April 16, 2006

"Sauvetage difficile pour la chatte Molly à New York."

The whole world got excited about a cat stuck in a wall in a deli in New York City. This raises the question: Why do we care? I mean, literally: Why do we care? What makes us care about one thing and not another? Why does a cat matter more than some other animal (such as one of the mice that Molly the cat was kept in the deli to destroy)? What about all the human beings who are suffering? Are cats so much more sympathetic? Or is it the stuck-in-a-wall part? Human beings, we would agonize over your suffering, if only it had a weirder cause. Is it that the meowings of the cat could be heard by so many passers-by on that street in New York? Human beings, your suffering would drive us to despair, if only you were crying somewhere where we had to listen to it continually.


amba said...

Remember the time the world got excited about three gray whales trapped in the Arctic ice -- so excited that the Russians sent an icebreaker to free them?

Here's a column by a rabbi who feels guilty for crying about his dog's death when he could not cry for the victims of Darfur.

In balance I find it tiresome that we flog ourselves for not reserving all our sympathy for our own species. I think it's a kind of progress that we can feel this kinship with other species as well as other sorts of humans. And the distress of animals, somewhat like that of children, is particularly compelling in its directness and uncomprehending innocence. It gets directly to that basic level in ourselves.

CB said...

After hurricane Katrina, I found myself not caring a bit about the human victims and only upset about the animals. The only donation I made was to the Humane Society, and the most upsetting image to me was of a dog trapped in a fenced yard in probably 4 feet of water, standing on an air conditioner unit that was still about a foot below the surface. I think what elicits so much sympathy is that the animal does not understand what has happened and why no one is helping, and we cannot tell them.

bearbee said...

Much of the pain and suffering caused animals, both domesticated and wild, are created by humans.

Mark said...

How could I possibly care about the human victims of Katrina? They're the jerks who left the dog trapped in the fenced yard.

Ann Althouse said...

What about the mice? If this were a cartoon, the mice would be sympathetic, not the cat!

dick said...

I think a lot of it about the caring for people is that we as a nation have gotten so used to Uncle Sugar taking care of problems so that we didn't have to care that people don't land on the radar screen the way they used to. In the old days people did matter and other people did take notice and do something.

Years ago when I lived in Weare, NH I found some old copies of the agenda for the town meetings. Very interesting reading. These town meetings were from the 1910-1915 era. There were items on the agenda where various people took responsibility for seeing to it that the old people were taken to the doctor and someone took responsibility for seeing that they had food and company and this was written up in the town meeting. The town kept a building just outside the town hall that was supplied with blankets and sheets and beds and was there for any tramp who arrived with nowhere to sleep. The town also budgeted to feed these tramps if they came. They even wrote up that tramps were entitled to stay there for a week. The library was staffed by volunteers. The school classes were staffed by volunteer parents to assist the teachers and this was all part of the town meeting. Widows and single women had fuel (logs in those days) provided by volunteers to chop the wood for them. Those who were going through a tough time were assisted by other citizens voluntarily.

When we got to the federal and state governments taking responsibility with all these huge government programs, then the locals decided that they didn't need to care about the fellow citizens so much so a lot of this fell by the wayside. There are still a lot of organizations out there who do care for these situations and if you think back to the miners or the child trapped in the well or the missing child, then you see the sympathy coming out in the general population. Otherwise I agree with the other commenters that it is probably a lot because we cannot communicate verbally with these other species that they strike a nerve. In the case of dogs in particular I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this animal can be so totally selfless in protecting its owner at times. Dogs and people can have a truly remarkable relationship. Think of the guide dogs and the hearing aid dogs and the dogs who guard us from intruders. They are fed and get affection but they truly do not ask for much and they give so much. When they are in distress they are entitled to our sympathy.

Jennifer said...

I think we like to sympathize with causes that are solved/solvable. We don't like problems we have to deal with.

Human beings, we would agonize over your suffering, if only it had a weirder cause.

Or maybe its that. This statement just tickles me. I love it!

paul a'barge said...

These events (cat in the wall) are lenses that focus human charity for us. There are daily hundreds of events like this, enacted by people who rescue animals, without the accompanying fan fare.

No act of saving a threatened animal goes unnoticed by G-d... even the mice, if that's where you want to direct your charity.

By the way, anyone want to adopt a wonderful 3-month old German Shepherd / Black Mouth Cur mix? He'll be through the entire veterinarian routine, and all you have to pay is your heart coin.

Patrick Martin said...

As a resident of Louisiana, perhaps I take some of these comments overly personally. But I must say in response to Mark above:

You mean those jerks who had to literally choose between saving their mother and their aunt?

I'm so terribly sorry that the people fleeing for their very lives were not able to share your passion for animal life. For those caught in the flooding, there was no time to indulge in saving anything other than human lives.

In fact, once the human lives were saved, the people of this state, along with wonderful volunteers from around the country, risked a great deal to go back and get pets of all sorts. Tens of thousands of dogs and cats and birds and you name it were rescued and brought to a giant, make-shift shelter where almost all eventually were reunited with their grieving owners, who had been ripped apart by having to leave their animal loved ones behind. Those which were not reunited have all been adopted by others.

But in the live or die moments as the flood waters were raging through the city, it was man or beast. Do you seriously want to call those people "jerks" for choosing man over beast? There's a jerk around here alright.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I learned of this story watching SNL's fake news last night. Then, they brought on a fellow who perfectly imitated Taylor Hicks from American Idol. Did ya' TiVo it? Worth a giggle.

MrsWhatsit said...

bearbee said,
"Much of the pain and suffering caused animals, both domesticated and wild, are created by humans."

Bearbee, do you really believe that statement? If so, you must know nothing about the lives of wild animals. Believe it or not, even when people are not around, wild animals get hungry, they get hurt, they get sick, they get caught in hurricanes or earthquakes or hailstorms or volcanic explosions, they get ripped apart and eaten by predators or, if they are predators themselves, they get old or injured, can no longer hunt, and starve to death. Some animals, such as ants and certain primates, kill and injure one another in large, war-like groups. Many, many other animals kill and injure one another in individual struggles over mates or territory.

The other day I watched through my window as a hawk swooped down, caught a rodent, and carried it off, bleeding and struggling, to be eaten alive. How many millions of rodents struggle and die in just that fashion every day, in order to feed raptors? How many raptors starve each day because they can't find rodents to rip apart and eat? How many humans cause any of that to happen?

Somebody said -- I wish I knew who -- that no wild animal dies of old age. People who believe, as you do, that animals would all live in joyful sunshiny eternal bliss if not for the unfortunate presence of us mean nasty humans need to do just a little bit of zoological and ecological study -- bearing in mind as they go that the movie "Bambi" was not a documentary. It is, of course, true that human beings are responsible for a great deal of animal suffering. But it is also true that if all of us humans were to vanish from the planet tomorrow, the suffering of animals would not even come close to disappearing along with us.

CB said...

I'm not sure how serious Mark's comment was, but I want to distance myself from it. People left their pets behind either because they had no choice, or they thought it would just be for the night and they would be OK.

Jim H said...

I sometimes look at my dog and wonder what the hell makes her so special that I would value our relationshop. Possibly when we raise and live with a pet, a small bit of our humanity rubs off on them. Not much, but enough to separate them from their feral counterparts.
That, and after the hellish puppy years you've got a lot invested in them.

Ann Althouse said...

Folks, I really think Mark was being sarcastic!

Mrs. Whatsit: Well put. Reminds me of that post a while ago about the lady who called 911 because a squirrel was stuck in a tree. Someone in the comments (I think) mentioned a 911 call where somebody wanted the police to save a deer from a coyote. Man, these animals are committing crimes all the time. Yet they never get arrested.

chuck b. said...

First of all, mice don't curl up in our laps and purr. It's always about us, after all. We rescue cats stuck in walls (first time I've heard about it, btw) because we can and it feels good to take affirmative action to rectify a situation completely in our control. And what if we didn't? Can you imagine the smell?

Cat in the wall? No problem. Genocide in Darfur? OMG. I'll send a postcard to President Bush.

We rescued a mouse in our garage a couple months ago. I drove him to the pound & figured they'd just find someone w/ a snake or something, but they encouraged me to take him home, give him food, and release him in a park! I was flabbergasted, but he was kinda cute, and that's what he did. Except he released himself and I suspect he lives in my next-door neighbor's overgrown backyard now.

I also only gave money to the Humane Society during Hurricane Katrina--twice--and no money to the Red Cross. And it was partly due to the Uncle Sugar effect, and partly because the mayor and governor did not instill me with confidence. I couldn't imagine sending money some place where those two were in charge.

There was that big hurricane blowing right toward Louisiana. We saw what it did in Florida, now it's heading toward New Orleans. A Category 5 in the Gulf. Heading toward New Orleans. New Orleans, several feet below sea level. Category 5. Lots of water in a Category 5. Moving toward New Orleans. Over the course of a few days. Look out, New Orleans.

bearbee said...

MrsWhatsit said...Bearbee, do you really believe that statement?

Your raptor-mouse example is the cruel world of the wild.

Circus exotic animals are tortured, beaten, burned and bullhooked into performing for your enjoyment and are forced to perform with tb and other illnesses. Zoo exotic animals are caged in small mind-numbingly monotonous enclosures and when they become 'surplus' they are sold for canned hunts. The Zimbabwe nutjob Mugabe who after creating famine in his once well-fed country is letting contracts to hunters to come and decimate elephants and tigers and other wildlife in order to raise money. Cats and dogs have been and continue to be capriciously bred until there are millions in shelters languishing unwanted and waiting to be exterminated. Every day all over the world wild habitat's are being destroyed, displacing inhabitants left to die or to be slaughtered. Ivory and tiger pelts continue to flood the west because of insatiable demand. And I could go on and on.

MrsWhatsit said...

Bearbee, you said "much" of the suffering of wild animals was caused by humans. Neither circus nor zoo exotic animals are wild. Dogs and cats aren't, either, except for the feral ones, and the suffering of the feral ones is caused at least as much by nature as by humans. I don't disagree that humans cause suffering to wild animals -- of course we do. But much, much, much more of it is caused by the nature of things, and once again, if we disappeared, the animals would go right on suffering. Sorry, but you neither supported your initial statement nor refuted a word I said.

bearbee said...

1. I did not say all nor I did not say most I said much.

2.My statement referenced both wild AND domesticated.

Neither circus nor zoo exotic animals are wild

You are wrong. Elephants, tigers, lions are wild. Many are captured and imported. Others are bred but remain wild and NOT domesticated animals.

Palladian said...

Cat crawling inside a wall? This confirms my theory that cats are basically just big, fuzzy, whiskery roaches. If they looked more like roaches, and acted as they do, you would step on them.

The can also help spread bird flu to humans, turn you into a slut or a smoldering malcontent, cause schizophrenia, go on destructive rampages... In fact, after you read the laundry list of diseases that the purring vermin can spread, you'll toss them right out the window.

amba said...

Bearbee, tigers aren't hunted so much for their pelts but for their penises. Chinese, observing the feline's ability to copulate tirelessly many times in succession, concluded that ground-up tiger penises would be a sort of homeopathic Viagra. Apparently environmentalists have at least considered using the new ED drugs to save wildlife.

Johnny Nucleo said...

I'm not a psychologist, but I have seen every episode of M.A.S.H. In one episiode Hotlips broke-down over the death of dog. It was a transference of her grief over all the death she had seen.

Michael Farris said...

"Mugabe who after creating famine in his once well-fed country is letting contracts to hunters to come and decimate elephants and tigers and other wildlife in order to raise money"

Well, if they can afford to import _tigers_ to Zimbabwe, they must not be doing that badly. Am I the _only_ one who watches the Discovery Channel?

On the broader question of why people get all emotional over pets (their own and others). Domestic animals have a special kind of consideration because:
a) we know them, the same way your cousin will be more important than the next door neighbor kid.
b) we've put them in a context where _we_ are their only chance. People, presumably can look out for themselves as can the undomesticated animals (including mice). Pets routinely have to function in a world they don't understand in the slightest and are unable to survive in without our near constant protection and care. Giving protection and care is a surefire way to instill bonding (look at human babies who are no charmers in many ways except for their total helplessness, if they acted like two-year olds at birth how would we survive as a species?)

Mom said...

Yes, bearbee, I saw and quoted your use of the word "much" and not "most" or "all." As applied to animals presently living in the wild, I disagree with any suggestion that humans cause "much" of whatever suffering they may experience. I was not responding to the part of your statement that referenced domesticated or captive animals.

Whatever the technical definition of the term "wild animal" may be, it seems to me that meaningful discussion of the living conditions of animals is impossible if we can't distinguish between unowned animals living on their own in the wild and owned animals living in captivity in zoos or circuses. That would probably be the reason that the zoological and veterinary professions use the term "exotic" rather than "wild" as a shorthand descriptor for currently captive animals that existed originally or historically in the wild.

As to the lions and tigers (and bears??! Oh my!) in Zimbabwe, Michael's comment is revealing. I don't like Mugabwe any more than you do and I am no supporter of trophy hunting. The fact remains that if we want to know whether hunting increases the suffering of these animals, we need to know what would have killed the animals if hunters hadn't come along. Something would have, and it probably wouldn't have been pleasant. I don't have the facts at hand to conclude which death entails more suffering -- a "natural" one or one caused by the bullet. But my guess is that, if you asked the dying animal, you'd find that there's very little difference.

bearbee said...

"We define as "wild" any animals, whether captive born or wild caught, who have not been domesticated, i.e., have not been genetically controlled over a very long period of time and specifically adapted to live in close proximity to humans.


Michael Farris do you think perhaps this is why Zimbabwe is importing tigers?

British tourists fuel Africa's cruel trade in 'canned hunting'
By Jonathan Brown and Rob Sharp
Published: 01 April 2006
British tourists are fuelling a booming industry reliant on the slaughter of thousands of lions and other exotic animals by travelling to Africa to hunt semi-tame big game.

Rich huntsmen are willing to pay up to £625,000 a time to shoot and stuff animals bred commercially for their sport as part of the so-called "canned hunting" trade.

Article Length: 909 words (approx.)
Cruel Trade

tcd said...

I think dick's comment is right on.
The only donation I made for Katrina was to the AKC and not because I didn't care about what happened to the human victims of Katrina. I just thought that getting your pet dog or cat back alive and healthy would be tremendously uplifting for a pet-owner affected by Katrina. I know it would help me if I was in the same situation.