Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grandma - we can no longer afford to keep you!


Tel: 1.888.689.3698

Write: Positive Options - c/o ASRI
PO Box 1815
Westfield, MA 01085-1815

It is thought of as a sign of the times: the dire state of the economy is taking a toll on families across the nation and across the world. Jobs are being lost, incomes are sharply reduced and homes are being foreclosed upon. Almost everyone, to some degree or another, is feeling the effects.

And the animals are feeling it too.

In my own town, a new initiative - Positive Options - has sprung up with the mission of helping families keep their pets through times of financial hardship. A small flyer arrived for me yesterday (courtesy of a utility bill) through which contributions are being solicited. The aim of the initiative is as follows:

"[to] supplement the pet food donations that are collected regularly throughout the City of Westfield and other local communities. The donations are used to help keep a pets [sic] with its' [sic] family by supplying food and necessities that a family may not be able to afford at this time. Our goal is to help people keep their pets."

This is a completely laudable objective and I intend to make a donation but one point struck me when reading through the flyer - the underlying acceptance of the disposability paradigm. It goes like this.....

1) Times are hard and we need to make cutbacks.
2) Certain things are not negotiable - rent, mortgage payments, food - therefore we have to cut back on non-essentials.
3) Our pets - those beloved 'members of the family' in good times - are non-essential.
4) Cutbacks can be made on the expenses associated with them.

In short, the animals go.

I know there's a lot of hand-wringing, tearful discussions and heart-wrenching decisions made along the way to this conclusion. And equally, I imagine that it's not the first option most reasonable, normal people accept as a way through these tough times. However, my point really is that it IS an option on the table, in a way that would never be applicable to human members of the same family. Try as I might, I cannot imagine the scenario wherein a couple decides that their income simply cannot sustain the family and therefore the youngest child must go. Nor yet the case where Grandma is just such a drain on resources that it might really be time to have her put to sleep.....

But it is an acceptable scenario in any case where the family member is a non-human. A cat, dog, bird, rabbit, whatever.....And this acceptance is rooted purely and simply in our perception of animals as property to do with as we wish. They are considered disposable and replaceable; their status that of object, the same as a table or chair. More lovable, perhaps, certainly cuter, but an object - no more, no less.

Recently, I have become increasingly interested in the framing of the abolitionist perspective within the animal rights debate and it seems to me that this current situation is a perfect example of how the welfarist position might indeed be inadequate. Inherent within the framing of this Positive Options initiative is the supposition that it is fundamentally understandable and acceptable to abandon a non-human family member in times of crisis. For the sake of the animal, this organization seeks out a foster home in the hope that the abandoned pet does not end their days prematurely - confused, terrified and alone - in a kill-shelter. However, I think that the abolitionist argument that such short-termism does not truly benefit the animals is valid. What we really need is education, a sea change of social thought wherein the idea of surrendering a pet in times of economic distress is as far from our minds as that of abandoning of our children. Until people no longer perceive companion animals as disposible and replacable, until we all take our life-long responsibilities to them as seriously as we do the human members of our families, the future for the animals will not change.

And, just we judge a society by how it treats its poorest members, it is a measure of our values - of us as individuals - how we treat our non-human dependents in challenging times. And I believe, I can only suspect that we are in grave danger of failing ourselves, of not stepping up and rising to the challenge, in this regard. I hope I am wrong.

And, in case I am, I will be mailing a check to the address above. Perhaps you might too?

Stay together and stay vegan, friends.

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