The Lion, the Beach and the War Horse



Our intrepid Editor-In-Chief Father Raymond de Souza surveys the animal kingdom for tales of leonine pride in Africa, shaggy dog stories in California, and sorry sagas at Calgary’s Stampede.

LONG BEACH, California – I have been to California perhaps three or four times and have seen the ocean, but never actually gone to the beach. I corrected that on this trip, venturing out to Long Beach which, in part, has gone to the dogs. 

Quite literally, in parts. I happened upon the “Rosie’s Beach” section, which is a “dog zone.” Dogs can run free here, though there is a rule: “One dog per adult.” It was not, as far as I could tell, one adult per dog, so I was free to pass through without canine accompaniment, observing the owners providing their pets with an oceanside outing. 

How we treat animals says something important about us. The spinster in the house at the end of the street has six cats; the steroid-pumped young bachelor living in the basement apartment has a pit bull – we can conclude a considerable amount from this. At Long Beach one first realizes that a naked fat dog – and there were plenty of those – is far less off-putting than an obese owner scantily-clad. And the converse is true too. A fit dog at full, joyful canter through the surf is more beautiful than the athletic, tanned jogger out for a run. God intended the dogs to run, it seems. It is not apparent that God intended man to do so, and he certainly did not intend the corpulent man to let it all hang out over swimming trunks inadequate to the task.

A recent editorial in The Economist (June 22, 2019) took, as that “newspaper” is inclined to do, the long view. Man’s rise was not just about ascending from quadruped to biped, but about managing those other quadrupeds. In a sentence that reminds the reader why he subscribes, The Economist wrote:

“Central to the naked ape’s success was its ability to dominate other species. Bovids, equids and, in particular, canids, were put to work by H. sapiens; felids always took a slightly different view of the matter, but were indulged for their rodent-catching talents.”

The capacity to dominate is still there, but thinking about dominion and domination has changed. The turning point, manifestly, was when owners decided that it was not just acceptable, but a mark of good citizenship, to collect by hand the freshly discharged feces of their dogs. The Economist continues: “Watch a hapless dog-walker trailing ‘his’ hound, plastic bag in hand to pick up its mess, and you have to wonder: who’s in charge now?”

One comes to California in part to see the future, so I was surprised to see plastic bags still in use. I mean, the dreaded “single-use” plastics which have seized the federal government in Canada. Justin Trudeau who, like many here – but not your faithful correspondent – enjoys going shirtless on the beach, would not approve. 

 was expecting to see something more enviro-friendly, especially so near the ocean where plastics are befouling the waters and entangling the aquatic fauna. Is there no canid equivalent of the washable diapers used before disposables displaced them? Made of hemp, or recycled hair? Owners could take the mess home, add it to the rotting food in their composting bins, and then scrub the doggy-do cloths for their next use.

In any case, the pampering of our pets indicates a change in how we think about animals. It is reflected, too, in how we think about how animals are raised for food, how they live and how they die, and even whether they are kept in captivity for our education and entertainment. 

Two recent stories bear that out. 

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