37. Heard Mentality (11/2010)

by brettthevet

‘With the exception of the death penalty, solitary confinement is the most extreme sanction which may be legally imposed on prisoners. Its adverse effects on health and well-being of those subjected to it, particularly for long periods, can be very serious.’

The child was delighted to show me her birthday present, a bright orange goldfish with a fantail and bulgy eyes, swimming circles in a clear bowl of water no bigger than a human skull. A sensual Piscean oddity trapped in a silent eternity. I once operated on a 30 year old goldfish to remove a tumour and wondered why he had survived for so long because mostly single fish kept in isolation pine to death.

‘We go out to work every day and leave her in the garden. The neighbours complain that she barks all day. She digs up plants and chews the furniture. But she gets so excited to see us when we come home in the evenings, and she is content when we are around. She used to scratch on the door to come in at night but now she is used to sleeping outside ’

‘For two years my son’s male hamster lived alone in his cage fitted out with a maze of plastic pipe tunnels. Every night we could hear him running nowhere on that squeaky wheel and gnawing endlessly on the steel bars. When we put our hands in the cage he would bite our fingers. Why would he want to escape when he had all the food he wanted? I realised only when he died what a sad and lonely life it had been for him.’

‘I love the taste of veal, crumbed or with lemon sauce. I don’t want to know how the calves are kept because I just can’t give up veal. They say the calves are kept in dark barns in small individual crates on slats so that they can’t move around, they have no contact with each other, and their diet is deficient in nutrients to make their flesh pale, soft and insipid. Surely nobody could treat a baby animal like that!’

‘My husband locked it in there to make it vicious so it will protect the family.’ Emerging from a dark pit full of faeces, no ventilation, no bedding, no water, and no friends, a terrified puppy lunges out into the blinding light and cowers in the flowers by the fence.

A recent, national vote in Switzerland saw a significant 30% of the population vote in favour of giving animals official legal representation. Already the Swiss have lawyers who represent animals. And they have the most enlightened animal welfare laws in the world: Social house hold pets like goldfish, guinea pigs and budgerigars cannot be left alone and must be kept in pairs. Dogs have a legal right to human company and all aspiring dog owners have to take a theoretical and practical training course. This demonstration of national empathy expands on the implicit neutrality of the state, embracing an atmosphere of greater peace and harmony for all creatures.

More people are starting to recognise the sentient nature of all animals and the implications of captivity. Mandatory considerations like the provision of food and water, space and bedding should also include allowances for adequate social interaction according to the needs of each animal. Except for cats, who would like you to think that they are quite happy to be on their own;-)

The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
without a sound . . . then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.

By Rainer Maria Rilke