This one got me thinking, a comment posted online in response to today's Pet Tales column.
The essay was a nostalgic look at the writer's first pet 54 years ago, a wild blue belly lizard caught by her father. The person who posted the comment noted their disappointment that the lack of editorializing made it appear as if, by using this essay, I had condoned this act of "animal cruelty." She/he wrote:
"The immoral removal of an animal from the wild ....and keeping it in a tiny box with a string around its neck...not wholesome good values to imbue in a child or to share in print. Very sad."
Here's the thing: I had the identical reaction when I first read the essay. I was saddened to think of little Charlie the lizard confined to a cigar box with a string around his neck. But my secondary response was to recognize the story for what it was: a fond recollection of a child's first pet framed by the zeitgeist of the 50s.
Because in 1958 animals were treated differently. Dogs slept outside, cats roamed the neighborhood, and words like "spay and neuter, guardian, adoption" and "animal rescue" were foreign concepts. Not that people didn't love their pets, but back then most weren't as educated as guardians are today.
Were I to write about my first pet, I'd have to reveal that Torty, a tortoise, was buried alive because Mom didn't have the Internet to inform her that his lack of response was due to hibernation. And if I mentioned my childhood German Shepard, Lisa, I'd probably let it slip that my parents purchased her from a breeder, she ate table scraps, shared my Hershey Bars, and loved sneaking licks from Dad's vodka tonic.
In the process, would I be wrong to not encourage adoption versus breeders? Endorse healthy diets versus table scraps or mention that chocolate and alcohol are toxic to dogs? Does the 1960s-based "Mad Men" accompany each episode with a disclaimer that pregnant women shouldn't drink and people shouldn't smoke?
Pet Tale readers are passionate animal lovers who know that the column promotes education, rescue and welfare. And I get that reader's concern, really I do. But occasionally, I think the context of a story might negate the need for a lecture only because, in the light of day, we're smart enough to recognize the erroneous act.
Aren't we?And so, right or wrong, that was my reason for not editorializing this memory from 1958; a time when nobody wore seat belts, everybody smoked, and lizards lived in cigar boxes.