Raimond Gaita tells illuminating stories about his dog and other animals he has known and loved, and the respect they earned from him. He asks if we give animals and birds the credit they deserve and whether they are more like us than we think. Can they think and love, and what of philosophy? He quotes Kato Indian creation story: ‘ God went forth to create the world, and he took his dog with him’.
Catholic Nuns and priests taught us that we humans were made ‘special’ in the eyes of God and that animals were put on this earth to serve us. Many of us grew up with this Christian belief and the world has suffered for it; multiple extinctions, loss of habitats. As someone said to me “animals and insects can live without us but we cannot live without them”. Now, we understand ecology, the importance of balance in nature and bio-diversity. I hope it is not too late. The only saint I ever heard about who respected and loved animals was the hermit St Francis of Assisi, but I always felt as a child, that he was considered a little bit strange compared to other saints. Perhaps he knew more than those humans who lived around him.
I have seen many instances overseas, where beasts of burden such as donkeys are treated with cruelty and virtually starved even though they are expected to work long hours. People still believe that animals, if not here to serve us, then they are here for us to eat, nothing more. The conditions in which animals in some countries are slaughtered, for human consumption, are heartbreaking. I cannot imagine how many millions of animals have been massacred in the name of sport; from the Romans and their blood sports in the coliseum to the safaris in Africa where men could prove their maleness and bravery by shooting elephants and lions, to name a few.
In my book, Whatever Happened to Ishtar? I write about the time my father drowned two white mice in front of me. I had brought them home from school, excited about my new pets. Without saying a word, he grabbed them from me, one in each hand and held them under a tubful of water, with me clinging to his arm and screaming as I watched the little pink feet thrashing about. My Lebanese extended family thought nothing of poisoning animals and I have my suspicions that my uncle killed my pet pigeon. It wasn’t until I got married and had four children of my own, and we all lived with a menagerie of animals for many years, with their birthing, sicknesses, and dying, that I learned to love and respect them. We learned so much about life from our pets. Sometimes, I believe they are much smarter than humans and that they will probably be living on this earth long after humanity has extinguished itself. I guess it is all about education and perspective; thank goodness we have TV, the internet and science. There is no excuse now.
Raimond Gaita has a forward in his book written by Cora Diamond:
“The difference between human beings and animals is not to be discovered by studies of Washoe or the activities of dolphins. It is not the sort of study or theology or evolutionary theory that is going to tell us the difference between us and animals; the difference is as I have suggested, a central concept for human life and is more an object of contemplation than observation (though that might be misunderstood; I am not suggesting it is a matter of intuition). One source of confusion here is that we fail to distinguish between ‘the difference between animals and people’ and ‘the differences between animals and people’; the same sort of confusion occurs in discussions of the relationship of men and women. In both cases people appeal to scientific evidence to show that ‘the difference’ is not as deep as we think; but all that such evidence can show, or show directly, is that the differences are less sharp than we think. In the case of the difference between animals and people, it is clear that we form the idea of this difference, create the concept of the difference, knowing perfectly well the overwhelmingly obvious similarities”.