Monday, September 29, 2014

The Human/Animal Connection and Bond


Early connection?  Wild Canada geese making friends with and learning to trust humans in Central Park yesterday.
A little girl making early connection to animals.
Carriage horses leading the way in Central Park.
Tony and Prince -- a horse who truly lives up to his name and seems to enjoy close bond with his human(s). .
Sunday in Central Park. A family of four Canada geese interacting with people at the Boat Lake. Dogs chasing balls and returning to caregivers in the early morning. Carriage horses strolling easy and familiar route as their drivers point interesting sights to passengers.
.
These are all examples of the human/animal connection.
.
But, what exactly is human/animal connection and bond?  
.
Well, for some animals domesticated over thousands of years, such as dogs and horses, the bonds go back a long way and incorporate everything from working with the animals to selectively breeding them for specific tasks, to using them for fun or sporting activities, to keeping them as "pets" for companionship. 
.
Some can argue the merits or "morality" of domesticating animals in the first place, specifically for human use and sadly in many cases abuse.  (Particularly true of modern meat and dairy production of cows, pigs, chickens and other animals via intensive "factory farm" practices.)
.
But, that is like closing the barn door long after the horse or cow has left (literally).
.
Reality is, we are not going to "undomesticate" billions of human-reliant animals short of releasing them all to the wilds and woods and wishing them "good luck."
.
Were we actually to do that to animals so long dependent on humans over centuries, most would perish within a few short years or at the very least, live harsh, unpredictable and perhaps even lonely or terrifying lives.
.
Presumably, over a few generations, many domesticated species could revert back to a "feral" state (assuming enough survived long enough to reproduce), but life for most wild animals is challenging at best and short and cruel at worst. 
.
If a wild predator species, most of life consists of trying to capture prey species who, over time, develop adaptations to avoid being eaten. If a prey species, nearly all of life is taken up by constant vigilance to avoid predation and seeking food.  True, virtually all wild animals find time for mating, raising young and sometimes just kicking back and sun bathing or even playing and having fun.  But, most of the time for wild animals is devoted to not-so-simple survival. Anyone doubting these realities only need watch a few National Geographic documentaries.
.
There are some people in the Animal Rights movement who believe it was wrong to ever domesticate animals in the first place and that all "use" of or "working" with animals is inherently wrong on its face.
.
I personally don't believe this because it appears that many animal species apparently decided centuries ago that forming a kind of alliance/connection/trust with humans benefited them in more ways than it harmed them. (Animals frequently make these kinds of calculated decisions in the wild.)  One for example, wonders what was going through the first wolf's head who accepted a bone from a human or the first cat who figured out that hanging around humans brought with it, certain benefits like easy food and sheltering?
.
Has such "decision" (if it truly was that) worked out for most animals who are now considered domesticated?
.
Yes and no, depending on the species and humans' general treatment of them through the ages.
.
One could rightly argue that even nature is not as cruel as humans can be to those they consider to be of lesser value and importance. -- Those they consider deserving of no rights and merely deemed "property" like a inanimate clock or a chair.
.
But, on the other side of that question are the animals who have largely benefited from human bond and connection. Particularly, domesticated dogs, cats and horses who generally live longer and easier lives with humans than do their wild counterparts without humans. (Sadly, we cannot say the same for most domesticated chickens, cows and pigs.)
.
The good news for many domesticated animals -- particularly dogs, cats and horses -- is that "rights" for them are now being recognized in courts and it is incumbent upon "owners" to provide proper food, sheltering and medical care or owners risk having animals confiscated or potentially facing animal cruelty charges. 
.
Laws protecting "food animals" are, unfortunately, far weaker and less often enforced.  (Most animals killed for meat or experimented on in laboratories, for example are not even covered under the federal Animal Welfare Act.)
.
Certainly, if one is concerned about "abuse" of animals and lack of protective law, then it seems the first place to set sights and focus should be the abuse and killing of more than 5 billion "food" animals a year in our country (most of them slaughtered at young age and subjected to the stresses associated with intensive factory farming).
.
Certainly too, all is not bliss in the dog, cat and horse worlds.  Though the numbers are way down from previous decades, (thanks to spay/neuter programs), we still kill several million cats and dogs in shelters every year.  And 160,000 horses were apparently sent to slaughter last year from the US, many of them, comparatively young and capable of living a productive life.
.
All of these represent areas that still need work, focus and law in order to mitigate animal neglect and cruelty and to hopefully bring out the best of the animal/human connection.
.
But, one area (in my personal view) that does not appear to warrant specific focus and attention for alleged "animal abuse" are the carriage horses in Central Park (though ironically they have been the center of Animal Rights and media attention in New York City for some years).
.
The horses of Central Park, their owners and caregivers and the thousands of people who pass or interact with them on a daily basis actually seem to represent the best of the animal/human connection and bond.
.
The horses seem to enjoy a steady and comparatively safe and easy routine. They appear to want to please their humans and they get plenty of attention and moderate exercise.  Moreover, the horses never have to search good quality food, be fearful of predators or anticipate death if suffering a treatable injury or illness.
.
Isn't that what we ideally desire for most of our domestic and/or companion animals?
.
Yesterday, I spent good part of the afternoon simply observing human/animal connection and bond.
.
I saw it in the happy faces of city dogs walking on leash beside their caregivers.  I saw it in the faces of "wild" geese making preliminary connection with humans and learning to trust. And I saw it in the faces of relaxed horses either walking (or in two cases, actually trotting!) slowly through familiar route in Central Park as humans softly murmured in the carriages behind them.
.
But, perhaps I saw the human/animal bond most of all in a horse named, "Prince" and his owner/driver, Tony.  Yes, Prince is a wee bit "spoiled" and has truly lived up to his name in more ways than one.  Though 17-years-old, Prince has the confident spirit of a youngster and the sheer "chutzpah" to let any human know what he wants and when he wants it. (Prince will nudge his head into your chest in demand for treat!) 
.
When remarking to Tony how youthful and vibrant Prince appears, the caregiver responded with a chuckle, "Well, he gets his Glucosamine and supplements every day. I want to keep him that way!"  
.
Ah, the human/animal connection and bond. Though there have been many grievous and unfortunate stumbles along the way, when finally accomplished right, it is sheer magic and joy to behold. -- PCA
.
.
.
                                                 ***********
'

2 comments:

portwashguy said...

Patty Thanks for another great blog post. I wish more people could look past a rigid philosophy to see the actual facts on the ground - in this case that there is a wonderful bond between the carriage horses and their drivers and other people and that they are not abused. In so many areas of our daily lives, we are blinded from seeing the truth because we have a rigid set of beliefs and philosophies.

PCA said...

Thank you so much. I very much appreciate such kind and thoughtful post.

You are so correct about people getting locked into rigid position where truth and whole picture gets lost.

No one benefits from these situations of labeling and name-calling, least of all, the animals.

Hoping reason can ultimately prevail, but its hard to say that will actually happen. We seem to live in a world of such polarization these days. One is either on one side or the other. Anyone in the middle is perceived as "enemy" by both sides/extremes.