Friday, May 19, 2017

All God's Critters

We just finished hosting a group of American (U.S. and Canada) veterinarians.  They came to help us treat some of the animals in villages near our hometown.  Spending time with these vets and realizing that we will be coming back to the States soon, got me thinking about perceptions of animals around the world.  I grew up on a farm.  Our animals all had a purpose.  The livestock was for meat.  We had horses that were for recreation -- we went riding a lot.  We had a dog to keep watch.  We had cats to keep down the bird/rat/mouse population.  None of these animals were allowed in our house.  All of them served their purpose.  I enjoyed playing with my dog, cats, and horse -- they were companions to me -- but I knew that if they got sick, they would die.  We didn’t have a lot of money for expensive vet bills.  We would take care of them as best we could and then let go of them when they were ready to go.  I got used to the fact of death through them.  I also got used to the facts of life through them, too.  We had a front row seat for reproduction and birth.  These things weren’t covered up from us, they were just a part of God’s plan.  We took good care of our animals.  I remember hauling warm water from the house when temperatures dropped in the winter.  I remember buying good feed so they could be strong and healthy.  But, they weren’t coddled.

So, now, when I see and hear how some pets are treated, it’s hard for me to relate.  I’m glad that people have these animal relationships, as I had as a girl, but I don’t have any experience with house pets.  It’s something I’m still learning about.  Most of the vets on our trip came from small animal practice, where pets are part of the family.  They have offices that are no-fear zones, special supplements, expensive medical interventions, etc.  This relatively new position of a pet as part of the family permeates most of their day-to-day work.  So, they get off the plane to a land where animals are something else entirely.  I thought I’d just give you a picture of the contrasts between animals in my passport country and animals in my new home.

Cows: This word might bring images of beautiful bovines, heavy with milk, strong steers ready to be steaks and hamburgers, or large herds roaming the hills.  For many in this country, cows are a sacred animal.  This means that no one is allowed to kill a cow.  If a person accidentally hits a cow on the road (which can easily happen as they roam freely, eating piles of garbage left in the gutters and taking naps in the middle of a highway, shaded by a tree) it can be a very difficult experience.  Even for people who don’t believe that cows are sacred, they still have to revere cows because of the laws.  Most people do enjoy milk and soft cheese and families keep cows to enrich their diets with dairy.

Pigs:  Nonexistent.  Pigs are an unclean source of meat here, so there is no such thing as bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops, etc.  And, since there’s really no other major use for the animal, we never see them.  If my friends here heard that some friends back home actually keep pigs as pets, they’d probably be mortified.

Dogs:  Man’s best friend.  Or, in our new culture, a dirty animal.  Dogs are considered unclean where we’re from, and for good reason.  Almost all the dogs are street dogs.  They are sick, disease and parasite infested, and mean.  There are often tales of street dogs attacking young children.  People go out for their morning walks carrying a stick. Also, there are the shepherd dogs and watch dogs.  These dogs are kept specifically to protect.  Two shepherd dogs can bring down a bear or a leopard.  So, if you walk too close to a flock protected by these dogs, they will attack to protect the flock.  Chris still has a pair of jeans that bear the marks of a dog doing his job -- thankfully, the jeans were loose or Chris would have those marks on his calf!

Cats:  These are also strays.  Occasionally people might keep one as a pet, but they usually have lice or fleas.  They also like to fight.  It’s not so fun to be woken by the sound of a cat fight in your yard!

Monkeys:  Cute and funny zoo creatures?  Or savage, pack animals!  Monkeys are no joke!  They wander in bands in many areas.  They bully small children and steal from any open window.  They are also disease carriers.  Some people here feed them, but many wish there was a way to get rid of them.

Sheep and Goats:  Great for wool or milk, these also play a major staple in the meat department here.  Without beef or pork, mutton and goat meat are in high demand in non-vegetarian communities.  This was a meat I used to not enjoy at all.  It has a flavor that’s reminiscent of the 4-H barn.  But, our neighbors know ways to prepare and season it so that it’s super-tasty.  I will miss spiced mutton during the next few months.

Horses:  Large, regal, strong animals lived on my farm when I was a girl.  But the horses found here are small, skinny, and worked hard.  They usually have sores from the hard labor and look like they need another few flakes of hay every day.  A few people take pretty good care of their animals, but if you are struggling to feed your kids rice and veggies and lentils every day, your horse is a means to make money, not a status symbol. 

So, I guess it just depends on where you’re from.  In this part of the world, animals are everything from revered to utilitarian to a nuisance.  It’s much like back home.  It’s just that the categories are a bit different.  Many pet owners in the western world would probably be shocked at the treatment of animals in this part of the world, but then, I would hope they’d be shocked at the treatment of many humans, too.  I guess my challenge would be to look around your home -- as I look around my own -- and find any of God’s creatures, human or otherwise, that need better love and care.  God told us to care for His creatures.  It’s a big job.

Here's one of those cows I talked about.

No comments:

Post a Comment