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A world without animals


The animals taught us kindness; organized prevention of cruelty preceded organized concern about cruelty to children. We still learn easiest and most soundly from pets such lessons as tenderness, unconditional love, responsibility for dependents, reverence for life and the meaning of death.

However, we have always had some things they do not have. We have thumbs, which gave us hands with which we could grasp and manipulate. We have articulate tongues, lips and brains to invent complex communication. We have the memory to make history, and to invent ways to write it down, to record it and to keep it. And we have a conscience which, if properly trained, helps us distinguish right from wrong. And we have the capacity for arrogance, pride and selfishness that lets our immediate wants govern our decisions and actions. We can say as no animal can, "It is my ecology and I'll do with it as I wish."

For a moment, think about the rapid changes that have occurred here as in all aspects of our lives. Let us look at a very possible and yet somewhat spooky future:

Our dependence on the world's animals is potentially over; our absolute need for them may be ended. The long partnership may be dissolving. What if they go away? What if....the animals all went away?

In the past seven to eight decades, there have been developments that point to this possibility. The railroad, the automobile and the airplane have ended our long history of dependence on legs to move us from one place to another, our own legs and those of other vertebrates. My grandfather, so short a time ago, drove a stagecoach in northern Minnesota at a time when goods were moved by ox-cart.

How many drays are left in Minnesota? Could we now, even as an experience or an exhibition, remount the English mail coach, running loads of mail and nine people drawn by four horses in two tandem teams over 600 miles at an average speed of 50 minutes for 11 miles? I doubt it?

Power technology has ended our dependence on muscles for power, our own muscles as well as other vertebrates. Agricultural technology has transformed itself and greatly reduced our contacts with animals. We are no longer an agrarian society. We have redistributed ourselves: One hundred years ago there were approximately seven people on the farm for every five in the city; now the ratio is one on the farm to about every 25 in the city. Work animals have all but disappeared.

The development of synthetics has reduced our need for animal products. We have no genuine need for ivory, bone, shells, gut, sinews, bristles or hair. We are not really dependent on hides, fleeces or furs. Leather and woolen garments have become expensive luxuries.

What if we no longer really need animal products? In fact, our development of destructive power has led us to the point where no vertebrate species threatens us, and indeed now we have threatened them with extinction.

Pesticides have reduced even the bird population of our cities. What if animals no longer threaten us in any way? We have the means to endanger any species that gets in our way. We have done so to many.

In the urban environment we live more or less comfortably with the rat, the squirrel and the English sparrow. We seem to have established a kind of rule of size. If you are no bigger than my foot, or no stronger than my hand, you may stay: otherwise you face complete control or extinction. I cannot imagine that we would long tolerate English sparrows if they were the size of chickens.

Our only obligate relationship, animal proteins for our growth and nutrition, is weakening. The synthetic and vegetable proteins are increasing and, in any event, it is mostly distant others that do the raising, slaughtering and butchering.

Most of us make no psychological connection between the meat we eat and those herds and living creatures from which it came. Could it be that herds and flocks will become outmoded ideas? It is now possible in urban United States to live an entire life without any real contact with other vertebrates and with only minimal awareness that we share the world with other creatures like ourselves.

What if we no longer really need food from them? You know better than I the recent controversies here. You know the technological changes in what used to be called animal husbandry, and in the rearing of food and fiber creatures.

You know what the synthetic laboratories are doing. I am sure that the soybean will continue to astonish us.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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