I have another cat. His name is Picasso. Technically he’s not my cat. I rarely mention him because he doesn’t even have the flimsy connection of being named after a sea creature that my cat Tiburon does (this is, after all, an ocean blog). But in many ways, he embodies the characteristics that some people fear in sea creatures.
Picasso is a survivor, a fighter, and a street warrior. He was adopted after spending at least 5 years on the street, kicking who knows how much ass, and taking no names (he seems to have a terribly short memory). He weighs 13 lbs, and has beautiful blue eyes. But Picasso is, first and foremost, a fighter, defender of the territory, and upholder of Merbabe Honor against the spotted cat who shall not be named.
Picasso is covered in scars. Well, they are scars when he stops scratching and licking his wounds long enough to let them scar over. His ear is clipped, the fur on his neck has worn thin like the velveteen rabbit, and for some reason, he has the most tiny meow. Picture a muscle man with a high pitched voice. He rarely uses it. His battle call is silence.
Recently, Picasso has been banished into the house. After nearly killing a neighbor cat, we are held by neighborly duty to keep our killing machine locked up. He pines for the outside world and paces the perimeter looking for weaknesses. In many ways, he reminds me of the disservice we do to animals in captivity.
Animals are not people. But they have the capacity to feel affection, fear, boredom and pain. Animals in captivity exhibit characteristics, “These include things like stereotypies where they do repeated movements, self mutilation and just basically other behaviors associated with being psychologically disturbed. There are also several peer-reviewed studies that have shown elevated stress hormones in dolphins and whales in captivity.”
Casso Cat’s plight is not this serious. Although he enjoyed hunting frogs and lizards and leaving their dying bodies at the foot of my bed and hidden in places I might find later (for instance on a midnight walk to the bathroom in the dark with my foot). And he certainly enjoyed beating the crap out of other neighborhood cats, his life on the inside isn’t bad, it’s just an adjustment. I took away his cul-de sac of territory, not the entire ocean. Instead of catching frogs, he is happy to catch feather toys, and roll on cat scratchers with cat nip.
Casso is his own person (cat). We don’t require him to perform for us, and in fact he looks at me with very thinly veiled disgust when I make even the most gentle requests. I can’t imagine telling him to do tricks for his food, and to bring guests in to watch and participate. Ever wonder why Orcas sometimes try to kill their trainers? It’s cuz they don’t want to do what they’re told anymore.
I do go to Zoos. Zoos have evolved from being just a place to see an animal in a tiny cage, to responsible for research on animals and preventing the extinction of countless species. I have mixed feelings about seeing a Poley Bear (and other animals) behind glass. I hope that he is being well taken care of, and that he is not unhappy with his situation. I know that there is very little chance that I, or the other guests around me, would get to see a Poley bear otherwise. I know that seeing this Poley Bear up close is helping people wake up and become globally aware about conserving our other Earthians. I know that his life is being extended by being kept, and probably he was bred in captivity anyway, so he isn’t missing his tundra. But is this where he is supposed to be?
The only consolation I have is that they aren’t forcing him to do tricks. Because there is no evidence that animals want to do tricks for our amusement, and there is no evidence that this has educational value for people watching those tricks.
I hope we can find a balance, between preserving the earth, allowing people to enjoy it’s splendor without destroying it (or an individual creature). I hope we can stop telling dolphins to jump for our amusement and turning a blind eye to the fact they are being collected inhumanely, and that they would prefer to be swimming thousands of miles in the ocean, communicating with their pod on the hunt for life and survival. I hope no one ever takes me from my family and puts me in a cage, expecting that even a nice reproduction would suffice and satisfy me, in place of the gigantic world and ocean I am so lucky to explore and play in. I hope Picasso is happy with his life as a house cat, kept and fat, instead of the street warrior he was.