I’m always interested in, and amazed at, how complex, challenging, and inconsistent our relationships with other animals can be. People worldwide got extremely upset about the massacre of more than 50 animals in Ohio last October and at the same time pay little or no attention to the fate of millions, really billiions, of food and research animals. Numerous people also got incredibly upset when a cat was killed and defaced as a sick political statement. Of course, I’d like to think that everyone would be extremely upset and vocal about these and all other forms of animal abuse.
Just today I learned that hunters in Minnesota are upset when dogs are harmed and killed by traps. The stories they tell about the pain, suffering, and death of their own and other beloved companion animals are horrific and bring me to tears. But there’s something going on here that nags me a lot. While the pain, suffering, and death of their companion dogs move them they still want to be able to hunt other sentient beings who also are capable of enduring pain and suffering, not only when they’re shot and killed but when they’re stalked and otherwise chased.
Even if people stalk animals but don’t try to kill them, animals suffer greatly. Just seeing a potential predator, including humans, is stressful. Patrick Bateson, at the University of Cambridge in England, found red deer stalked by dogs showed stress responses similar to those experienced when animals were anxious and scared. Deer showed high levels of cortisol and the breakdown of red blood cells, indicating extreme physiological and psychological stress. Stalked deer also displayed excessive fatigue and damaged muscles. Non-stalked deer and those shot without prolonged stalking didn’t show similar stress responses. The stalker’s intentions, malevolent or not, seem unimportant. It’s reasonable to believe that animals will show fear and anxiety responses to human stalkers that are similar to those shown to non-humans stalkers.
Whlle I know many hunters don’t support trapping, one trapper would like to see traps “allowed only underwater [for beavers, muskrats and otters] or 5 feet off the ground, so dogs can’t get caught.”
There’s something very wrong about this picture, opposing trapping yet supporting hunting, or advocating the use of traps underwater. Even if trapping is banned, the animals who are hunted are no less sentient than the dogs who are regretably trapped. Furthermore, aquatic animals suffer as much as land animals but we just don’t see what happens beneath the surface. Consider what Camilla Fox, founder of Project Coyote, wrote in my Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior about trapping aquatic animals: “Leghold and submarine traps act by restraining the animals underwater until they drown. Most semi-aquatic animals, including mink, muskrat, and beaver, are adapted to diving by means of special oxygen conservation mechanisms.”
I’ve also noted previously, “The experience of drowning in a trap is extremely terrifying. Imagine what a dog or cat might feel. Biologists Frederick Gilbert and Norman Gofton discovered that animals display intense and violent struggling and were found to take up to four minutes for mink to die, nine minutes for muskrats to die, and ten to thirteen minutes for beavers to die. Mink have been shown to struggle frantically prior to loss of consciousness, an indication of extreme trauma. Most animals caught in aquatic traps struggle for more than three minutes before losing consciousness.”
Hunting and fishing are sanctioned assaults on the lives of numerous animals (there is a growing scientific literature showing that fish feel pain and are sentient beings). Huge industries are devoted to making them easier. In many states wildlife agencies spend more money promoting hunting and fishing, including killing predators to enhance hunting opportunities, than on protecting wildlife, including imperiled or endangered species.
Many people who hunt and fish truly enjoy the richness of the experience, but they don’t want to make animals suffer. Perhaps if they fully realized the intense pain and suffering for which they’re responsible while stalking and hunting and fishing, they’d forego the emotional rush of the experience. And, there are lots of ways to experience nature, rewild our hearts, and have quality time with family and friends without intruding on, and stressing, injuring, or killing other animals.
If harming and killing a dog bothers you, as it should, then so should harming and killing other animals. It’s interesting how some people are able to compartmentalize their beliefs and attitudes about pain, suffering, and death that include some sentient beings but exclude others. This would be a fertile area of study for people interested in such matters, including conservational psychologists.
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