Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is Common?

"Common knowledge". I hate that phrase. It means, "don't examine this idea". It wasn't very long ago that it was "common knowledge" that human babies could not feel pain. Think of all the suffering that caused.

As I write each post in this blog, I am railing against the "common knowledge" about animals. Animals are as alive and aware as you and I, but "common knowledge" locks out most of that reality.

The word "common" itself implies restrictions. It's a big, wide, wonderful world out there, but we only experience a little of it. What is common is a small subset of reality.

Things get really scary when the government steps in and not only decides what is "common" but that ONLY "common" things are acceptable.

Consider this story, from the New York Times (You can read more about it here and here):
Ann Edie is blind and when she goes out for an evening walk she goes with Panda, her guide miniature horse.

There are no sidewalks in Edie’s neighborhood, so Panda led her along the street’s edge, maneuvering around drainage ditches, mailboxes and bags of raked leaves. At one point, Panda paused and waited for a car to pass. She led Edie onto a lawn so she wouldn’t hit her head on the side mirror of a parked van, then to a traffic pole at a busy intersection, where she stopped and tapped her hoof. “Find the button,” Edie said. Panda raised her head inches from the pole so Edie could run her hand along Panda’s nose to find and press the “walk” signal button.

Edie isn’t the only blind person who uses a guide horse instead of a dog — there’s actually a Guide Horse Foundation that’s been around nearly a decade. The obvious question is, Why? Edie says there are many reasons: miniature horses are mild-mannered, trainable and less threatening than large dogs. They’re naturally cautious and have exceptional vision, with eyes set far apart for nearly 360-degree range. Plus, they’re herd animals, so they instinctively synchronize their movements with others. But the biggest reason is age: miniature horses can live and work for more than 30 years. In that time, a blind person typically goes through five to seven guide dogs. That can be draining both emotionally and economically, because each one can cost up to $60,000 to breed, train and place in a home. And yes, Panda is house trained.

After the initial shock of seeing a horse walk into a cafe, or ride in a car, watching them work together makes the idea of guide miniature horses seem utterly logical. Even normal. But the United States government is considering a proposal that would force Edie and many others like her to stop using their service animals. The government would outlaw and force people to give up the monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck. Why? They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go.

Because some people get upset at seeing these uncommon animals, the Department of Justice is considering limiting the definition of service animals to a “dog or other common domestic animal,” and specifically excludingwild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig or goat), ferrets, amphibians and rodents.”
What we have here is a set of people with special needs who have discovered a wide variety of viable, working solutions to their needs in the form of a wide variety of animals, who are responsive to their needs. But because some people are uncomfortable with seeing uncommon animals in the role of service animals, the government will lower the boom and restrict everyone's lives to a small subset of animals that are deemed common enough to be acceptable.

And don't even get me started on the nonsense myths behind the phrase "wild animals".

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