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No Dear, It's Not a Puppy

How many stories have we heard lately about people trying to feed wild animals, and getting injured as a result? How many tales have we heard on the news of people (who should know better), treating chimps, wolves, mountain lions, and bears as cute cuddly pets? Have we been watching too many Disney movies, or Care Bear cartoons? Are we really that far removed from reality?

Society seems to be completely removed from reality where animals, agriculture, and forest preservation are concerned. Many people who circle posts and dramatic pleas to save the poor forest critters and to keep our forests healthy have no idea what a healthy forest is, and haven't even noticed the devastation in the last few years from bad management. Both on the farm, and in the wild, it seems that people honestly have no clue, and that they are raising their children to believe that the world outside the pavement is nothing more than a Disney rendition of talking animals and friendly beasts.

I grew up with Road Runner, Bugs Bunny, and Foghorn Leghorn, but that doesn't mean that I can't also see rabbits, chickens and other farm animals as food, that must first be beheaded, gutted and skinned.

There are people that actually think that the meat in Safeway doesn't come from animals? What do ranchers raise cows for - besides milk?

I loved my rabbits, but I knew that if they were going to be useful, they had to be dispatched and made into stew. We could not afford to raise and keep large amounts of animals that had no practical purpose. No farmer can. We did keep a couple of breeders, of course. I also liked my ducks. But I knew that some of them had to be dispatched, also. And I'm the one that had to do it. I've also dispatched sick goats. It's just "the circle of life" (Okay -  a Disney reference) and that's how it is. Another dirty job that just has to be done.

My real ire was brought up, though, in reading three stories about wildlife, in the last week. Some nincompoop in Yellowstone doesn't have the sense to leave a picnic table when he's approached by a wild Bison. Consequently he gets beat up by the Bison. A lecturing intern goes into a chimpanzee cage, clearly marked "Keep Out", and through TWO fences, during his lecture. He gets mauled by two male chimpanzees, and will have a long stay in a hospital. Case number three is a case of "group stupidity". There seems to be a mixed breed wolf-dog near a community in Pennsylvania. There are crowds trying to see the thing, and bringing it food. The Game and Fish Department has set live traps for it, but they haven't been able to catch it yet. The Game Warden wisely said that people need to quit feeding it, or else it would have to be put down. If it's being fed, it won't go into the traps so it can be moved.

Have so many people grown up watching Disney and Care Bears that they no longer have any sense regarding the behavior of real wild animals?

Wolves, bears, coyotes, mountain lions are all predators. They eat things that they kill first. They aren't nice about it - they won't follow USDA humane butchering standards. They will disembowel their prey, and eat the soft parts first. They aren't picky about whether their prey is a prairie dog, a calf, a lamb, a puppy, or a small child. It is all prey to them. They aren't cute and cuddly pets. They are wild predators, and if they are hungry, you are prey. The more desensitized they get to people, the more likely it is that they will view people as prey, and not as a threat to stay away from.

Deer, elk, and bison are prey animals. So are elephants, giraffes, antelope, even geese and ostriches. Prey animals view almost anything as a threat, and will defend themselves or their young. This is how they survive. That is what they are supposed to do. They can't tell the difference between the threat from a wolf or mountain lion, or the threat from you. If you get too close they will attack you. They haven't been taught to be polite. They have an instinct to use their teeth (beaks), claws, horns, hooves, or anything else, and most of them are in better shape than you are because they exercise every day! A wild animal half your size and half your weight can kick your can.

Yes, dogs are canines and descended from wolves, and cats have been domesticated. Fine. I'm good with that. But Mountain lions are not cats, and wolves are not doggies. We need to quit domesticizing wild animals - they aren't domestic AT ALL. By that I mean teaching our children "look at the nice bear. Isn't he beautiful?" Yes, but that beautiful animal will eat you if you get too close. Ask Timothy Treadwell.

We need to be teaching our children that wild animals are part of nature, to be respected, and preserved, but also to be balanced and managed so they do not become such a threat to us that we go back to fearing getting out of the car when driving between towns. We need to teach them the distinct difference between pets, and animals in the wild, who are WILD. A trip to the zoo may be the only opportunity to do this, but it is a good opportunity - see the fences? It is sad that the animal has to be fenced in, but if it was not, we could not get close like this and see what it is like and how it moves and behaves.

We should be watching the Disney movies WITH our kids, and explaining that this story is not real, that bears and wolves really don't behave like that. That wild animals don't understand the things we do. They are not bad. They don't behave cruelly because they are mean. They behave the way they do because they are wild animals, and they act on instinct - eat, shelter, play a little, survive. When threatened, either run, or attack. It is just how they behave, and no amount of romanticizing them can give them human reasoning - they will never, never, never, look at you, with your camera in your hand, wanting to get just a LITTLE closer, and let you just because you explain that you do not mean them any harm! They will run away, or they will attack! The closer you are, the more likely they are to attack. And it won't be their fault. It will be yours, because YOU broke the rules.

Keeping pets, especially cats and dogs (guinea pigs, gerbils, birds) is a great way to teach kids about animal behaviors and instincts, because no matter how domesticated they are, they will always be unpredictable. It's a very good life lesson, and will help them understand wild animals better. Raise some chickens. That will help them, too.

You may not be able to choose whether you live in the city, or out of it, but you can choose how you interact with the wild, when you do get out, how you teach your kids about the reality of wild and farm animals. I suppose there will always be stupid people who do stupid things with wild animals, but please don't be one of them. And please teach your kids not to be one of them. Get you kids a puppy.