Killing Animals For Fun

I don’t know when humans started killing animals for fun. Perhaps I could find the answer, but I don’t care enough about the question to take the time to look.

I hunted some when I was a teenager (actually, before I was a teenager, too). It’s not that it was something I wanted to do; rather, it was expected. At the time, boys growing up in rural south-central Pennsylvania were expected to hunt. I suppose it was a way of proving one’s manhood. So I did as expected. I suppose I didn’t want to look weak. Conformity was always the safer route (or so it seemed).

I was lucky though: I never shot a deer. In fact, I don’t think I ever took a shot at one. I did, however, shoot some squirrels and rabbits. And kill some snakes.

I can’t say it was fun. It wasn’t. But I did it. Fortunately, my kill tally was quite low. I never hunted much. And I wasn’t that good a shot.

Some people enjoy hunting. I’m not about to judge them. I have no objective evidence to prove the killing of animals for fun is morally wrong (or if it even presents a moral issue). All I know is, killing animals for fun isn’t for me.

There have always been exceptions of course. I grew up thinking snakes are bad and are deserving of execution. The same goes for spiders. The reason should be obvious: they can injure people. Consequently, all of us were 007s: we had a license to kill. Snakes and spiders. And kill we did.

Vera, it was your grandmother who revoked my license to kill. When we lived near West Chester, Pennsylvania, on a 2+ acre wooded lot, we routinely encountered garter snakes (nonvenomous). My impulse was to kill. It was your grandmother who convinced me that execution was not only unnecessary but also counterproductive. The snakes helped keep mice out of the house. And helped keep the voles from destroying the shrubs. So I allowed them to live so they could kill. Ironic. In any case, we coexisted. It wasn’t easy.

I recall one afternoon when I encountered a large snake in the process of devouring a frog in the backyard. Two innocents. What was one to do?

Your grandmother likes Star Trek so I beckoned her. I was curious whether she would invoke the Prime Directive (not to interfere with other civilizations) or intervene to save the one facing certain death.

She intervened. She grabbed that snake behind its head and held tight until it loosened its grip on the frog, who then limped away. I think the snake was taken aback by this behavior. I doubt he’d ever seen a human behave in such a manner.

The frog was saved, at least until another day, but the snake slithered away hungry. He was lucky. In years past, he would not have escaped execution at my hands (the shovel or hoe to be precise).

I recall another incident in West Chester. A small mouse (presumably a toddler) intruded. He was in our bedroom. Your grandmother insisted that he (or she) be taken alive. Which I did. And then she insisted I give him his freedom, something I was loath to do near the house. Or near anyone else’s house for that matter. So I drove to work the back way that morning, taking a route that passed through woods without any nearby houses. And then I sheepishly scanned the area for other cars or walkers, doing my best to ensure no one witnessed me opening the car door and taking the lid off the shoe box, allowing the little rodent to scamper off.

The moral of these stories, I suppose, is that your grandmother helped instill in me a greater respect for life. And I’m glad she did.

That’s not to say I will countenance mice or black widow spiders intruding into my abode. I won’t. It is to say, however, that I am reticent to take any life — more so than I was at a younger age.

It seems right. I’m not prepared to say it’s wrong to do otherwise, but it does seem right to respect all life.

But, of course, there is much killing in the world. We kill not only non-human animals but also the homo sapiens variety (including ourselves). Sometimes it’s accidental (e.g., traffic accidents), but often it’s intentional. Sometimes it’s rooted in malice; sometimes it’s rooted in patriotism, selflessness, compassion, or desperation and hopelessness.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but think it diminishes us.

We justify the slaughter of non-human animals by claiming a hierarchical right over the animal kingdom. We even embedded this hierarchical view into our holy writings (e.g., Book of Genesis). But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

I would like to become a vegetarian and perhaps someday will. Your grandmother scoffs at the suggestion. She’s certain I can’t do it. She may be right. But maybe not. Time will tell.

I’m not equating killing for food with killing for fun of course. There is an obvious difference. But a difference isn’t necessarily significant in all cases. Nor does the difference justify cruel treatment of animals.

Part of my recent aversion to the status quo stems from seeing the large cattle yards and poultry sheds out west. The way we treat our livestock is deplorable and completely unnecessary. It’s a purely economic decision.

Seeing the way we treat our livestock has spurred me to spend extra for free-range chickens and eggs from chickens raised in pastures, and for milk produced by cows that have been allowed to graze in pastures as opposed to languishing in those filthy cattle yards. But I also know that not everyone has the luxury of spending more for such items. Indeed, it’s far easier to be compassionate when you have the funds.

In any case, I think I’m becoming more nonviolent with age. I even allowed a coiled rattler (with an attitude no less) to live on a hike a couple years ago. And I eat less animal flesh than I used to (although, still, too often).

I have to confess that I’d probably would kill if the situation warranted it (warranted it in my opinion that is), but only as a last resort. It seems pretty clear to me that, if I had to be the executioner, I’d be a vegetarian.

In the meantime, I intend to follow your grandmother’s lead, Vera. I intend to do my best to refrain from all killing, and to reduce or eliminate (admittedly, a doubtful outcome) the eating of animals.

I don’t pretend to know what others should do. It’s a big enough challenge figuring out what I should do and then abiding by my own decisions.

That said, it seems the taking of life is a serious matter. And I wonder whether it should ever be fun.

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