I made a comment in a recent post about being humane to my chooks. Being humane to every animal is a creed I live by – sometimes with the possible exception of cane toads if I happen to step on one accidently in my bare feet, but even then I wouldn’t be cruel to one.
I often ponder the term “humanity”. The word itself seems to derive from the state of being human, and – well, to be honest I don’t have a great opinion of human beings as a species. So, I start to wonder whether in fact I mean something else other than “be humane” when I talk about how animals should be treated.
How do I think animals should be treated? With care, kindness, respect, compassion, altruism. And why should all animals be treated in that way? Because animals are sentient beings, which means they are able to perceive and feel things. That is like stating the bleeding obvious in my opinion – anyone who has ever had a dog for example would know the level of perception they possess and their ability to feel emotions! What is important to understand about sentient animals though is that – like human beings – they have capacity to suffer and seek to avoid suffering.
Human beings – whether by courtesy of our superior capabilities in most interactions with animals or by sheer force of numbers – are in a position of power. Unlike most animals perhaps, we have the ability to cause suffering and also to prevent it. To me, being “humane” means to take the latter course. Perhaps that’s how the term arose, because human beings are the only species that have that choice and “being humane” means exercising the kinder option?
That makes me think of how cats toy with mice. Our perception is that the “toying” is cruel and presumably the cat has the choice of not “toying” and being kind …or do they? Is it cruelty, or something else? Have cats been given a bad rap?
There are two issues to consider where cats and their prey are concerned. Cats by instinct are hunters, and they learn to hunt from the kitten stage by wrestling with their siblings, mother, toys and practically anything else they might come across. Cats instinctively recognise that the development of the skills is vital for their survival. If a cat is not hungry and catches a mouse, then the cat will practice its skills on the mouse – that “toying” we all know so well.
However, there could be something else going on, also being dictated by instinct. When a cat kills to eat because it’s hungry, and hence survive, it will attempt to go for the neck, severing the spinal cord with one merciful bite. It also knows it must do it quickly because of the risk of being hurt itself. Mice and other rodents can deliver vicious bites and the smallest bird has a sharp beak. When a cat is “toying” there is a theory that it is being tentative (perhaps its hunting skills are not sharp enough) or it is trying to put the creature in a position where the cat has clean direct access to the neck.
Man’s inhumanity to man is a prevailing theme in history and repellent in itself. But as George Bernard Shaw put it, man’s cruelty to other animals surpasses it. Furthermore, animals do not have a voice. They can’t go on the 6:30 news and publicise their battery hen conditions and how they feel about it; they can’t campaign to their local member. That’s why, in my little life at least, I try to exemplify humanity to animals, and thereby be their voice.
We can’t help being human, but we can choose to be humane, and each time we are, that’s a victory for humanity.