26 Jul 2011
IN the Advertiser’s editorial ‘Abusing, ignoring our pets’ (GA 22/7) our attention was drawn to the widespread neglect and abuse of pets and readers were reminded to think about the lesser offences that they might, unthinkingly, commit.
These included failure to walk their dog daily, failure to feed their cat regularly and failure to keep pet birds warm at night.
The reference to pet birds made me think of something else that could well be regarded as unthinking cruelty.
What is the harshest punishment meted out to our worst criminals?
It’s life imprisonment because we know that the deprivation of freedom hurts more than anything else.
Why is it then, that so many of us fail to recognise that depriving other creatures of their equally precious freedom, likewise hurts?
Birds are born to fly, that’s why they have wings. Yet, for nothing but our own enjoyment, we condemn millions of these social, flock animals to lives of severe deprivation in barren cages.
Frequently confined alone, they suffer from intense boredom, loneliness, frustration and lack of exercise.
In the wild, galahs may travel 30 kilometres in a day and attain speeds of over 65 km/h yet, in an average-sized cage, they can barely stretch their wings.
Caged birds suffer too from diseases aggravated by caging. They can’t bathe and they often lack mates for necessary mutual preening. In the wild, they can seek protection from the sun and wind but in a cage this is impossible.
What is particularly tragic for long living birds such as cockatoos is the fact that they are condemned to this boring existence for such a long time. One celebrated captive cockatoo, ‘ Cocky Bennett’, reportedly lived to be more than 100 years of age.
Keep in mind that birds are far from brainless.
Several years ago, Professor Irene Pepperberg, a scientist noted for her studies in animal cognition, worked extensively with an African grey parrot. She reported that it acquired a large vocabulary and used it in a sophisticated way, which is often described as being similar to that of a two-year old child.
Another African grey was said to have a vocabulary of more than 950 words and was noted for its creative use of language.
Clearly, condemning such intelligent creatures to a boring and monotonous life in a cage is totally unjustifiable.
Of course, it’s not only birds whom we cage. We also cage rabbits, and frequently alone. For these fleet of foot animals, it must likewise be a sad, depressing and bleak existence.
For guinea pigs, rats and mice, life imprisonment in a cage would be equally depressing and boring.
Although most caged pets generally receive human company and attention when they are first acquired, many soon become ignored and neglected as young family members — for whom they are often bought — move on to more exciting play things.
Is it fair to treat animals this way?
Put yourself in their shoes.
How would you feel if you were imprisoned for life without ever having committed a crime?