This morning, while poking around the New York Times, I read that “Spain’s parliament recently passed a resolution granting legal rights to apes,” which is good news for Rafael Nadal. The law will allow chimps to be kept in zoos, but they will no longer be allowed to perform in circuses or other performances, and any research that would harm them has been banned.
I’m torn about my thoughts on this news. I’m a big fan of animals — though not to the point where I’ll give up my sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches — and in a lot of ways, apes certainly seem deserving of some legal rights. As the author, Adam Cohen, points out,
Great apes are biologically very close to humans; chimps and humans share about 98 percent of their DNA. Apes have complex communication skills and close emotional bonds. They experience loneliness and sorrow. They deserve some respect.
Still, I can also see where the worry about a slippery slope would come in. Sure, it might be easy to agree that because they are so close to humans, apes deserve some protection, but could this open the door to offering legal rights to dogs, cats, even hamsters? Maybe not, but it’s worth thinking about, especially in light of another recent NYT article that Kathleen briefly posted about: “Pill-Popping Pets.”
In the article, James Vlahos visits a German shepherd, Max, who has recently begun taking psychoactive drugs for the treatment of, essentially, doggy OCD. Max’s symptoms sound awfully familiar. For starters, he has separation anxiety. About a decade ago, my family got a dog named Granby, who was sweet and loving and mellow — while we were around. When left alone, he could break free from a kennel that was secured shut with bungee cords, and would, among other things, knock our TV from its shelf and eat the insulation from our pipes. After two months, we had to send Granby away to live on farm, where he had room to run around (I’m still not completely convinced that “farm” doesn’t mean “heaven,” but my mom swears Granby’s fine). If given the opportunity to get Granby to calm down with a little doggy Prozac, we might have jumped at the chance.
On the other hand, our current dog, Copper, is also a bit of a terror, but I don’t think we’d ever consider medicating him (besides “calming pills” that my mom used to give him, three at a time, which had absolutely no effect). Sure, Copper occasionally eats entire cakes or finds a way to shotgun a Hansen’s soda or hides my favorite shoes, but although his behavior is frustrating, we can handle it.
Along with his love for human food, Copper has a need to always be close to people, like the dog in the article. About Max, Vlahos writes:
For starters, there was his overpowering need to be near people, especially Allan [his male owner]. If they put Max outside, he quickly relieved himself and then rushed back indoors; he raced into rooms that Allan was about to occupy; he rested his head against the bathroom door during his master’s ablutions.
That’s Copper in a nutshell. He’s not content to just be in the same room as me, but he feels the need to actually be on my lap (he’s not a lap dog). Waiting outside while I shower isn’t enough; he needs to sit directly in front of the shower door. And to get super cheesy on you, it’s these qualities that make Copper so endearing. The thought of medicating them away is appalling.
Cohen makes perhaps the most important conclusion we can take from both of these articles. Sure, we are obligated to take care of our animals (in the various ways that can manifest itself), but only so long as we are taking care of our fellow humans first:
American law is becoming increasingly cruel. The Supreme Court recently ruled that states are not obliged to administer lethal injections in ways that avoid unnecessary risk that inmates will suffer great pain. If apes are given the right to humane treatment, it just might become harder to deny that same right to their human cousins.
[Posted by Mallory]