Pet Peeves

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As I lie awake at night trying to determine new things to worry about, one thing I keep coming back to is: Are we embarrassing our animals?

As you might imagine, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Steak) is on the case when it comes to animal humiliation. The group’s recent controversial “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign — comparing the slaughter of millions of animals to the slaughter of millions of people under the Nazis — demonstrates not only its position on the importance of animals, but also its position on being insensitive and short-sighted. (They’re for it.)

Sometimes, PETA issues formal statements on how animals are being abused, often doing so in such an over-stated, insane manner that it overshadows their good intentions and actually causes people to go out and abuse MORE animals, just to spite them. But other times, they are unaware of specific incidents, and so you must e-mail news stories to them and ask what they think so that you can quote PETA spokesperson Kathy Guillermo in your column.

ITEM 1: Cat shoots boy. A 15-year-old boy in Tuscarawas, Ohio, was out back shooting rats with his pellet gun, got tired of it (I guess), set the gun down on the picnic table and walked away — whereupon the gun went off and shot him in the back. The boy told police that his cat had been snooping around the table and must have accidentally pulled the trigger. However, a subsequent sheriff’s investigation led to the conclusion that the cat didn’t weigh enough to put sufficient pressure on the trigger, which means the shooting is still unexplained.

PETA says: “Careless people are always to blame when someone is accidentally shot…. It only makes people look even more foolish to lay the ‘blame’ on animals. But we often find that animals are easy scapegoats because they don’t have a voice…. Instead of asking if the cat is to blame, it might be more useful to examine the many ways people harm animals simply because we are more powerful and they can never speak out or rise up in their own defense. For a sampling of the many ways humans exploit animals and ideas for what we can do to help animals, please see www.PETA.org.”

Issues not addressed: Don’t we all know cats who, given the opportunity, would shoot us in the back in a heartbeat? If an animal is accused of a crime, will PETA provide legal representation — a cattorney, if you will? (Please, please, say you will.) If a cat is found guilty of murder, can it be sentenced to nine consecutive life terms? And isn’t it obvious that in this case, the real culprits are the rats the boy was shooting at?

ITEM 2: Dogs play football. In Germany, an international dog breeders’ fair is setting up dog football matches, though of course by “football” they mean “soccer.” Four canines play on each team, wearing either yellow or blue shirts. Dog trainer Stephanie Klug says, in an Agence France-Presse story, “To tell the truth, they don’t really understand that they’re playing in a team and when they score a goal it’s usually by accident.” (Of course, the same could be said of the Cincinnati Bengals.)

PETA says: “Dogs or other animals should not be forced to do any activity solely for human entertainment. It is healthy for the dogs to get exercise, but they should not be made to wear full uniforms…. Many dogs love to push a soccer ball around and would happily do it for hours. But are these soccer dogs … companions [PETA-speak for ‘pets’] who live in homes with families or are they kept in kennels when they’re not playing? Were they rescued or were they bred for this, thus adding to the severe overpopulation crisis of dogs? PETA is very concerned that breeders keep churning out more and more animals when so many of them are already euthanized in animal shelters because there are not enough good homes for them all. Instead of breeding more animals, we encourage people to adopt companions from the shelter and have animals spayed and neutered. Your readers might wish to visit our Web site at HelpingAnimals.com.”

Issues not addressed: What’s with the Germans, anyway?

ITEM 3: Donkey stands in for Saddam. With Saddam Hussein chilling with Hitler in Argentina, the Iraqis “celebrated” the former despot’s birthday on April 28 by dressing a donkey to look like him and positioning it in a town square. They also presented a birthday cake made of animal feces, which in my opinion takes the joke a bit too far.

PETA says: “While not as obviously cruel as a bullfight or calf-roping in an American rodeo, or even a donkey basketball game at a high school fundraiser, dressing up a donkey and parading him through a loud, taunting crowd doesn’t sound very pleasant for the donkey. He was probably frightened, and it seems a silly reason to scare the daylights out of an animal who doesn’t get the joke.”

Issues not addressed: Is it beneath a donkey’s dignity to be compared to Saddam Hussein? Did the crowd have difficulty believing the donkey in the role because its hygiene surpassed Saddam’s? And maybe playing Saddam wouldn’t be “pleasant” for a donkey — but come on, what would? Dude, you’re a DONKEY. How much fun can that be?

Browsing PETA's Web site usually just makes me laugh, but this time it made me think a bit. There is, in fact, a good deal of unnecessary cruelty and abuse of animals used for food, and I was impressed with how PETA tries to work with fast food places (in particular) not to do away with meat products altogether, but to at least, if they're going to kill animals and eat them, do it humanely. I can get behind that point of view. This is why I made sure to include in the column the mention of PETA's good intentions, and how it is their methodology that turns people off. (And, of course, the fundamental disagreement I have with them over animals, which I say WERE put here for our use, and which I say are NOT as important as people. But we can agree to disagree on those points.)

My first inclination was just to write a column about the funny animals stories, but then it occurred to me to check with PETA on a couple points, to see if they'd say anything funny in response. The PETA folks were good enough to reply to my e-mails, and to take me seriously when they probably didn't need to. In fact, Kathy Guillermo e-mailed me after this column ran and said she enjoyed it, and was glad to help. So that's cool.

And for the record, since I don't know anything about football, I had to check with my friend Smacky to find out which team ought to be singled out as one that only scores points by accident.

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