29th January 2016
I think I could turn and live with animals… They do not sweat and whine about their condition; they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; not one is dissatisfied; not one is demented with the mania of owning things.
Walt Whitman (American poet 1819-92)
Years ago I used to think it rather odd when people expressed a passionate love of animals. It wasn’t something I understood. My grandmother (a monarchist) had a corgi called Whiskey but that was at the end of the fifties and I can’t remember when happened to the dog, so obviously he didn’t loom large in my mind. When I was about fifteen I got a kitten against the wishes of my parents. Mickey was a sweet black and white cat who lived until a good age, long after I’d left home.
In 1994 I bought my ex-husband a black Labrador puppy called Billie, followed by a rough collie called Sam, but although I took good care of those dogs, I didn’t LOVE them. Then came my rescue Maltese, Bonnie – abandoned, tied to a tree, in Bath in 2002. Then I fell in love – and just as a ratchet moves on, so I moved on, learning to love one animals and extending that love to others too.
The other side of that is, I’m afraid, a sense of disillusionment with the human race. For years I have basked in my easy optimism, always believing the glass to be half full. These days I don’t find that so easy. The reasons will be obvious to anyone who reads a newspaper…but let’s not dwell on the miseries of the world and the stupidity (often well-meaning) of people who don’t think things through.
I chose the quotation by Walt Whitman (not sure where it’s from) because I find myself feeling homicidal when I read stories about cruelty to animals and it’s a short step from that rage to thinking that, actually, you prefer animals to people. Now, mistake me not – I DON’T…not really. But sometimes it’s certainly a close call.
Given a choice as to which one I would save from death – the poor dog thrown from a moving car, breaking one leg (then taken to Happy Landings Animal Shelter, where I heard the story) and the utter shit who threw the animal…..Well, is there any contest? I’d pick the dog, of course.
Whitman lists a set of human failings which we’re all aware of – and perhaps especially somebody like me who writes an advice column! It’s not that I’m unsympathetic, because I do my own share of moaning, angsting and coveting. But animals (especially dogs) just get on with living and if they are treated well they live well. Yes, I can (and do) live with animals. And I respect and love them so much for the strange purity of their lives.
In that sense they possess innate wisdom. In that sense they have much to teach us.