"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kicking Cats–Animal Rights In The Modern Age

My Uncle Guido has always wondered about the big fuss for animal rights. Chickens are the dumbest creatures that God every created, he said, and paying them any mind except for picking out a good bird for roasting was downright silly. Yes, they lived cockade by bunghole in Frank Perdue’s holding pens, held up by trusses to give their spindly legs an assist as their breast grew to plump grilling size.  Yes, they pecked and squirted their beak-by-jowl neighbors; and yes their diet was always chicken feed from egg to butcher knife…But, and this is a big but…they are too stupid to notice.  As far as a chicken is concerned, things couldn’t be better. Plenty of food, close companionship, and a short, but happy life.

Cruelty is a subjective term whether for animals or humans. Uncle Guido thinks that just being in the same room with Angie Vitello, his cousin, is cruel and unusual punishment, and if you want to feel sorry for anyone, have pity on her poor husband Victor who, because of her large treasury (her father, Armand, made a small fortune in concrete and mortarboard) and his sketchy employment history, remains in her thrall.  Strange as it seems, however, there are men who would love to be trussed up and whipped by Angie, and feel that life with her would be a fantasy come true.  So while animal rights defenders may consider Eastern Shore poultry farms nothing more than latter-day Soviet gulags, the chickens themselves – from their own point of view, such as it is – couldn’t be better off.

Uncle Guido is apt to go on about the phylogenetic scale when he gets worked up about ‘cruelty’ to animals. Too much God and wooly thinking in the layman’s appraisal as to what is or isn’t a sentient being.  He asks whether or not salmonella twitch and squirm when they are doused with doxycycline; or whether the millions of microbes squished and trampled by lobbyists on the steps of the Capitol feel pain and agony. “Of course they don’t”, reply most listeners trapped in a corner regaled by Uncle Guido’s harangues.

“How do you know?”, he says, jutting his nose into the face of the other. “Ay, there’s the rub!”

More importantly, Guido goes on, is the issue of relativity. “What do we do with masochists?”, he howls to anyone willing to listen. “Throw them into the dustbin of history? Marginalize them? Toss them out of polite society because they love pain? No, we include them as part of our diverse, multi-cultural society.”

Not everybody got the point, but if you listened to Uncle Guido long enough, you would learn that he was a relativist’s relativist. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander; or de gustibus non disputandum est. “And chickens are too goddam stupid to know whether a pinprick hurts or is a divine wakeup call from their avian deity”.

What incensed Guido most was the “blatant hypocrisy” of the animal rights shills.  You never see them outside of Ace Hardware picketing the sale of Roach Motels or Ortho Wasp and Stinging Insect Killer.  “Have you ever watched the death throes of a cockroach caught in a Roach Motel?”, he asked rhetorically. “Well, I have, and it’s not a pretty sight.”

Of course he had no sympathy whatsoever for these vile, plague-carrying insects.  One morning in his hotel in Santo Domingo he found a three-inch cucaracha munching away on the bristles of his toothbrush, and he wondered for how many days he had been brushing roach eggs into his gums.

As a young man, he took a small, inexpensive apartment in the Lower East Side of New York, and as he moved in, his neighbor across the hall advised him to get a ‘roach bomb’.  Guido, fresh from the wealthy Connecticut suburbs, had no idea what he meant. “You got to a-nihilate them muthafuckas”, the neighbor said. “Otherwise you be eating, shitting, and drinking bugs.”

So he bought a can of roach spray, hooked it on ‘Open’ to let the DDT spew into his room unassisted, and left for the day.  When he returned after work, the floor, counters, and sinks were covered with dead roaches.  Good riddance, he said.

Guido said he watched a friend sympathetic to animal welfare (pound dogs, cat shelters, contributions to fight puppy mills), shoot a stream of the most poisonous and deadly wasp killer on the market right into the hive of yellow jackets lodged in the crook of tree above his patio.  After the papier-mâché hive got good and soaked, the bees started to fly out – not the straight bee-line flight we are used to, but a wobbly, unsteady, and crazy spinning until they dropped to the flagstones buzzing and twitching.

A true animal-lover, Guido opined, would live in a hermetically-sealed house which had been first been scoured and cleansed of all living creatures (their miserable deaths would be on the conscience of the previous owner); and would drink sterilized water (again, the killing of microbes would be the moral responsibility of Culligan) with specially hydrogenated and dissolved vegetable protein.  Since he would never get sick, he would not have to take antibiotics.

Even this purist would be living a lie, however, because as both Aristotle and Kant wrote, there is no such thing as ‘moral deference’. Buying products which have been purified, sanitized, and sterilized makes the purchaser complicit in the producer’s moral dereliction.  To make matters worse, there is no such thing as a sterile house. Things creep in through the cracks, get stepped on, and killed.

Which brings me to the recent story about a Brooklyn man who kicked an alley cat. A predictable debate has raged about the so-called ‘abuse’, and the authorities are threatening the man with jail. While there is no doubt that the man did give the cat a swift kick, and according to witnesses sent it flying back into the dumpster where it and ten other alley cats were feeding, we have yet to hear the kicker’s story.  Some witnesses say that the cat attacked him, and that feral cats in Brownsville were known to be aggressive and diseased.

Uncle Guido, never one to shy away from controversy, weighed in quickly on this one. Cats are a pestilence, he said, devilish creatures which have insinuated themselves into human society to do evil.   In the Renaissance, Guido reminded us, cats were  thought to be witches’ familiars.  “Remember Greymalkin?”, he asked, “the first witch's familiar in the opening scene of Macbeth?”

In other words kicking a wild, diseased, aggressive, and evil alley cat was doing the world a service. “Yes”, he said, leaving his phylogenetic arguments aside for the moment, “kicking a cat down the road, sentient though he may be, is good work”.

Someone reminded him of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in which Karenin, the dog is one of the main characters.  Kundera believed that dogs brought lost innocence back to humanity, and Karenin was a saint.  “Maybe”, replied Uncle Guido, “but dogs just balance out cats”, so pay neither one of them any mind.  “It’s a cultural thing”, he want on. “The Chinese eat dogs and cook cats up in moo goo gai pan at the Peking Garden downtown.

“The Brooklyn kicker hated cats and for good reason”, Guido concluded.  “So what? Besides”, he went on, “if you’re a cat, getting kicked is part of the job.  If you raid dumpsters for a living, what do you expect?”

At the same time Guido was religious in a thinking man’s kind of way.  He believed it when God said that Man was to hold dominion over the beasts:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

‘Dominion’ meant do what you want with them; and while he approved of shooting crippled horses, he knew that any parsing of ‘pain’ or ‘cruel indifference’ was fraught with philosophical loopholes. If one followed the ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ moral commandment, then his friend who had squirted DDT on the yellow jackets in Chevy Chase, Maryland, should have stepped on and squished every single one of the 200 squirming bees he had mortally wounded with his death ray.

As he got older, Guido lightened up on his anti-animal rights crusade.  The animus faded, and he simply avoided cats and dogs, turned down dinner invitations from friends who fawned over their pets, and gave up preaching about moral relativism, Biblical injunction, and the stone-like stupidity of chickens.

Only one thing stuck in his craw – the new fad of keeping chickens as pets, which was bad enough, but the growth of ‘Poultry hospices’ for lame and abandoned pet birds was too much for him to stand.  He could understand his father flushing down the toilet the little yellow Easter chicks he had bought for us children; but providing a home for hobbled, senile (if senility is at all possible in chickens) barnyard peckers was simply over the top.

Chickens on porch

In his late 80s Guido moved to Utah:

Utah is home to some of the most diabolical cat haters in all of America. There’s nothing in the state constitution mandating cat hatred, but the state does have the lowest percentage of households with cats of any U.S. State—a measly 24.6%. It also has  the 4th fewest no-kill shelters and the 4th fewest Facebook “likes” of for cats per capita of any state.

Louisiana was next on his list, but the summers were too hot.

Snapshot 1:20:14 11:00 AM

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