Saturday, February 9, 2008

So what exactly, are we OK with?

Attached is a recent picture of my son's pet ferrets. Last week, the white ferret succumbed to a type of cancer of the pancreas. The tumours on her pancreas affected the secretion of insulin into her blood stream. During the brief 8 months that this condition manifested, we (my husband, myself and anyone who happened to be in the house and receive the brief lecture) became adept at recognizing the signs of an impending attack. To counter the high level of insulin, we had to get some sugar into her. Sometimes, it was fairly easy as she would be in the very early stages of an attack. But others times, she would be in what appeared to be a full coma. You would think that after 8 months of scheduling our lives around this little ferret's attacks, we would have been relieved to see her pass away. I would have thought this especially for my husband, who got up faithfully, every night at around 2:30 to give "Gracie" her high sugar content sap, so that she would make it through the night. And you would think we were prepared to handle her demise as it was "to be expected".
Last Monday night, when I got home from work, she was rather lethargic. Despite a generous dosage of syrups and sap, she did not recover as she always had. I left her bundled up in her cage to do a few things, make some dinner, etc. Once done, I again picked her up and tried to get some sugar into her (we were using a infant's syringe to administer the diluted sugar concoction into her mouth or rubbing as much sap on her gum line). Still carrying her around by the time my husband got home from work, he also tried. But within a short time, she began convulsing. Both of us held her during this episode. Eventually, after about two hours of violent whole body seizures, she settled into a coma. The next morning, she was no better and was still comatose. My husband, somehow, gathered up the strength and took her to a local cat hospital where she was euthanized. At the end of my work day, I picked up her little body and brought it home so we could bury her in the spring. I cried a lot that evening. I know my husband and son also shed tears.
You might ask to what is the point of all this? It was just a ferret. We must be some kind of weird emotional animal types. Why all this drama over a dumb animal compared to the nightmarish suffering going on all over the whole globe at any given moment?
A brief and simple explanation: love, attachment and compassion.
At dinner, a night or so after this took place, I mentioned to my husband how much I missed her energy, her curiousity, her gentleness (not once did she every hurt us by biting), her little licks, seeing her scampering across the floor or playing with Coco, the other ferret. With all the years that we have had "pets", have they all not exhibited the same behaviour and traits? How can we deny that this is the same for all other animals, be they domesticated or wild? Whether or not we understand the complexities of other species, we can at least consider that they are here for their own purposes. I question again, how easily we eat animals?
As some have reasoned, the animals we eat are raised for that purpose, why else would they be here? Or, our ancestors ate meat, so it is natural that we do. Not exactly accurate... and the often stated "I'm OK with eating meat". This particularly irks me. I have yet to confront someone after hearing that statement. But I would like to ask, what is it about miserable living conditions, abusive handling, terrifying, mass slaughter, removing newly born offspring away from the mother, that you are OK with?
None of us are without complicity. The consumption of animals and the use of the by-products is such a huge industry. But I strongly feel that we as a society are "OK" with it because, most people do not understand or feel compassion with regards to this particular matter. We are brought up with a "dualistic" point of view - everything is outside of us and separate from us. Hence we are able to separate from the issue, never considering animals as deserving rights. Once labeled and identified as objects for our sustenance, the question never arises again for some.
But if conditions change, as they did for me, and you "see" with a different eye, your attitude will also change. I am shocked at how easily it was for me, one little person, to eat so many animals in my years and never give it a second thought (not even a first thought!). Now only a short step away from the meat-eating culture, and really only a few years, I do consider how a piece of cheese or a bit of milk in my coffee came to be there. (Recently the Canadian dairy council put some huge 1/4 page ads in the local newspapers. The marketing was all a-glow with love and health and I just thought what a pile of bull-shit that was!)
When the life force that animated our little Gracie, the same force that animates me and all of us, was terminated, I grieved for her. We are all one and the same.
This spring when the ground thaws enough, my husband and I will dig a little hole and lay her body in it, to break down the components. Some Lily of the Valley or other plants will grow over the spot.

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