I’m sure animals have magic powers!
When your friends’ cat chooses to come over and let you stroke it, when your dog sleeps on your bed all day while your sick, when the cow in the field comes closer to you as you call – you feel so incredibly lucky because they chose you. Anyone who owns a pet cat and even some dogs know that they are an animal with complete free thinking and will, they will do and go as they please, and if they choose to get out of that snuggle, they damn well will do it right then and there. However ‘domesticated’ we believe they are (my dog is more of a princess than canine), I instead think they have us wrapped around their little paw. About 63% of Australian households have a pet according to the RSCPA site. There is a reason that us Aussies keep our furry friends around as well as they are said to teach invaluable lessons to kids from a young age:
- Higher self-esteem
- Greater reading ability
- Increased empathy and compassion
- Higher sense of adventure
There are also increased health benefits such as a higher immune system, less respiratory tract infections and positive responses from children with autism, other spectrum disorders or ADHD.
John Berger also agrees that animals poses a sort of magic:
“Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises … And the choice of a given species as magical, tameable and alimentary was originally determined by the habits, proximity and “invitation” of the animal in question.”
Here Berger is discussing the role of pets in our imagination and homes. Not only do they provide limitless affection and love, but owners of pets seem to develop their own method of communication, a way for both owner and pet to coexist comfortably and lovingly.
Do other animals have that same voice?
There are other relationships we build with animals over time, these are fueled by representations in the media. The films we watch allow an exposure to a variety of animals and their characters. Drawing on cliches, films, generally family films, will cast one animal as the hero and one as the villain. A couple of examples are:
- 101 Dalmatians (1961) – the dogs are the hero and fur wearing humans are the villain.
- Finding Nemo (2003) – the fish are the hero’s, people are villains and sharks also presented as potential villains (plot twist!).
- Bambi (1942) – the hunters are the villains.
- Chicken Run (2000) – chickens are heroic whereas pie eating humans are villains.
In all these instances- people are the imminent threat, the ones imposing danger, and yet the animals out smart us and break free. The films often cover serious issues being experienced in real life: wearing fur for fashion, issues with the Great Barrier Reef, hunting for sport, and chicken farming. However, even in these feel good films, where animals triumph, there is something not quite right: the animals are given human like qualities in order for audiences to feel relate-ability. So in actuality, do they have a voice?
Are we allowing animals to be just that, animals? Or instead are we putting them in scenarios where the imitate human life? When we invite them into our homes they are given a human name (some are perfectly fitting others are cringe worthy, look here), asked to be a part of the family, the day trips, sleeping on the furniture, eating our food, a part of exercise programs, learning good manners. We want to train the animal to be appropriate to live with us.
In this same way, when movies are about animals, they exhibit toned down characteristics, subtle violence (or in the case of finding Nemo, a complete change of basic instincts- vegan sharks?) and instead award them with bravery, family love and humor in a language that humans associate with.
“With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange … Such an unspeaking companionship was felt to be so equal that often one finds the conviction that it was man who lacked the capacity to speak with animals.”
I’m not saying this is wrong, or even that it is animal cruelty, in fact animals love being a part of the family as much as we love having them involved. However, we have to consider when we are imposing our own views on our furry companions, and when we have gone too far.
One Green Planet 2016, Why it is important to raise kids around animals, accessed 2nd of April 2016, http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/why-it-is-important-to-raise-kids-around-animals/
Brain Pickings 2016, Why Look at Animals: John Berger on what our relationship with our fellow beings reveals about us, accessed 2nd of April 2016, https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/01/why-look-at-animals-john-berger-about-looking/.