Animals: We keep them as pets; use them for food, clothing, and transportation; we travel thousands of miles to see them on safari; gawk at them in zoos; revere them in certain religions; abhor them and call them vermin; experiment on them for medicine and for beauty; work alongside them in certain jobs; use them therapeutically; compete them; bet on them; cage them; free them; hurt them; heal them; study them; and learn from them. They truly are deeply ingrained into our way of life, and have been since the dawn of time.
Our treatment of our (usually) four-legged friends, as a society, differs greatly from one country to the next. Whilst in America, dogs may be getting used to being fed from the table and being dressed up in all kinds of (some would say ridiculous) outfits, in South Africa they are regarded predominantly as guard dogs, and are kept outside. In places where animals run wild, they fight for survival, and fully own the great expanse of space which they are privy to. Outside of these far-flung lands, these same animals are locked up and fed and watered on a schedule that runs like clockwork.
Certain animals have found themselves with a celebrity status, internet memes being responsible for some (Grumpy Cat?!), whilst merely belonging to an actual celebrity works for others. Tinkerbell, for example, Paris Hilton’s prize pooch, has earned some big celebrity miles due to being constantly photographed in Ms Hilton’s handbag. Max and Bubbles are perhaps two of the more unusual celebrity animals which have been thrown into the spotlight, belonging to George Clooney and the late Michael Jackson respectively. Bubbles is the high-maintenance chimpanzee who had to be re-housed in an Ape Center in Florida due to aggressive tendencies, and Max was Mr Clooney’s beloved potbellied pig, and constant companion for over 19 years until his death (the pig’s, not Clooney’s).
I find it extremely strange that, as humans, we treat animals with such different attitudes. In general, I think we need to start showing animals a little more respect. Yes, certainly let us continue to use them in our daily lives, but humanely – be it as pets or in zoos. (Is dressing an animal up and spoiling it really the best thing for that animal? I don’t think so…) And above all, we must be far more respectful of the natural habitats of many of the world’s animal species. Conservation is a term which people should definitely make a little more room for in their vocabulary! On behalf of all the unsung Maxes, Bubbles, and Tinkerbells out there, I’ll give a little shout out to Aretha Franklin… all together now, R-E-S-P-E-C-T…
To see how animals have been treated in art, you need go no further than the Fine Arts Museum of San Diego, which is currently hosting a comprehensive exhibition of Artful Animals until the 28th of April. Otherwise, why not check out John Bascom’s Beauty of the Beast?