Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Embedded Collars: The Boundaries of Compassion

I cannot imagine being this sick ever again without the benefit of staring, hour after hour, at the Animal Planet channel.  Dobby, Our Little Idiot, and Marmy Fluffy Butt, Dobby's mother, concur, as they have become dedicated viewers of Animal Cops, Animal Precinct, and even, hard as it is to believe, Pit Bulls and Parolees.

The regional differences -- Dallas, Phoenix, Detroit, New York City, and Canyon Country, California are all represented -- are worth the witness.  You will hear, for example, a NYC cop say things that the polite folks in Texas wouldn't dare utter without benefit of a centuries-old adage involving a rocking chair or a moving truck. What is common to all, of course, is unshakable dedication to the animals, even when the outcomes are nothing less than tragic.

Unfortunately, one result of our steady diet of animal rescue shows is a growing suspicion that humankind does not merit the benevolence shown us by the creatures we deign to domesticate for their companionship and service.

Watching a vet debride a young cat's neck and "armpit," deep red tissue pulsating from the blood vessels nearly exposed by an imbedded collar, Dobby shakes his tiny little head in disbelief and shoots me a look approaching disgust.  Unbelievably, the cat's owners are not charged with cruelty as it turns out the elderly couple thought that the spreading, stinking wound was the natural result of the spay the cat underwent just prior to their adoption.  That's right.  It never occurred to these TWO people that perhaps their pet had outgrown the collar it sported when it was 6 weeks old.  Rather, they chose to believe that spaying a feline naturally results in a bloody, pus-filled mess in the region of the animal's neck.  The poor thing had tried to escape its collar but in so doing only managed to entrap one of its front legs -- but that had to have happened months earlier, given the depth of the... embedment, if such a term exists.

I am also, I confess, a dedicated viewer of shows about hoarding.  I consider myself an unactuated hoarder.  I have the tendency but never act upon it.  In fact, I force myself to live in the other direction -- I am an anti-hoarder. 

Yes, I get rid of even the most precious of artifacts.  My past can easily explain it but that's boredom squared, so we won't go there!

Early on in my hoarding education, television-based, I wondered about the convergence of such people with the animal kingdom.  It was hardly a surprise, then, one drug-addled afternoon, to see Confessions: Animal Hoarding cheerfully advertised.

Holy Mother of God.

Fred informed me that he once did a research paper on the history of the American SPCA and learned that this pioneering group was among the first to expose, and insist on legislation against, child abuse.  That made sad sense to me and I treated it as another piece of logical received information.  Then one day, as I watched a child surrounded by heights of cherished garbage hug a faithful pet dog, I plugged the ASPCA and "child abuse" into Google's search engine.  Fred had spared telling me that the organization had had to force the powers that be to declare, in 1873, human children part of the "animal kingdom" in order to extend to that precious race the umbrella of its protection.  (I know that there was much going on in 1873 to appall a more modern and enlightened being, but I've never been fond of relativism, as it tends to stunt my ability to be shocked by the social crimes of the present day.):

In the late 1800s, a church worker named Etta Wheeler forever changed the face of parental authority in North America.

During a family visit, Mrs. Wheeler discovered 11-year-old Mary-Ellen, the step-daughter of the woman casually entertaining Mrs. Wheeler, shackled to her bed and badly beaten. Too tiny and ill-formed for her 11 years, it was quite evident Mary-Ellen was also grossly malnourished. Some of her scars were visibly healed over, giving a clear picture of long-term and sustained child abuse.

Appalled by what she saw, Mrs. Wheeler reported the severe and obvious abuse and neglect to the authorities. The authorities could find no law that had been broken: in 1873—and even today in many countries—what went on behind the closed doors of the family was considered no one's business but the family's.

But Etta Wheeler was determined: she marched herself into the American S.P.C.A. demanding they do something to help the battered Mary-Ellen.

Animals were protected, but children were not!

In order for the A.S.P.C.A. to act on behalf of Mary-Ellen, children had to be declared members of the animal kingdom, which is indeed what happened. The A.S.P.C.A. did finally intervene. Mary-Ellen was removed from her abusive home and placed in foster care, where she thrived. She eventually married and had 2 daughters of her own, one of whom she named Etta as a tribute to her rescuer. Mary-Ellen lived to the age of 92.

Mary-Ellen is considered the very first case of child abuse in North America, more because of the historical significance than the historical accuracy. The time had finally come to protect children as children, which lead to the creation of child abuse laws.

It is easy to see that our willingness to legislate against cruelty to animals leads investigators into situations where the environment is equally destructive and detrimental to humans.  The surprise is how difficult it remains, 138 years after Etta Wheeler got pissed off, to intercede on behalf of our own species. 

Clearly, linking animal advocates to human social services (ranging from incarceration to psychiatric treatment, or my favorite -- both) is an enlightened, if overwhelming, approach.

Based on my extensive research -- itself based on the close, febrile viewing of five television episodes -- animal hoarders consider themselves bona fide rescuers and think that the environment which they provide is the best possible, and above reproach.  They see themselves as martyred workers for a cause, so when divergent opinions are voiced, they rarely comprehend the message and are incredibly resistant.  The more expert the opinion, in fact, the more stringent the denial. 

Recently, I found myself so overcome by horror that I did the unthinkable and turned the Idiot Box off mere minutes into an A & E Hoarding show segment.  Featured were foul-mouthed Hanna and her chickens, lame goats, and waterless ducks, on the one hand, and Kathy and her emotionally-stunted husband Gary, with his feral rabbits ensconced in the very walls of their home, on the other.  I recorded the episode but haven't had fever high enough to excuse watching it. 

I confess to thinking that it would be an emotional reprieve to see animal hoarding have as its object creatures besides dogs, cats, and doe-eyed horses (errr, well, horse-eyed horses... but you understand my meaning... their eyes are intelligent velvet).  I don't relate much to chickens or apparently insane, inbred rabbits, but this was impossible to witness.  Also, it correctly begged several questions, not the least of which are conditions provided animals raised solely with the intent of slaughter, as well as the impact of personal antipathy when we are engaged in the obligation of human "rescue."

I'm cruising at 101 degrees, so maybe later today we will try to watch Episode 40 again -- but only if Dobby and Marmy can stomach it. 

They're sleeping on it and that seems a grand idea.

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