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Al Martinez

Sorry, but Animals Aren't People

July 09, 2001|Al Martinez

Not since the days of the old John Birch Society have I been so overwhelmed with written comments on a single true-believing subject.

With the Birchers, it was their love of God and America and their hatred of Communists that fired their passions.

With today's animal activists, it's their love of dogs and cats and rhinos and manatees that stirs their deepest emotions.

I used to receive mail on cue when I discussed the excessive nature of Bircher patriotism. They were handwritten letters, usually anonymous, and they called me every name their limited vocabularies could manage.

Now I receive e-mail on cue from "animal guardians" who, proving how united they are, use almost the same phrasing and logic suggested to them by the Webmasters who manage online animal networks. It's a chorus sung fortissimo.

In their zeal to respond to a column last week, some of the activists refer to my comments on pit bulls and Rottweilers as "racist" and say I am calling for an animal "holocaust." Usually, nothing I receive from rabid activists surprises me, but applying these terms to dogs does, I must admit, cause concern.

When passion exceeds common sense, it impedes an ability to think. That's when activism becomes extremism with a tilt toward mindless devotion, limiting the view of other needs.

If, for instance, we had spent as much time bleeding over humans as we do over dogs, the world might be a better place today for both species.

The column that set animal lovers afire compared the river of tears shed for the dog tossed into traffic near San Jose to the lack of tears shed for the victims of killer dogs. In it, I made reference to weepy animal guardians and wailing animal advocates.

They fired back by calling me stupid, a fool, ignorant, dangerous and snide, in addition to the previously mentioned terms that hint at racism and genocide. Others suggested that it was perhaps my "ethnicity" that clouded my mind, calling into question deeper feelings among animal lovers toward us "minor" members of the human race.

Most of the e-mailers understood my point. Some mentioned that I was wrong in hinting that a love for animals and a love for humans were mutually exclusive. I know they aren't. It's just the cant of a culture suddenly gone mad over animals that calls attention to the subject.

Many told me horror stories of attacks by pit bulls and Rottweilers, others about the loving nature of both breeds. One writer said that even television's "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin, owns a pit bull. While that may not be the ideal endorsement, it's something. I guess.

A semi-famous, and very funny, comedian, Elayne Boosler, tells me more or less I'm full of it. An animal issues activist, Phyllis Daugherty, tells me I'm right on.

Emile Zola is quoted and so is Albert Schweitzer. I could help out by quoting W.C. Fields, who loved dogs more than children, and John Steinbeck, who elevated Charley to international prominence, but I won't.

So.

I'm delighted that so many out there expend as much time, effort and money on behalf of humans as they do for animals. But I don't think that's generally true.

The world is full of followers, of those who pursue safe paths of protest to ease their consciences. They wave banners opposing cruelty to animals because no one is going to wave banners advocating cruelty to animals.

Brutality does exist on both personal and commercial levels and should be protested. So should cruelty to children and seniors and whole groups of people being tortured and murdered for who they are or what they believe in.

One of the reasons we turn to the clamorous protection of animals is that everything else seems so far out of reach. We feel powerless to intervene in the ethnic cleansings of Eastern Europe, the AIDS epidemics of Africa or the religious wars of the Middle East.

So we weep for a little white bichon frise while mayhem rules the planet.

Regarding dangerous dogs, e-mailers who opposed my point of view suggest that it's the owners' fault when dogs attack. So do we naughty-naughty the owners while the dogs rip up kids and old ladies? I don't think so. We get the dogs off the street, then go for the root causes.

I'm sure I haven't pleased anyone, but that's OK. I see my job as raising questions, not providing answers. Personally, I tolerate just about all animals. Dogs scatter my garbage, raccoons trash my utility room, coyotes eat my cats, cougars prowl my mountains, and rattlesnakes share the trails I walk.

I have two dogs, two cats and 12 fish. At times, I've owned goats, horses, guinea pigs, gerbils and rats. And while I don't exactly pal around with them, I do take exceptional care of whatever animal I possess. But they don't take precedence over my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my friends or my neighbors.

They're animals. I feed them, water them, walk them and fight their fleas, but I do not discuss my columns with them or ask for their preference on what TV shows to watch. Weep and wail all you want. A dog is a dog. Period. I'm outta here. Goodbye.

Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He's at al.martinez@latimes.com

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