I recently read something in the Citizen about why some people are so obsessed with the end of the world: simply put, they can't imagine the world without themselves in it - and since we're all mortal, it follows that the world must be too.

In that hardy perennial of a movie, It's a Wonderful Life, hero George Bailey, coming perilously close to suicide, gets to see what the world of Bedford Falls would have been like if he'd never been born. The conclusion I think we are supposed to draw (since, like most popular holiday-themed movies, it has a happy ending) is that it very nearly WOULD have been the end of the world (certainly the world as Bedford Fallsians knew it) if George Bailey hadn't come into it.

I also just finished reading Eleanor Brown's book, The Weird Sisters. It concerns three sisters in their twenties and thirties whose father is or was a professor of English specializing in Shakespeare. The girls have had a rather unconventional upbringing, speaking to each other in Shakespearean quotes and iambic pentameter. Naturally they are all named after Shakespearean heroines: Rosalind ("Rose"), Bianca ("Bean") and Cordelia ("Cordy"). The action of the story (written quirkily in the first person plural) occurs when all three women return to the family homestead to help with their mother, who is undergoing cancer treatment. The book has a lot to say about what constitutes childhood and adulthood, as well as about family dynamics and birth order and how they affect us - not to mention being a kind of one-volume Coles notes to a slew of Shakespeare plays! Towards the end, Cordy unburdens herself in a conversation with a clergyman, whereupon the clergyman says something like this: yes, but what you've told me is your SISTERS' story, not yours - it's time to stop defining yourself in terms of them. We can't change our past, but we can change the way we talk about it and the specific stories we tell and thereby we can change the future.

Do you ever speculate as to what the world - or at least YOUR world as you know it today - would be like if you had never been born? Clarence Oddbody, the charmingly inept angel in It's a Wonderful Life, points out that each life touches the lives of so many others in its orbit. Of course, not everyone has saved a sibling from drowning, prevented a pharmacist from putting poison in the pills because he was preoccupied about the death of his son, not to mention saving an ailing Savings and Loan company because he put human, emotional and social capital ahead of the financial sort. But most of us want to feel that at least in some small way, we are making a difference in the world and that we will leave some sort of a legacy.

Like a lot of people, I have some descendants: one daughter, two grandchildren. If I'd never been born, of course, they wouldn't have been either. And that's certainly difficult for me to wrap my mere-mortal mind around. But other than them, I'm not sure I can think of anything I've brought about that has been particularly unique or remarkable. Yes, I've probably had a positive impact on a few other people aside from immediate family and friends - through my career, through the things I've written or the causes I've donated time or money to, but has it been an impact that no one else could equally well have had? Probably not. And I'm sure I've had a negative impact on some folks as well!

In my idealistic youth, I might have found that a depressing thought. Now I'm fine with the idea that life doesn't always have to "mean" something; it's not one long string of highs and lows; it just IS - until it isn't.
In today's blogcutter café, I'm going to tackle the question: Is pet ownership a right? Already I can almost hear your snorts of derision. But bear with me.

First, a brief aside. I'm using the term "pet-owner" as a kind of shorthand here. I'm well aware that we don't truly "own" another living creature.

Numerous studies suggest that pet ownership is THE most important factor in determining life satisfaction. Yes, more important than having good relationships with friends or family (of the human variety); more important than whether you have any life-threatening disease; certainly more important than how wealthy you are.

At the same time, many folk buy into the "deserving" vs. "undeserving" dichotomy when it comes to things like health care. Some feel that if you smoke heavily, or are an alcholic or drug addict, or otherwise engage in high-risk or self-destructive behaviour, you should pay higher health care premiums than if you do not do these things. Of course, private insurance agents do typically charge more in premiums for people in some of these categories. And don't get me started on some of this country's policies with respect to immigrants.

So given that pet ownership has such a positive effect on a person's mental health - in itself a benefit to society as a whole, before you even begin to factor in the reduction in the number of unwanted animals - would it not in a way make sense to offer lower insurance rates to people who have pets? Maybe even government-funded medicare should be extended to our four-legged friends? Perhaps it should be a violation of the human rights code for a landlord to refuse to rent to a pet-owner, for public and inter-city transit vehicles to disallow pets on board or for business-owners to refuse entry to people who arrive with their pets. Don't laugh - it's already become a human rights issue to disallow guide-dogs for the blind in such situations so if we're talking allergies here, it's just as possible to be allergic to a guide-dog as it is to some other kind of dog!

Part of the resistance to labelling pet ownership a "right" may be the way people tend to feel that "right" is the opposite of, say, "responsibility", or "privilege". And it ain't necessarily so. Pet ownership is DEFINITELY a responsibility. I'm not suggesting for one moment that someone who is unable or unwilling to properly look after an animal, or who (for example) has a somewhat erratic or itinerant lifestyle,
or whose environment is unsuitable (e.g. living in a small apartment with a large dog which needs lots of exercise), should embark upon inappropriate pet ownership. On the other hand, I'm not so sure financial considerations alone should necessarily preclude pet ownership. (For example, the Public Citizen in today's Ottawa Citizen dealt with a woman who had agreed to have her cat picked up by the Ottawa Humane Society for some urgent medical attention - if the OHS does decide to proceed with the treatment as opposed to euthanasia, the woman will not be allowed to have the cat back, even though it seems she has done nothing wrong and the cat is something of a lifeline for the housebound owner; it's all making me seriously reconsider my membership in and future donations to the OHS.)

As for "privilege", I'm also well aware that it's definitely a privilege to earn the affection and trust of a companion animal - something that can at times be an up-hill struggle, even for the most kindly and attentive of pet-owners.

As modern medicine becomes more sophisticated, it make sense to devote more time and energy to PREVENTATIVE measures rather than simply after-the-fact fancy pharmaceuticals and technologies. I say, let's start looking at pet ownership as proactive health care!

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