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People turning pets into people

This post was written by Elysia
on February 4, 2010 | Comments (6)

Many a witch shares her life with a familiar, and from what I’ve seen and heard, cats, snakes and dogs are top favorites among the Wiccan demographic. Since they are such dear friends and companions, we sometimes get a little carried away in wanting to see them as something they are not: humans. Yes, pets definitely have distinct personalities just like people, but please try to remember they’re animals. That is exactly what is so valuable about them! They bring a completely different energy into our lives. I thought I’d share with you not one, not two, but three strange news stories I came across today concerning the anthropomorphization of pets.

First, it turns out that dogs love to watch TV. Especially when the TV program is a soap opera whose cast is entirely composed of fellow canines! This article introduces you to people who leave their dog in front of a TV all day, and the happy solution they created to make this tolerable to the pooch. I have mixed feelings about this; obviously pets stay home all day and get bored, but I wouldn’t want to leave the TV on all day, myself. Still, it’s fascinating to think that dogs might get just as addicted to TV programs as people do.

Next up, a decidedly worse habit: a snake who smokes cigarettes. Seriously? Maybe it’s a stunt, but in this article on Treehugger.com the Taiwanese snake’s owner claims that her snake smokes one cigarette in the morning and one at night. Kids, let this be a lesson to you at home: don’t get your snakes hooked on nicotine. Just keep the cigs away from them in the first place! Let them watch TV instead – maybe someone will develop a snake soap opera for them. (Dayssss of our Livesssss?)

The final story is the most disturbing one, in my opinion: a woman in Pennsylvania was charged with animal cruelty for creating and marketing “Gothic kittens.” What do I mean by “creating,” you may ask? As if a sweet black kitten weren’t Goth enough for some of us, this woman took it upon herself to give the cats multiple piercings.

Now, most of us with any interest in both Paganism and cats will know that statues of cats in ancient Egypt showed them wearing necklaces and gold hoop earrings. (Whether the cats actually lived like this full time is debatable – even if you pierced a cat’s ears, just think about how long they would put up with that before clawing or scratching them off. Or worse – snagging them onto something while running, hunting or playing, thus yanking the earring right out of the cat’s ear.)

However, the “Gothic kittens” were taken to an obscene level. First off, their ears were not pierced with thin, light-weight, golden hoops or studs; these cats had fourteen-gauge barbells in their ears, the back of their necks and the base of their tails. In the photos published on the internet of these unfortunate kitties, you can clearly see the cat’s ears are folded over under the weight of the barbells, making it hard to move the ears for detecting sounds. If you’ve ever watched a cat’s ears rotating like a satellite dish, picking up every sound in the house, you can imagine what a handicap these heavy barbells would impose on their hearing. As for their necks, one veterinarian was quoted as saying that when a mama cat picks up her babies by the scruff of the neck, this stimulates a submission response. Imagine how those cats felt with a piercing constantly there! Translation: living your life in constant submission, not being able to hear well. It can’t feel good.

Kitten with barbell ear piercings

Kitten with barbell ear piercings

She also was trying to dock one of the cat’s tails, tying a rubber band to the base of its tail so that, lacking blood flow, it would die and fall off. Apparently docking is still in use with some types of dog breeds, and there is no federal law regulating its practice, though some states have banned it. Still, it is frowned upon in general and only performed by veterinarians.

Was this woman a trained veterinarian, with antibiotics and sedation at the ready? No, she was a pet groomer. Apparently her love of aesthetics overcame her concern for the wellbeing of the animals themselves. One cat had even torn out an earring and she was waiting for it to heal so she could re-pierce it.

In closing arguments at her trial, defense attorneys told jurors, “Parents take their kids to get pierced at a young age. That’s not a crime! If you say it’s wrong to pierce a cat’s ears, then you’re holding the cat to a higher standard then children.” I’d like to see a parent argue that it’s OK to pierce their newborn’s ears with huge barbells, pierce their necks, and pierce their skin just adjacent to the base of their spine! Babies are generally pierced responsibly, with small studs that can’t be yanked out or caught in something. Babies also grow up to be people with fingers who can take out or put in earrings at will. Not so for these “gothic kittens.”

In the end, I think we should look at the Wiccan Rede in this situation: harm none. She did harm to her cats, not for health or safety reasons, but to make money, and was found guilty on one of the three charges of animal abuse. (She was confused herself as to why she was only guilty in the piercing of one cat rather than all three, but perhaps this was the jury’s attempt at leniency, since even that one charge could possibly land her in jail for five years. Sentencing will take place in March.)

Also, remember free will; it is just as important to respect free will in the mundane world as it is when casting spells. You should never take a choice away from a sentient being who could make that choice themselves; you should only step in when that being can’t make a choice and you’re protecting it from harm. A young child can at least say “yes” or “no” when Mommy or Daddy asks if they’d like to have pierced ears; if they’d like to take them out; if anything hurts. Please don’t take free will away from your pets unless it’s truly in their best interest – not for your entertainment or profit. Or to make them seem more like you.

Reader Comments

Written By Abby
on February 4th, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

I agree with the overall sentiment of your post, and I think the woman with the “gothic cats” is a moron at best. I do have to add, though, that tail docking of dogs isn’t frowned upon in general. There are quite a few breeds, two of mine, in fact, that are routinely docked. I used to assist with them when I worked in vet clinics, too. They are done at 2-3 days of age and not later than 5 days of age. Any longer than that, and it’s considered an amputation. Anyway, it’s a hot-button topic that has passion on both sides. Would you mind sharing what states have banned it? I try to keep up on pet legislation, and nothing has come up banning tail docking except one or two states or counties in the northeast, and as far as I know, nothing is on the books (could have changed since I last heard). It is illegal in many countries, but then again, spaying and neutering for convenience is also illegal in some European countries. Anyway, my opinion is to be careful with talking about free will with pets. If it goes too far, and some would like it to, we will not be able to euthanize our pets when they have terminal diseases or injuries we can’t afford to fix/can’t fix because of severity or when they are aggressive/unsafe to the public and/or their owners. Anyway, just a point of view from a veterinary professional and animal owner/lover.

Written By Elysia
on February 4th, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

Abby, you’re right on two counts. First, I should have said it was controversial, not “generally frowned upon.” There are people on both sides of the debate, there is no overwhelming consensus. Also I double checked the article I read on docking and in the US it is not illegal anywhere, although “some states, including New York and Vermont have considered bills to make the practice illegal.” What do you personally think of tail docking? Are there cases where it’s a health measure, not just for looks?

As for free will, it is a slippery slope, which is why I tried to make clear that there were health and safety reasons that would compel you to act when the animal or person involved cannot make decisions for themselves. In magic we like to say “for the greatest good” of all involved so that, when and if we are tampering with anybody’s free will or affecting anyone (which is hard to get away from in the wide view of magic), we are still leaving it in the hands of “the greatest good.” In magic, this simply means that if what you’re trying to work for is not the best for all involved, your magic will fail if you insert this caveat as a protective measure. However, in mundane life, it’s not that easy.

While we should always keep the greater good of the animal in mind (to decrease suffering, for example), we’re just mortals, so what do we know? Still, it’s a good guidline to keep in mind. The gothic cat lady obviously wasn’t thinking about what would be best for the cats.

Written By Corrine Kenner
on February 4th, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

Ack! That poor kitten! That just looks painful. Clearly, the woman who pierces her animals is a moron. If you want to make your pets look goth, what’s wrong with a cool collar or scarf, or even a funny little goth t-shirt? My dog has a Celtic design on his collar. He’s very New-Age.

Written By Abby
on February 4th, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

Elysia, I do think it’s done for more than looks in a lot of breeds, hunting and working stock dogs for one. If you don’t breed FOR a tail that will withstand the environment when the dog is working, you will lose that trait. And that is what has happened with a lot of working breeds. So, when you stop docking, you get the gamut of tail types. If you look at the Wiki article, it mentions that, after the tail docking ban in Sweden (I think it was Sweden), tail injuries in traditionally docked hunting dogs increased. I think it was Pointers specifically, because they have a very tight, close coat and a whip-like tail. I am personally pro-choice when it comes to docking. If you, as the breeder of a dog, want to dock your puppies’ tails, I think you should have the right to do so safely (i.e. by a veterinarian or experienced breeder who can band properly–same guidelines-2-3 days old). HOWEVER, I think the guidelines set up should be followed.. so if you miss the window and your puppies are older than 5 days, it’s out of the question. I will be honest with you. I like the docked tails of my Pembrokes and Aussies. I don’t like them with tails. Pembroke tails, when left on, are really odd to me. Some have long tails reminiscent of a feathered Golden Retriever tail, some have crooked half-tails. Some have gay tails that curl up over the back like a northern breed. For a lot of currently docked breeds, it is part of the breed’s history, but it is a modern concern for some hunting and working breeds. I’ll also tell you this: I’ve seen tail amputations on dogs who would have normally been docked at 2-3 days old, and the amputation is MUCH more traumatic as an adult than as a neonate. The tail is notoriously hard to heal, almost impossible to bandage, and completely impossible to immobilize. Neonatal tail docks, by scalpel/scissors or by banding very, very rarely require antibiotics or even pain meds. Adult amputations require antibiotics, pain meds, and often sedation. The two cannot be compared, IMO.

Anyway, I liked your last paragraph: “While we should always keep the greater good of the animal in mind (to decrease suffering, for example), we’re just mortals, so what do we know? Still, it’s a good guidline to keep in mind. The gothic cat lady obviously wasn’t thinking about what would be best for the cats.” I agree completely here.

Written By Abby
on February 4th, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

Forgot to add :), the main reason I am pro-choice when it comes to tail docking is that breeders have absolutely NO way of knowing what puppies will turn out as good working/hunting dogs or which will end up in strictly pet homes at 2-3 days of age, so it’s the safest and least traumatic option to be able to dock the whole litter at 2-3 days rather than wait til the dog is 6 mos-1 yr old or so to assess his working ability and do it then.

Written By Morgan Drake Eckstein
on February 5th, 2010 @ 12:48 am

My cat thinks it is cruelty to be forced to wear a collar and nametag. And we will not talk about the mini-Santa hat, we tried to get him to wear.

By the way, I do hold cats to be a higher standard than children. Children can always complain to the authorities; they can also figure out how to turn the TV off.

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