I spent half an hour today trying to let a stray cat out of my flat. For years, my neighbour has been ‘treating’ stray cats at their whim with a) mostly stale food as and when they feel like it, which results in frequent bouts of diarrhoea, generously evidenced in the corridors of our building, often by my doorstep b) affection, that includes letting the cats into their home, as and when they feel like it and c) ignoring these strays, most audibly on winter nights or whenever they just aren’t interested in providing food. I know this is not the sort of issue I discuss here, nor am I informed enough to discuss it. But, I frequently talk about compassion, and I have not felt compassionate as I remember how frightened the creature was at my trying to take it out of my home. And I feel ashamed as I acknowledge that I would do the same again, as I have done for years.
We do not have the most advanced care for strays in my area, but that does not mean people in my building have been unkind to these cats that have been victims of my neighbour’s animal love. As I have mentioned before, I had cats as pets when I was a child, and if I had the lifestyle for it, I would love to adopt one again. But, my neighbour’s incorrigible behaviour makes me question my affinity, and even my humanity. I have to hold back any affection or pity I feel towards these animals, because that would encourage them into the same sort of non-committal relationship my neighbour lures them into.
It is a fact: in an increasingly concretized world, animals are finding it more and more difficult to live. A few days ago, there was an elephant who had wandered into an urban area here in India. It smashed through glass walls and stomped over cars as people delighted in recording its ‘antics’ with camera phones in what seemed like a low-budget version of Godzilla. But, even in a creature as impressive as that, the look of fright and helplessness was clear, with no escape in sight. To anybody who may have been reading this and thinking where’s PETA and what about animal rights activism and shelters – things aren’t as easy as a systematized organization or a theory. Sometimes, it takes isolated cases like these and seeing them acutely, noticing our own human responses to them, whether it is clicking pictures of a frightened elephant or feeling rage and pity at the same time towards a cat, that makes you think about what really, concretely, can be done.
There is a brand of animal loving that uses animal rights activism to justify its flighty actions. An Indian university lecturer got bitten by a dog a few months ago. The very fact that he even talked about it to the authorities, brought him criticism by his students on social media, who questioned his qualifications and his background. Once, I had to take an exam in my university with a dog sleeping at my feet in the classroom. Despite expressing discomfort to the invigilator, I was told not to disturb the dog, who was a stray. These animal lovers/activists would show affection when they wanted, feed these dogs biscuits when they wanted, let them into air-conditioned rooms on hot days when they wanted. But not always, which includes all the other times of the day when these dogs would get hungry, when they would want to be in more temperate, cleaner conditions, and when they would want affection, which I am guessing would be more than what they were offered on any given day, by any random person. I do remember being told they were vaccinated, and I will not question if that was a practice that was kept up, because even asking might make me seem less of an animal lover, and thus, an animal hater to them.
It is simple: if you cannot shoulder full responsibility towards the animal, don’t encourage it. You don’t have to shelter it yourself. You can contact your local governing bodies, animal shelters, whatever organizations you can find who are interested. If they don’t show interest, or there aren’t any, do something about it. It is animal cruelty when you feed and pet an animal only when you feel like it, ignoring it the rest of the time. You are the animal hater when you randomly feed a random dog a biscuit on a random day and take a picture of yourself in the act, thinking it is practising animal love. Animal love is when you help create a safer environment for animals. When you realise they aren’t your playthings, like a teddy bear. They are living creatures, that deserve to live with respect, nurture and love, same as yourself.
I remember a story someone told me about a man and a monkey. The man would feed this ‘stray’ monkey everyday. However, he went away for a while, making no substitute arrangements for the daily meal. He went back to feed it when he returned, only to receive a tight whack from the monkey, never to continue their relationship. I guess, we humans need our cousins to tell us what the rest of the animal kingdom thinks of our non-committal behaviour.
What do you think can be done to make urban areas more animal-friendly?