2nd Avenue, East Village, NYC on November 22, 2017
When I was six I asked my mother if animals go to heaven when they die. She said no. I said….what about dogs? Do they go? She said no, they don’t go to heaven. Heaven is only for people. Why, I asked? Because….only people have souls. Animals don’t have souls. I don’t remember if I accepted this, but I did wonder at this strange anatomical difference between Us and Them….people come equipped with souls and therefore have greater depth and value than any animal ever could according to my mother and whatever line of established thought had convinced her of this surprisingly callous belief system. It was also at this time that I had asked a neighbor of ours in the apartment complex where we lived if women could be astronauts. He said no….only men can be astronauts. And I asked what about doctors? Can women be doctors? And he said no, only men can be doctors. So…..I thought why not? And I asked Why Not? And he said because men are better at these things than women. And so I thought to myself that at least women are better nurses! And so I said Are women better nurses than men? Because even at six I realized that nursing was a generally female profession. And he said No! Men are better nurses. And I got a little flustered and angry. Well, what about teachers? Because all of the teachers in my elementary school (Audubon Elementary in Audubon, Pennsylvania) were women….And he said No. Men are better teachers than women. And I countered with What about cooks? Are men better cooks than women? And….he said Yes! Men are better cooks than women. I got frantic, and strangely embarrassed and defeated. What about mothers….are men better mothers than women?? And I don’t remember his answer….but I felt terrible afterward. Because I believed him.
And I guess I believed my mother about animals not having souls. Because I didn’t feel so bad about eating them. And, in the 1970’s when I was a kid, having a lucky rabbit’s foot was an unbelievable luxury. Real, with bones clearly felt beneath the silky fur, and toenails. It never occurred to me to consider the rabbit that these rabbit’s foot keychains were made from. And mink coats….it never occurred to me to wonder what a mink was, or consider it as a living creature or wonder what in the world a real mink looked like. Or cows, and pigs,,..or all those hotdogs and hamburgers and the bolt to the head that they must endure before dying.
I looked at this dog named Sheila and I saw her love for her owner, and I felt and observed clearly her misery. And….I thought to myself that this is not ok. Those heartwarming pictures of homeless guys and their dogs, some of which I’ve created myself, are somewhat stereotyped. On Skid Row, where it’s warmer year round, living conditions for animals are sometimes far below the level at which one can say that it’s acceptable…..but at the very least the weather is warm. But in New York it’s a whole different circumstance…..watching and waiting, and shivering in one place, or a succession of places, essentially motionless for most of the day while the owners spend their waking hours trying to get high just struck me like a bolt for the first time.
Hey, I thought….this actually isn’t fair. Not if you give it any thought at all.