I’ve recently been watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – a very good film – and it’s given me some thoughts on the nature of how we keep animals as pets. The image of a bird in a cage is normal in our society. Children, when learning about animals, associate birds with cages in the same way they’d associate cats with comfortable mats.
I’m by no means an expert on birds. I’ve never even kept one myself, so this is based on very limited experience. I just don’t see how keeping a bird in a cage is humane. Birds need freedom of movement more than most animals, even humans, yet it is perfectly acceptable to keep them as pets in cages, perhaps for their entire life. It is debatable whether they are unhappy in cages, but certainly from my visits to pet shops they do appear jumpy, flying from one end to the other, cut off, and having to fly back just for the exercise. Cages also make no attempt to imitate a natural environment. There are many arguments against zoos but a good zoo will recreate an animal’s natural environment to the best of its ability. Birds would have large areas to fly around, trees to nest in, etc.
In fact, most pets in pet shops seem miserable. I visited a raccoon recently, which looked so on edge, so discontent. In a space of around three by four feet. I know this is supposed to be temporary until it is bought, but what if nobody buys it? Okay, this raccoon was particularly cute, so I expect it’ll do alright! But what of the ones who are not so sought after? Spending day after day in cramped conditions, faces staring down at them who have no intention of taking them home. Most prisons have better conditions, yet these animals are completely innocent.
This isn’t even broaching the subject of battery farming, which I would hope nobody will need convincing is utterly brutal and unacceptable. The way we as a species treat the other inhabitants of this planet is sickening, in my opinion. This is why I would propose the creation of laws, or at least some international agreement, on the treatment of animals. A ‘Declaration of Animal Rights,’ if you like. Though I am certain that if global food production stays the way it is meat will one day become a luxury most can’t afford, people are always going to keep animals to slaughter for food, so I would not expect vegetarianism to be part of such rights. But we have a responsibility to treat the animals we rear and use with respect.
Progress has certainly been made. There are tight controls on circuses in many countries to ensure animals are not abused. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (RSPCA) in the UK works to ensure all animals are treated properly by their ‘owners’ and investigates many cases of animal cruelty. The European Union is working towards reducing the amount of eggs on the market from battery farms. But a clear list of rights animals possess would leave no doubt over the way animals should be treated. We have a mutually beneficial relationship with them. Aboriginal cultures on the whole seemed to realise this, but this simple fact of nature seems to have been lost in our modern capitalist industrial frenzy. Only when we care for nature and protect it will we have earned our place as the dominant species on Earth.