Recently a patient of mine told me that as children, growing up raising meat rabbits in their backyard, they, his siblings and him, were not allowed to play with the rabbits.
“They are meat on the table, like beef,” their father proclaimed, “not pets. Go play with the dog and cats.”
As I began to venture into permaculture, this sentiment made me pause.
Why should there be a distinct difference between companion animals and livestock?
As I observed and communicated with my hens, roosters and rabbits, deep feelings and kinships developed. They may not be sleeping in my bed or roam in my living room or kitchen as my dogs and cats do, it is undeniable that I feel just as close and intimate towards them as I do towards my “free roaming” house companions.
At the same time, I have no trouble “stealing” eggs from my hens daily. And when I ended up with two extra young roosters, they were killed for soup.
It was true that I gave away the gentlest rooster to a good “home” where he could have his own flock and the lone surviving hatchling roo was also sent away instead of being murdered for meat. However, that was because I was able to provide them with potentially happy lives, not because they were my “companion animals”.
The above being said, why shouldn’t we play with our livestock? Why shouldn’t our “eventual dinners”, while alive and possess the ability to feel, enjoy our friendship, which may enrich the emotional lives of humans and beasts alike?
Some twenty years ago, I was told a fact about wolves and caribous in Labrador. When the wolves just fed recently, one could observe the young wolf pups and caribou calves play together. “The calves did not appear to be on guard, worrying about his/her lives and the pups were just out enjoying a good game of runaround instead of hunting for supper,” my native friend said, smiling, “Genuine friendships seem to be in the air. It was amazing.”
If wolves and caribous can do it, why can’t humans?
The only reason I can think of is that humans are particularly limited in this area. And proud of such limitations, from the look of it.* We are obsessively protective of our emotions as though they are too fragile to withstand change or “hurt”.
In the spirit of learning from my “better others” in my homestead, I will continue to offer my friendship and if some later become meat on my dinner plate, I’m certain my dog and wolf will help me with the emotional journey.
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