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As Your Guardian, I Demand That You Sit

Both ends of the leash change roles.......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 21, 2000.

The Summer Solstice, the year's longest day. Enjoy it.

However, since you're here with me, make do. We have a hot weather conversation topic.

An interesting debate has swirled around a new book by one Stephen Wise, an attorney from Harvard who has thrown his saddle across the back of person-hood for animals. He has written a book called Rattling the Cage, Legal Rights for Animals. An offshoot of this book and movement appeared in Boulder a few weeks ago when our heroic activists tried to get legal status for their kept animals elevated from pet to companion and ourselves from species slave owner to caretaker. This is an easy to make fun of theory, and I will, but it also - despite all the bombast - has some cruelly difficult and important points, points we ought to revisit often to keep the ethical and mental machines tuned and humming.

In many ways - perhaps most - it is impossible to argue with this position. Anyone who has owned a cat or dog, and who has not raised them behind the trailer for fighting rats or other dogs on Saturday nights, knows that mammal companions offer the sort of pure companionship and comfort that other people rarely can, and that they do so with no emotional baggage or history plus they like you to rest your feet on their tummy when it's cold. I know dogs laugh in their way, that they grieve, and that they know when you're upset and out of sorts. When I had a house in the mountains on Magnolia Road, my two dogs would curdle my bladder once or twice a year and howl at the moon, or the rocks, or the bats or whatever the hell they felt like. What was apparent was that they liked the sound and they liked doing it together, sitting shoulder to shoulder, heads thrown back, tails gently wagging on the ground. I like to sing with others myself. When I had to put them down separately in their old age, I felt as if I had shot my children.

So let us say that Mr. Wise and his position do not fall on stone with me.

I will further say that the torture of animals so that Heidi Klum can merchandise a new lipstick or skin cream, or so that science can have actual proof that dogs cannot swim for ten miles in thirty degree water is so clearly a crime that it bears no discussion.

Medical research, though. Mr. Wise does not say if he does or will forego the benefits of animal experimentation for himself or family. He cannot have it both ways. Nor can we. If we refuse to use the benefits of this research, there is no market and it will end. Simple. If you are not willing to do that, you have no right to condemn the practice. But we live in a whiffle world. We don't want to know the horrors of the stockyard hammer beneath the cookouts and barbecues. We don't want to see the pictures of HIV chimps dying in uncomprehending agony in a gray and filthy cage if a vaccine derived will save festive Uncle Stefan. We are, as a species, hypocrites: the only species that can be. Further, if animals have rights, similar to man's, what would be their responsibilities? That is the other end of the stick. People have, on paper, obligations of law sometimes and expectation always to justify their rights in society. And, if sitting on the couch and burping next to you while shedding a pound of hair a day is their obligation for free room and board, aren't we cruel not to extend it to other humans? And are you willing to forego killing flies, mosquitoes, centipedes? If we are not fit to judge between man and other mammals, why between mammals and insects, arachnids, squid?

In final hyperbole, who are we to judge that animals have more rights than plants to live? All this talk about consciousness is vague and eerie, given that many people don't have any and there are those who suggest that plants might. Are we willing to acknowledge that Nature gave us meat rending teeth, that Chimps are cannibals and make war on each other, hunt and eat monkeys, and that they have all the endearing attributes of a shortsighted and feral street gang with no redeeming features whatever? And, as cruel and unpleasant as it is, as animals, many are incompetent. As opposed to the coyote, the shark, and the roach, the Panda, the Koala, the Orangutan, and the gorilla do not adapt, do not recognize the need, do not evolve. Are dead ends. They are saved even though nature has passed judgement against them because man finds them cute. So why isn't it okay to use them for our purposes? I'm with you, it shouldn't be right, but I cannot formulate a reason that is consistent with all the other issues it touches on.

This is DC, we'll see you next week.