Gandhi famously said that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I’m not sure that’s true, but it certainly is true that respect for the lives and welfare of animals is a useful symptom to diagnose sound ethical values, and the tendency toward animal cruelty is signature significance for a human being that I would not turn my back to in the dark.
The issue is complicated by the divergence of humans into “animal people” and “non-animal people,” with the latter claiming, with some justification, that they are not cruel or callous toward animals, just willing to recognize that they are, well, animals. These are the people who cannot understand someone wanting to take a sick day to mourn the passing of a cat. On the other hand, they are also clear-eyed about those animal lovers who dress their parrots in elaborate costumes and who hold birthday parties for their dogs. Those who live in the country or on farms are an interesting case: they are not prone to sentimentalize of anthropomorphize animals like city folk. Dogs and cats sleep outdoors unless there’s a freeze on, and they have jobs to do. My wife’s sister sold the family horse to a dog food company, and the two didn’t speak for months.
Sarah Palin blundered into this divide this week when she posted pictures (above) of her son Trig standing on the family dog in an inspirational post about overcoming obstacles. Now she’s being attacked for promoting cruelty to animals. Some points on this:
1. Many are always looking for justification to vilify Palin. This time, she gave them legitimate ammunition.
2. The sequence looks staged to me: otherwise, why was anyone taking photos of this?
3. If so, then this just wasn’t an innocent but mistaken choice by a special needs child, but the directive of someone who should know better.
4. Of course one doesn’t ever sit or stand on a dog, or allow or encourage a child to do so, unless we’re talking about a very small child.
5. We don’t know that Palin didn’t admonish Trig after the fact, while saluting his ingenuity.
6. It was still an irresponsible choice for the point she was making.
7. Assuming the dog isn’t ill, drugged of dead, however, he doesn’t seem in distress. One thing about dogs: if you are hurting or ignoring them, they aren’t shy about letting you know.
8. Trig is developmentally disabled. Animals, particularly dogs, have incredible tolerance and intuitive kindness in such situations. That was the real lesson of the photos.
Now, to wipe those images out of your mind, here are a group of photos showing normal, non-celebrity, non-Palin, human beings here and elsewhere demonstrating the kind of kindness and compassion for animals that we all should aspire to. Continue reading