Is it too late yet?
Every day I find new reasons to be grateful that my work surrounds me with dogs and cats and the people who love them.
Many years ago, as an anti-war activist, I came to understand that it’s only love that enables people, after recognizing the damage their bad habits do, to change them. Rage and despair over the destruction of the natural world, the ravages of war, the corruption of human affairs by metastatic capitalism, can mobilize, but ultimately can’t sustain the necessary actions, which include revisioning and rebuilding every system in our world, step by laborious step. The people I know still doing this, decade after decade, do it for their children, for the places they love. For their pets, too.
People who have told me they don’t even cook for themselves have taken to preparing homemade meals for their pets, after learning how nutritionally inferior most industrial products are. Taking that actual step and seeing the results shows us our actions do have impact. We bemoan our broken food system, but now we know we can change it. Turning our eyes from the hideousness of CAFOs (factory farms from which most of our meat comes) keeps despair at bay when we believe agribusiness cruelty is inevitable, but knowing how other animals suffer while being turned into poor-quality food for our beloved cat or dog spurs us into action.
We search for clean, humanely raised meats and discover a whole unexpected network of farmers, ranchers, agricultural scientists, producers and consumers working toward the same goals. Love for a dog can get us off the couch and into the world on six legs, which ground us much better than our own two alone.
Health isn’t only a matter of feeding ourselves. How we respond to illness and injury, both as healers and sufferers, shapes the quality of wellness to which we aspire and the ethical dimensions of our perceived entitlements. To me, what is most wrong about how we use animals in biomedical research is treating them as things. Worse than causing pain or killing them, we deprive “lab animals” of every aspect of life except sentience. How monstrous is that?
Recently I read about a new technology that seems to carry this ethically problematic practice across a threshold into a new dimension of wrongness. Meet the “mouse avatars.” From the brave new world of personal medicine, these are lab mice, bred hairless and lacking immune systems, raised in sterile isolation, and then injected or implanted with a cancer patient’s personal tumor cells or tissue so that various chemotherapy drugs can be tested to find the most effective one for that patient.
How would it feel to have cancer and have this option presented as your best hope for a cure? One patient, speaking at a Mayo Clinic awards dinner, seemed enthusiastic about the hundreds of mice who would be given “her” cancer and possibly reveal “her” cure.
What does even thinking up “technologies” like this say about us? The article said that behind the promise of medical advances looms the prospect of enormous profits for the biotech companies developing these lines of research, and their investors. “One cannot help but note that these animals have become a pure commodity; designed, assembled, modified and sold,” the authors state.
This is what we have become, I thought. Too late to heal the world, and we don’t deserve it. Yet, the veterinarian and the theologian who wrote this are among a growing community constructing a radical critique — a community to which I aspire to belong myself. Why this temptation to give up?
It’s always been clear where all the money and temporal power are massed, and sometimes there’s a seductive undertow that seems to promise relief through renouncing futile hopes. But there are other forces at work. Like love, which lets us look steadily at terrible things and imagine what might replace them.
“Too late?” is unknowable. We do know we need our companions in uncertainty for their sweet inspiration. How fortunate, then, are we who don’t have to reach far to rest our hand on the warm, furry head of the truest of friends, who never let us stay too long in the shadows, and who fetch the prescription for silliness when we need it the most.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs. Sextiped Valley normally appears on the third Saturday of the month.
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