I recently read my daughter a bedtime story (for the 987th time) which centered on a young dragon taken in by Princess Aurora (of Sleeping Beauty fame). Starting with her husband, Prince Phillip, and continuing with each encounter with the story’s other characters Aurora is met with storybook disdain for her new pet. The universal reason: dragons are dangerous. The dragon, in an effort to fit in, tries to emulate other animals who do not suffer the same unearned contempt. But dragons are what dragons are and each attempt to be something he is not leads to moments of chaos involving, as you might guess, fire. It’s not until the end of the story that the dragon comes to terms with what he is and finds a place in the life of the story.
None of the characters in the story offered anecdotal evidence as to why dragons are dangerous; they just knew them to be so.
As an American I am chronically aware that many of my fellow citizens don’t pay much attention to what is going on in other countries. By no means is that an across-the-board statement; it’s just something I have made note of in my interactions with others as I travel about the country. It’s not unusual for Americans to be so unabashedly and ignorantly ethnocentric that they don’t have the slightest idea of what is going in the rest of the world. Who am I kidding? Many don’t even know what is going on in this country. Jay Leno is good at pointing this out from time-to-time in his late night talk show antics (and here). Most Americans know that something is going in in Iraq but many don’t realize that Iran is different than Iraq and they certainly don’t know why Israel is so despised by them. Most of us know that Princess Diana died a while back
The Humane Society of the United States has at least one (that I know of) full-time employee whose sole function is to communicate the organization’s message using social media. That’s it! Be an evangelist for the cause using the constantly evolving Internet as a tool. The existence of that job represents their commitment to reaching out to a whole new generation of people. They also have an entire division (attorney’s included) focused exclusively on advancing their agenda through the courts. Now think about how many people work for your favorite pet owner advocacy group. I’ll guess ten. A dozen, maybe. Fifty, tops. I often wonder how many hats people in those organizations must have to wear and how effective they can be when constantly switching back and forth between roles.
As I type my 40th birthday is barely two years away. And I don’t know if it’s my age combined with the times or if it’s the times by themselves but over the past few years I have become keenly aware of a rapidly increasing divide between the people of the United States. I know, I know, every generation laments the passing of the ‘good ol’ days’ and things were always better yesteryear. Time has that sort of scrubbing effect; it distorts the very perception of our own hindsight. But I sense that what is happening now is something more dark and angry. The happy-go-lucky naivety of my youth has passed.
The current state of affairs is that we can break the thinking people in our society into two general groups of people: liberals and conservatives (some people may prefer ‘statist’ and ‘libertarian’).
I am not too unlike you, I suspect. I have received the emails, read the blogs, followed the forum threads and participated in the related chatter. Been there. Done that. And yes, I even got a t-shirt.
Like many of you I have repeatedly railed against the unrelenting stream of assaults on reptile ownership. My passion for my position has, to my knowledge, not swayed a single opponent or politician. As is so often the case parties on opposite sides of a debate are uninterested in truly listening to and understanding the differing view. But that makes sense, doesn’t it?
As I type my daughter is a few months into her third year. As is often the case with parents I put nothing else on this planet before her. She is everything. Every parent wants to protect their children from as many bad things as possible in this world. To that end we often turn to professionals for advice on when it is OK to do certain things. Take peanuts for example. The prevailing medical wisdom says that if nobody in your family has a history of allergies then you should wait until your child turns one year old before exposing them to peanuts. If you have a history of allergies you should wait until the child is at least three. Because neither my wife nor I have any known allergies we treated the arrival of our daughter’s first taste of peanut butter with an unusual amount of excitement. Well, I did. Peanuts, peanut butter in particular, are a big deal to me. I find peanut butter delicious and combining chocolate with peanut butter is next-level stuff. The peanut butter cup is a triumph of taste and I am sure that achieving nirvana involves peanut butter at some point.
A few days after my daughter’s first birthday my wife and I decided to give her a peanut butter cracker. We had waited the required amount of time recommended by the pediatrician and it was time for her to learn about another wonderful part of being alive. About 9 or 10 hours later when we left the emergency room we knew that peanuts and my beloved peanut butter would no longer be welcome in our home. After taking a bite of a peanut butter cracker our daughter had gone into anaphylactic shock.
In the two years since that scary day we have learned from allergists that she is allergic to several different types of nuts; peanuts, cashews, almonds, the list goes on. They also told us that she is not likely to outgrow the allergy as some children seem to do. C’mon. Really? Seriously? Cashews are better than peanuts!!! My daughter is never going to get to eat warm cashews. That’s criminal.
And she will also never enjoy a peanut butter cup…
Imagine a life without peanut butter cups. Barring advances in medicine my daughter is faced with that reality. It’s not something she was able to decide for herself, of course. How and why she is allergic to peanuts is a question I doubt she will ever have answered. But that’s life and we all know about the fairness it lacks.
All of this peanut pondering started the other night when I saw a commercial for Reese’s peanut butter cups. It was a reminder of my daughter’s situation and, as is so often the case, I found myself translating that situation into issues facing the reptile community. Peanut butter cups have been denied to my daughter by circumstances that were beyond her control. But what about snakes? What is her future with reptiles?
Just last week she told me that she wanted to go “snakey finding with [me]” and that she would “help me find Kaa.” Kaa, for those of you who were never young, is the snake from Jungle Book. Reptile-loving dad’s out there will immediately recognize the coolness of such a shared moment with your child. Her statement created interesting emotions for me. At three, my daughter is beginning to develop an appreciation for reptiles. She is at the very beginning of a life which promises the opportunity to one day allow her to own the pet of her own choosing. I like the idea that she will one day include reptiles as part of her life but I respect her right to decide not to. What’s more important to me than her choice of pet is her choice to have a pet. It is a decision that will be hers to make. But more and more each day I fear that my daughter is at the beginning of a life where people will eventually take that right away from her. As her father I can’t let that happen.
My need to fight for my daughter’s right to have the choice to one day be a responsible pet owner got me thinking about the “grassroots” efforts of the reptile community to fight all of this proposed legislation. Over the past few years there have seen several different pieces of proposed legislation, some federal and some state. One delegate in the House of Representatives described the grassroots response of the reptile community to HR 669 as a “buzz saw”, meaning we got their attention and our voice was loudly heard. Through each piece of proposed legislation (the federal one’s in particular) the community has become more aware and more organized. But are we also losing some steam? For my daughter’s sake, I hope not. Each time the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) launches its next assault we see our email in-boxes and the Internet forums light up with calls to action. Each time we are told “now is the time to act” and “this is the biggest threat the reptile community has ever faced”. We are asked to band together once again and call Senators and House delegates, to write letter and send emails. Unfortunately, the battle cry, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”, will not invoke a reaction forever.
How many times can we go to the well and conjure a concerted reaction from the reptile community? How long before we lose interest in the fight? There is a finite number of times that people are going to be willing to get involved. Most of us are, after all, just pet owners. You just want to share your life with an animal that brings you joy. Being a pet owner isn’t supposed to require you to be a political activist. But more and more each day that is the way things seem to be heading. The assault on the rights of pet owners of all types is unrelenting, multi-faceted and hidden under the veil of false animal love. Nobody is going to fight for the rights of pet owners except pet owners. We can’t afford to lose sight of that.
We have all been thrown curves in life. My daughter picked the short straw when it comes to being allergic to a long list of nuts. The burden our family has to bear is that we must spend the rest of our lives being vigilant, doing everything we can to avoid accidental exposure to peanuts. That job wasn’t clearly defined in the job description of being a parent. I guess it falls into the category called “other duties as assigned” that we so often see in today’s job descriptions. And so it also goes for pet owners; our decision to own a pet means we are accepting a responsibility to also fight for that right for ourselves and for our children.
Dig deep, snake lover. Dig deep. The fight is never going to end …until the day YOU stop fighting.