Animal Guilt

Walking home on this post-rainy night I started to feel very guilty again. Not because I’m not always as nice as I should be, or because I eat too much and too richly, or because I’m a privileged white person. (All right, starting to feel a little requisite guilt about that too now.) Tonight, my guilt comes because of the snails. They are so fragile and delicate and harmless. Whenever I see a snail, I think of two things. The first is about how peacefully it is living its small life, taking long lingering journeys to the gorgeous, ongoing feast that is the nearest garden. The second is that I’m very, very afraid that someone will step on it. Last night my fast-thinking pal saved a rain-uprooted slug from certain doom by relocating it from the footpath we were haphazardly traversing to a nearby garden. He saved a molluscan life that day. Tonight’s snail I left to his own devices. He seemed to have a plan.

            But it got me worried about all the times that I’ve probably unwittingly stepped on and crushed the life of a little snail. I know that most of you will say “for the love of Reason, it’s just a snail.” In some ways I don’t disagree with you. I get as irritated as the next normal-ish person when there is an animal rights activist on NPR asserting that the life of a chicken is equivalent in importance to the life of a small child. (True story.) But it is really something to consider the tranquility and rightful place of all creatures, even those who are small and not particularly cerebral. I don’t think slugs have vibrant inner lives or anything. But there is something compelling in their simplicity.

            I don’t experience guilt exclusively related to snails. That would be even more silly and discriminating than my guilt already is. My guilt extends to others of God’s creatures as well, not that I believe in God. (If that is a problem, don’t read the blog, I guess. But it won’t come up much. I don’t often reflect on things that don’t exist.) And, as with most types of guilt, it is completely useless. For one thing, I haven’t significantly lessened my carbon footprint despite awareness of impending environmental doom and such. It’d be good if I did, because not only do I like animals, I also have immense fondness for people.  I believe my singular case illustrates the fact that it is possible to like both animals and people. Some of my former animal sanctuary co-workers disagree, which I find humorous and misanthropic. Because I like both animals and humans, as well as plants for that matter (they are really pretty and beneficial and like the essence of life or whatever), I should really be doing more to be kinder to this wonderful Earth. I mean, I should probably be running the streets frantically screaming to anyone and everyone about just how goddamn dire our environmental situation really is. Because it’s so bad that it’s worthy of me screaming to strangers about. But, understandably, other humans would probably not listen to me at all if I did something like that. They might even try to have me sectioned out of the goodness of their hearts/fear for their own safety. Fear is a powerful and frankly reasonable motivator.

            Some of my guilt is more than just impractical sadness about accidentally crushing small creatures, or the far more weighty and serious concerns about destroying a world that, let’s face it, would be far better off without us pesky humans. Sometimes it’s about my own feelings and responses to things. In general, I feel guilty for being a bad person. When you apply my inexplicable nastiness to helpless animals, it becomes worse. Here are some examples.

            I don’t like birds. They are pure evil. This is a scientific fact. Another scientific fact is that it is only a matter of time before they effect a mass attack worldwide on people a la Hitchcock’s The Birds. They have been plotting this attack for some time now. Don’t ask me; ask the compassionate feathered friend who penned The Birds as a warning to humankind way back in 1963. We should have listened.

            I have less out-and-out hatred for felines, but negative feelings exist there nonetheless. For one thing, cats seem to always be scaring the hell out of me. I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose, unlike the crows who ganged up on, killed, and then ate a poor doomed pigeon right in front of me three days ago. The problem is that cats are just so good at creeping that I don’t know one is right next to me until it slightly moves a muscle or tilts its glinty-eyed head and suddenly alerts me to its presence when I am literally five inches away from its claws. My sudden awareness of very close proximity to cats often occurs on my nightly walk home from work, when I am already on edge due to a healthy fear of potential attackers. I say healthy, but in fact I am using the word healthy in the same sense that obese people in the southern United States describe themselves and their appetites. (Sometimes I am insensitive, and I enjoy the occasional stereotype. If this is also a problem, don’t read the blog.) At any rate, at least six cats a night terrify me with their (to me) sudden presence. Perhaps it is I who am the unwelcome intruder in their realm. After all, they are cats, and we all know that the main way in which cats contribute to feline society is by sitting perfectly still for 18 hours in a row 7 days a week. They are a very consistent breed.

            Since I like animals so much – though not cats or birds apparently; perhaps I am misusing the word “like”? – I will write more about them later. I assume that no one has the attention span for a piece of this length anyways. I know I don’t.