All Heaven In a Rage

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All Heaven In a Rage

By Angel Flinn on

"A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage"
~ William Blake

There is only one way to meaningfully stand up for the rights of all beings, and that is to relinquish one's own stake in the slavery of animals, and to embrace a lifestyle in which all sentient beings are afforded the most basic of rights life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On June 7th of this year, a 67-year-old man named Dennis Zeglin shot and killed a parrot who was being kept in a cage in Zeglin's family home.

Zeglin was charged with several counts of animal cruelty after telling an animal control officer that he shot Mikey because the bird irritated him while he was watching television. Defense attorney Stephen Fletcher said his client was watching a NASCAR race at the time, and was intoxicated.

On Wednesday, September 10th, Zeglin appeared in Court. The prosecutor's office has stated it wants a psychiatric evaluation done before taking the case any further. Mikey, the African Grey parrot, had been living with the family for 20 years.

This is not the first time something like this has happened.

In January of 2002, a German man was fined 1,050 euros after he admitted killing his parrot for screeching incessantly. Police had been called to his home when neighbors mistook the parrot's screeching for human screams. The man had owned the African Grey for 11 years.

Because of their unusual ability to imitate the human voice, African Grey parrots have been marketed by the exotic bird industry as highly desirable. Tragically, the industry has been successful in their campaign to convince people, including apartment dwellers and senior citizens, that parrots make ideal companions.

In fact, birds are very difficult to care for, with complex physical and psychological needs that life in captivity simply can not fulfill. Captive parrots, whose natural life span can be anywhere from 25 to 90 years, often die within five years, usually due to negligence or mistreatment.

Because of their exceptional intelligence, African Greys, in captivity, can develop serious behavioral problems, such as destructive feather plucking. This self-mutilation can cause permanent damage, making it impossible for feathers to re-grow. The unbearable monotony of life in a cage leads some birds to develop a habit of screaming.

Many parrot owners eventually give up on the responsibility altogether, and most of these abandoned birds will never find a home. Some spend the rest of their lives isolated and confined to cages in shelters and bird rescues, most of which are already over-burdened. An unknown number of unwanted birds are simply set loose, to face the dangers of the city, a world in which they have never learned how to survive.

In 2007, the Grey Parrot was raised to Near Threatened status by some environmental groups. Although it is illegal to import African Greys into America, that is not the case elsewhere in the world, and tens of thousands of these remarkably intelligent birds are exported from Africa each year. For every bird that reaches a pet shop, three others have died, either during capture, transportation or confinement.

The exotic bird trade is a billion dollar industry worldwide, and in spite of escalating numbers of unwanted captive birds, the number being bred increases annually. At the same time, cases of abuse and negligence continue to increase in number.

Some researchers say that African Greys are emotionally similar to a two year old child, and have the intelligence of a five year old child. They have been known to have vocabularies of over 200 words, and one particular bird is noted as having a vocabulary of over 1000 words. They have an exceptional ability to not only mimic speech in a voice that sounds almost human, but also to communicate and conceptualize.

Regrettably, their remarkable abilities, combined with the tendency of humans to see other animals as toys rather than as living, feeling beings, makes the African Grey parrot a popular choice for live, at-home entertainment.

When you really think about it honestly, it is nothing short of an act of sadism to put a bird in a cage. Birds are creatures who embody the very quality of freedom itself. Perhaps they remind us of what we sacrificed when we chose to build walls between ourselves and the world of nature. Perhaps we somehow imagine that the only way to suppress our longing for freedom is to rob the rest of the animal kingdom of theirs.

These two seemingly isolated occurrences of parrots being killed are deeply saddening and horrifying to anyone who recognizes that birds, just like other non-human animals, are sentient beings with a will to live. However, I continue to wonder why people are so surprised at these 'animal murders', when they make an appearance in the press.

As a society, we see animals as disposable. At every meal where body parts and other animal products are consumed with relish, and with every television commercial depicting sizzling flesh as a culinary delight, we reinforce the idea that there's absolutely nothing wrong with killing animals, as long as we eat the bodies of our victims.

So why are we so surprised when that callousness toward the innocent crosses the line into our relationships with 'pet' animals? These two occurrences are not at all inconsistent with our attitude toward animals in general. We kill birds every day, systematically, in massive numbers, in factories and on farms. Every year, in the US, we gather together with our families to celebrate a holiday that has made a tradition out of killing birds. Every Thanksgiving, 50 million birds are served as turkey dinners around the country.

The killings of Mikey and Charlie were condemned by ordinary people, and so they should be. It is nothing short of horrifying to think of what each of these poor birds experienced, who were not only forced to live in a cage, but were robbed of life itself, by the very people they trusted to care for them. Then again, that sounds much like the death of any animal on a family farm, shot point-blank by someone he or she knew and trusted.

Why are the killings of these two animals so different to the mass killings that go on every single day? We choose to perceive them as different, because to see the similarity would require us to admit that we are complicit in similar atrocities.

There is only one way to meaningfully stand up for the rights of all beings, and that is to relinquish one's own stake in the slavery of animals, and to embrace a lifestyle in which all sentient beings are afforded the most basic of rights life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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