It’s an accepted truth that blogging, as with all social media, is not a representative snapshot of a life. We select the aspects of ourselves we want to reveal, we edit our lives and filter our images, choosing the best frames, then craft the plot lines to our days and mould the characters. The Peeper Project, too, is in this sense a fabrication. It’s the charming, amusing and delightful aspects of my world with my animals that I want to share.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for about a month now, since we lost our little hen Jupiter Janie. She was taken by a fox, we think, and I was surprised by how much it shook me up. The same day, my parents had to have their dog, Rosie, put to sleep as her cancer had finally taken more than she should have to bear. Dad was shattered. “I don’t think I can face going through that again,” he told me, his voice shaky with shock.
We always had pets when I was a kid, and I’m again surrounded by animals at home after many years as a pet-free renter. That our lives are enriched beyond measure by our animal companions seems obvious to me. But losing them, or seeing them suffer, is the inevitable counterweight to the joy they bring. And Dad was always the one who was with them at the vets, at the end.
Why do we grieve so much for our pets? When I went hunting for some kind of scientific, rational explanation for why I had shed so many tears for my lovely little black hen with the fluffy pantaloons, I found a lot of the received wisdom about pets seems to be tethered to the notion that domesticated pets serve a practical purpose—to help us hunt, keep vermin at bay, guard stock—and we grew to like them beyond that. Surely this only touches upon one facet of the relationship many of us have with our animals. There is a kind of pureness to the interactions we have with animals, they are unable to be duplicitous, they are unmoved by superficialities: your emotions are reflected back whether you are in touch with them or not. I could not have got my rescue mare Ellie to trust me by behaving unpredictably. And I certainly couldn’t force my horses and chooks to enjoy spending time with me. The only thing that works time and again is kindness.
The cultural brainwashing that allows us to factory farm creatures, to ignore their comfort and needs or to allow their daily suffering as a business byproduct, that tells us chickens or cows or sheep are not each and every one sentient individuals, surely drifts away like a lifting fog once you start to spend time with them.
My pets have definitely tapped into a deep nurturing urge in me, and I was anguished at least partly because I had not protected my little hen and kept her safe. I had no idea how much I would enjoy having chickens before we got them, and it was a source of delight discovering how different their little personalities are. Jupiter Janie was sweet and shy, curious and always the first to come running when called. I wish I had checked that door to her hen house, but it’s a mistake I’ll never make again.
As an interesting aside, I listened to an interview by the ABC’s Lynne Malcolm from All In The Mind with the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who collaborated with neuroscientists for several decades to study the effects of meditation on the brain. He revealed that compassionate meditation can alter the brain itself and lead to a more positive experience of life for the meditator and for those around them. Compassion, as distinct from empathy, in which you feel the sufferer’s distress and which can lead to emotional burnout, seems at the heart of treating other humans with dignity, warmth and respect. And it’s time, Ricard says, to “extend the circle of benevolence to other sentient beings … we can’t just treat them as objects.” Couldn’t agree more.
Farewell, Jupiter Janie.