Animals in the news: Mule deer populations are down significantly, bear-human interactions are up substantially and my cat got sick expensively. Well, that last one wasn’t news, but it fits the topic.
In the meantime, inspired by a PI story on Dr. Greg Feinsinger, I’ve stopped eating animal products for a little while to see what happens to my weight and cholesterol.
We have multi-layered relationships and attitudes toward animals, don’t we?
A black bear that wandered into downtown Glenwood Springs last weekend became the latest poster beast for the consequences of human carelessness.
The bear, which went to sleep next to a house that’s about a block from Glenwood’s new outdoor dining strip, had tags in its ear signifying previous interaction with people, so it was destroyed under Colorado Parks and Wildlife policy.
This bear and others that have recently suffered bad outcomes because of their overlapping habitat with humans have prompted wide support — posthumously, but not so much before they are killed.
When people leave trash unsecured, Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras told me, “They are sentencing these animals to death.”
That’s because the bears adapt their habits to the fact that unsecured trash is easier to find than food in nature, particularly this year, when berry crops are weak. So they keep coming around. They break into buildings, they can get scared and they can hurt people, such as the Aspen police officer swiped by a bear shortly after it had provided after-drinking entertainment for a crowd as it rummaged through a dumpster in downtown Aspen.
Of course Coloradans and other Westerners know this. So why on Earth, then, would several of us not secure our trash — and then feel sad when a bear is put down?
This careless action reflects laziness and a broken sense of community responsibility.
In addition, a few people do just stupid stuff. Game warden Dan Cacho told me of a woman in the area who has left trash out intentionally so she can take pictures of bears.
Which brings me back to our diverse attitudes about animals.
In “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows,” Melanie Joy examines this.
When we think of dogs, we think of loyal, handsome creatures that bound along with us, have pretty coats, that enrich our lives. When we think of pigs, we think of dirty, grunting, ugly beasts. And bacon. We don’t think about the fact that a lot of researchers believe pigs are smarter than dogs and that dogs eat poop.
When we eat a cheeseburger — sorry about the segue there — we think of a cheeseburger, its taste and texture, the satisfying feeling in our stomachs. We don’t think of the cow, and we particularly don’t want to think about today’s factory feedlots.
When we think of domestic cats, we don’t think about $1,000 vet bills, hairballs or the fact that a cat that just survived a urinary blockage pretty much pees all over the house for awhile afterward. We think of soft fur and purring. They insinuated themselves into our lives because they are prolific killers that once earned their keep on farms by killing varmints. Few of them still serve this function and, as a species, completely have us conned. What’s the smartest, most evolved creature again?
When we think about deer, we either think of hunting them or of Bambi. We don’t much consider the rodents-with-hooves school of thought — about the car crashes around the country and loss of human life because of deer overpopulation.
What concerns me more than the fact of the mule deer decline in Colorado is that no one knows why it is happening, which seems likely to hold some implications that extend beyond having enough deer to support a vigorous hunting economy.
We don’t have to think very hard to realize how bears are portrayed in our culture. They’re adorable and often wear our clothing. Yogi, Smokey — I saw a trailer for a Paddington Bear movie coming out at Christmas. Bears seem to be particularly common as beloved protagonists in children’s literature — which of course is important in forming lifelong attitudes.
I’ve never seen a bear in the wild. Coloradans tell me bears are generally timid, and I’m for that. It makes me optimistic I would be OK encountering one on a hike or a run. But I’m not eager to test that, and I’m certainly not going to do anything to lure one to my garbage bin to take a picture.
None of this is complex, but we do have to use our human brains. We must respect animals, wild and domestic, including those that we see primarily as food, for our good as much as theirs.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.