-Mart just before the store closed, where we found a large dog pacing back and forth by the entrance and exit doors, just hoping that some kind person would grant it some attention.  We went to get it some water, but quickly discovered another good Samaritan approaching with a fast food hamburger and a drink.

There were stray cats, too, and we used to put out our leftovers for them as well as for the many hungry birds that inhabited our neighborhood.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about chickens.  Not exactly in the same league with dogs and cats, you may say, but I keep seeing these beautiful birds hanging out at a busy intersection in Yuba City.  To this city boy’s highly untrained eye, they all appear to be roosters.  We have no idea to whom, if anyone, they belong.  However, just like the stray dogs of the desert, we suspect that they were simply abandoned.  After all, they don’t lay eggs and they disturb the neighbors with their infernal crowing, so what good are they to anyone, other than for making soup or drenching their wings in barbecue sauce?  Passersby must be feeding these guys, else I doubt that they’d stick around.  I’m surprised they haven’t been picked up yet, but perhaps the local dog catcher doesn’t “do” chickens.  I am reminded of an incident, several years ago, in which an entire flock of chickens turned up beside a southern California freeway, resulting in much rush hour gawking, some near auto wrecks, and many people posing the age-old conundrum anew:  Why did the chicken cross the road?

So my question of the day is:  Do we have an obligation to care for abandoned animals?  And if so, is such obligation individual or communal in nature?

The Bible (while certainly not the final arbiter for many of us), appears to argue that we do have such an obligation, and that each of us is required to take on this responsibility personally.

“If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.  If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him.”  Deut. 22:1-2

The following verse underscores this point by stating “you must not remain indifferent.”  In other words, community assignment of an animal control officer does not negate our individual responsibility for caring for our fellow creatures.

Granted, the emphasis of these Bible verses is on helping avoid a loss to one’s neighbor rather than on assisting the animal.  The fact that the Scripture refers to animals that have “gone astray” seems to indicate that it would be unheard of to deliberately abandon an animal.  While this may be due to the economic value of cattle, sheep and donkeys kept as work animals or for sources of food and clothing, the concept of animals kept as pets does appear in the Bible as well.  I refer to the parable of the poor man who “had only one little ewe lamb that he had bought,” recited by the prophet Nathan to King David.  “He tended it and it grew up together with him and his children:  It used to share his morsel of bread, drink from his cup, and nestle in his bosom; it was like a daughter to him.”  2 Sam. 12:3

I find it encouraging that a source as ancient as the Bible, with its emphasis on justice and doing the right thing, recognizes that pets can be members of our families and demands that we care for strays rather than ignore them.  The implication, then, is that the Judeo-Christian tradition finds a moral imperative to attend to the needs of animals, whether we have voluntarily taken on their care as pets or whether we happen upon them along the road.

It is no secret that failure to heed this duty of care is likely to result in the death of animals that have no means to care for themselves.  While I rarely think of donkeys (or chickens, for that matter) as being strays, their mention in Deuteronomy reminds me of the fully-grown donkey that we found dead by the side of a state highway in the middle of the desert a couple of years ago.  We later learned that wild burros and horses continue to inhabit the Sonoran Desert, sometimes causing wrecks when they cross the roads (we had a close call with a wild horse late one night) and often dying of thirst, hunger and disease.

While most of us do not have the means of caring for every stray that shows up on our doorstep or is found wandering forlornly on a roadside, it is my belief that it is immoral to ignore these animals, hoping that perhaps someone else will step up.

Nor is it an excuse to insist that this is why we pay taxes to support animal control officers.  A communal conscience is certainly a good thing, but when stray and abandoned animals are likely to either be killed (I find the phrase “put to sleep” to be obscene) in so-called animal shelters, or to be run over or starve to death before they are rescued, it is difficult to deny that the responsibility for these creatures is ours alone.  Closing our eyes to this duty of care casts a dirty shame upon our supposedly enlightened society.