Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When a Cigar is Just a Cigar



This one got me thinking, a comment posted online in response to today's Pet Tales column.

The essay was a nostalgic look at the writer's first pet 54 years ago, a wild blue belly lizard caught by her father. The person who posted the comment noted their disappointment that the lack of editorializing made it appear as if, by using this essay, I had condoned this act of "animal cruelty." She/he wrote:

"The immoral removal of an animal from the wild ....and keeping it in a tiny box with a string around its neck...not wholesome good values to imbue in a child or to share in print. Very sad."

Here's the thing: I had the identical reaction when I first read the essay. I was saddened to think of little Charlie the lizard confined to a cigar box with a string around his neck. But my secondary response was to recognize the story for what it was: a fond recollection of a child's first pet framed by the zeitgeist of the 50s.

Because in 1958 animals were treated differently. Dogs slept outside, cats roamed the neighborhood, and words like "spay and neuter, guardian, adoption" and "animal rescue" were foreign concepts. Not that people didn't love their pets, but back then most weren't as educated as guardians are today.

Were I to write about my first pet, I'd have to reveal that Torty, a tortoise, was buried alive because Mom didn't have the Internet to inform her that his lack of response was due to hibernation. And if I mentioned my childhood German Shepard, Lisa, I'd probably let it slip that my parents purchased her from a breeder, she ate table scraps, shared my Hershey Bars, and loved sneaking licks from Dad's vodka tonic.

In the process, would I be wrong to not encourage adoption versus breeders? Endorse healthy diets versus table scraps or mention that chocolate and alcohol are toxic to dogs? Does the 1960s-based "Mad Men" accompany each episode with a disclaimer that pregnant women shouldn't drink and people shouldn't smoke?

Pet Tale readers are passionate animal lovers who know that the column promotes education, rescue and welfare. And I get that reader's concern, really I do. But occasionally, I think the context of a story might negate the need for a lecture only because, in the light of day, we're smart enough to recognize the erroneous act.

Aren't we?

And so, right or wrong, that was my reason for not editorializing this memory from 1958; a time when nobody wore seat belts, everybody smoked, and lizards lived in cigar boxes.

4 comments:

Maria C. said...

Are you planning to make this into a column? I think you could! Point well made!

Gabriel said...

Agreed completely. The context of the times means everything. I often have this discussion with people who say that everyone who owned a slave was evil. While slavery itself was/is an evil, there were many nice people who were ignorant or caught up in the sensibilities of the time. Now we are discovering the sentience of animals, and may in time have the same attitudes overall about eating meat (as some already do). I kept caterpillars in bandaid boxes, with the best of intentions, putting in lawn clippings, and always being a little sad that they never seemed to thrive, must less turn into the butterflies I'd been awaiting.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Column material!

When we were kids our "pets" were the baby robins we found under the next, the finches that were slow enough to be caught. Now I leave well enough alone. Different time and place. My parents let us keep them, taught us to feed them protein (not cereal or rice) and to keep the chicken wire open wide enough to let the parents take them back. We watched a father and mother robin feed our found fledgelings worms and bugs for a week in the box we kept them in. The parents happily ate whatever we left in the dish. After, they lifted the edge of the chicken wire and all flew out as a family!

Anonymous said...

Even if you didn't comment on the Eileen, I am a big fan of your column and I wrote that comment on sfgate...and I stand by it! Even if you didn't comment on the cruelty, you or the author could have said "of course now I realize that taking wild animals out of the wild to be pets isn't the right thing to do, but back then we didn't know." Or something along those lines, because the trouble is that plenty of people are still doing things like this! I volunteer at a wildlife hospital and I've seen the sad outcome of these misguided actions. People still "kidnap" baby wildlife, shoot hawks (two have just recently been shot in the Bay Area) and so forth. Not all of us are enlightened but we might tend to have like-minded friends so we don't realize how much of a problem this still is. I had to spend hours convincing someone I know, who is educated, why he shouldn't keep the king snake he found, even if he planned to let it go in a few years...even when I told him that once a reptile has been in captivity it cannot be sent back into the wild due to bacterial issues, he still wanted to keep it! It's very sad and very frustrating and it's an important mission for me to keep trying to stop these things from happening! I don't feel it's a lecture, it's education...we cannot assume there are no lizards walking around with strings around their necks and being kept in boxes. I know that there are!cruelty, you or the author could have said "of course now I realize that taking wild animals out of the wild to be pets isn't the right thing to do, but back then we didn't know." Or something along those lines, because the trouble is that plenty of people are still doing things like this! I volunteer at a wildlife hospital and I've seen it!

Maggie

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