Friday, March 20, 2009

Why I Do It

I was recently asked, since you are against bans on "exotic" pets, what do you feel a "wild" animal has to gain by being made "domestic"?

What do I think the animals have to gain? A place to live, mostly. There just isn't that much "wild" left anymore. Siberian tiger numbers in the wild are down to what, 400 now? There used to be 13 times that many tigers owned by people just in Texas!

A place to live and a loving environment is my vision. Just as important is education of our general society. Look at the story of Christian, how much good that has done. If the ban on owning a lion had been put into place 4 years earlier, none of it would ever have happened.

Bear in mind that my point of view includes the idea that an animal should not be treated as a mere possession. People should be educated and qualified to take care of any animal. I can point out plenty of people who really shouldn't own dogs, but they do. But that's OK in society's eyes because dogs are common animals and therefore acceptable. But when people regard a dog as just a thing, or just a burglar alarm, or something that is supposed to switch off when they want it to, the dogs suffers for it--and so do people. When I started researching dog attack statistics the other day, I was really surprised by the extent of the problem.

I believe the terms "domesticated animals" and "wild animals" are based on myths. There are plenty of dogs I wouldn't get within 20 feet of, and lions and tigers I would gladly hug. The proper terms are "socialized" and "not socialized". There is work that must be done to socialize any animal, even the ones labeled "domesticated": the work of establishing a proper relationship. When you look at the details of the lion Christian's life in London, you see that Ace and John socialized this lion very well, without taking away any of his natural personality (George Adamson later remarked that they had not "de-lion-ized" him). And when they brought Christian to George Adamson for a life in Africa, Adamson had to "socialize" Christian in the ways of lions' society. Christian was neither wild nor domesticated; he was socialized in the ways of two different societies.

I have talked firsthand with people who have lions, tigers, cougars, or other big cats. Their love and devotion to their animals is obvious, and the animals return the same. This is what I want to stress in my articles here--that animals think, feel, and love just as strongly as you do. If you treat them as a fellow personality, they will respond.

I don't even think performing animals have it bad. I talked with a lady who performed in a small circus with several leopards--by reputation, a difficult cat to handle--and her love of the leopards was obvious and the cats seemed happy. Even old Clyde Beatty seemed to be attuned to the personalities of his lions and tigers. "Facing the Big Cats" is a very interesting book. As has been said many times by people who know, you cannot mistreat these animals and then go in to perform with them unless you are suicidal.

In one of my earliest articles here I included this quote:

If you talk to the animals, they will talk to you, and you will know them.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them.
And what you do not know, you will fear,
and what one fears, one will destroy. -- Chief Dan George

Our society today seems to be based on fears of something bad that might happen. But when you legislate away the chance that something bad might happen, you also take away the opportunity for something good to happen. As I said, Christian's story had to happen 40 years ago; it's not allowed to happen today. And as people separate themselves more and more from animals, animals become expendable, unimportant to their lives. For most people, "common" is the only thing that's acceptable, and as they are exposed to less and less, then less and less of the real world is common to them, and more and more is unacceptable. In this article I showed that there are a wide variety of "uncommon" service animals--with very good reasons behind them--that are very close to being taken away from people and the only reason is that they are uncommon and some people feel uncomfortable just seeing them. (Seriously, this is a federal ban that is still in danger of being enacted.)

So how can people begin to care about how many tigers are left in the world if "tiger" is just a vague concept to them?

Should everyone own a lion? No. A lion shouldn't be kept in a garage all his life, as some have. But a human girl shouldn't be kept in a basement all her life either, and yet no one proposes a ban on people having children. Education, personal responsibility, and animal welfare laws are what's necessary. I'm trying to provide some of the necessary education, by showing that animals are far more than the mere instinct-driven "biological machines" that people usually take them for.

I'll give an example of what I would like to accomplish. This is a moment of reality in a work of fiction: In the movie "Fierce Creatures", watch the scene in which Jamie Lee Curtis' character makes eye contact with a gorilla. She realizes there is a person behind the gorilla's eyes looking back into her eyes, and her whole outlook is transformed. The zoo's keepers see this transformation and say, "You've made contact." (The scene runs from 4:20 to 6:40 in this clip.) This sort of transformation is real, and it is what I wish I could bring to the entire world.

This transformation, or awakening, will make the uncommon become real in people's lives and that is the only way people will allow animals to survive.

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