Ok, this might make me a huge nerd in the eyes of my peers, but I listen to NPR.
For those of you who don’t know, (but how could you possibly not know!?) NPR stands for National Public Radio. It’s that station that usually lives somewhere under 90.0 FM and usually has someone talking, so you skip right past it because you think it’s a commercial.
Stop! Go back! The station not only has funny news commentary on shows like ‘Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me’ but it also caters to a broader audience by presenting really interesting news segments. I’m not talking about “Syria is at war again, blah blah blah” stories either.
Today, for example, there was a story that began at a Roman Catholic Church that holds mass once a year especially for people and their pets. The reporter interviewed a little girl with a parrot, a farmer with a bull and a few crazy cat ladies. From there, they transitioned into the meat of the story; can we ever truly understand what goes on in the mind of an animal, and does it even matter? The people with their pets at church didn’t seem to care – most admitted that the blessing simply made them feel better about Fluffy getting into heaven and they simply didn’t care if Fluffy had an opinion on the matter.
They then went on to tell the story of some fishermen and divers who had set a distressed whale free from a bunch of crab traps off the coast of California.
Upon freeing the beast, the rescuers were certain they were about to be lunch meat for the angry sea-beast when she did the unexpected; she swam up to each swimmer individually, poked her face above the water and stared at them. She did this next to each person for about one minute each and just stared with her eye – the size of a grapefruit – less than two feet from each tiny human. The rescuers were convinced this was her way of saying ‘thank you,’ but as a skeptical scientist later pointed out, that would be equivalent to saying bears were a ‘less grateful species’ if one in the same situation ate its rescuers.
This was all very interesting, but it came full circle when I got back to the park later. I was driving down Wildlife Loop Road with the hopes of getting some close-up shots of buffalo and their calves when I saw a blackbird standing in my lane. Now, I’ll admit, I’m a hunter and blackbirds and an annoying, crass, loud bird, so I’ve killed more than a few of them in my lifetime. I was driving a state vehicle, so I wasn’t going to swerve and hit the stupid thing – which still hadn’t moved – but if it happened to move a little to the right, well…
And that’s when another blackbird swooped in front of my grill. I had several realizations in the next 2 seconds; the ‘stupid’ bird was actually a young blackbird who hadn’t figured out how to work his wings under pressure and his parent had gone on a suicide mission to try and save her baby from my car in the middle of the road.
Was that because the mama bird actually cared about the fate of her baby? Because if so, I think we have to reexamine the way we think about all animals. Was it simply instinct? Or was it just a weird coincidence and the larger bird was actually just trying to steal some food off the road?
And does it matter?
Like one of the ladies in the NPR story about church service for animals said, “I just want to do everything I can to make sure that they (her pets) end up in heaven, so that I can see them when I go there too.”
One of the whale rescuers also said, “It doesn’t matter if there’s a scientific explanation; I know that whale came back up to the surface to thank each and every one of us personally. She knew, and she wanted to thank us.”
Ultimately, it’s all about us. Whether animals have feelings or emotions or not, what matters is what each person happens to believe – the pet lovers will always think their Pomeranians are just like human babies and the gun-toting hunters will always think killing animals is fine because it’s a matter of survival.
But seriously – listening to NPR might change your mind one way or the other.